Kent State University President Lester Lefton will retire next summer. Lefton, 66, has served as president of Ohio’s second largest public university since 2006.
Lefton previously was provost of Tulane University and held administrative roles at the University of South Carolina and George Washington University.
In a written statement, the chairwoman of Kent State’s Board of Trustees praised Lefton as a “student-focused leader.”
“President Lefton’s contributions to Kent State have been extraordinary,” Jane Murphy Timken said. “He has been the right leader at the right time who has brought a new sense of purpose and pride in Kent State.”
A university spokesperson said Lefton is not speaking with the media today.
Under Lefton’s leadership, Kent State created a new College of Public Health, acquired the College of Podiatric Medicine, expanded online programs and courses, and, like other Ohio universities, increased enrollment of international students.
The university worked to bridge gaps with the city of Kent, partnering with the city and private developers on a $110 million downtown redevelopment project, including a hotel and conference center.
Kent State’s enrollment kept pace with Ohio’s other largest public universities, according to federal data. And the school’s six-year graduation rate for full-time students increased slightly to 50 percent.
Since Lefton took office, university records shows Kent State’s endowment grew 29 percent through last month, not taking into account financial adjustments that will take place by this June.
Since 2006, Kent State also saw the second largest increase in cost of attendance among Ohio’s largest public schools, according to federal data.
And while Lefton identified increasing the school’s retention rate — the percentage of students who re-enroll the following year — as a priority, it rose only slightly under his watch.
Lefton’s reputation among students and faculty has been “less than exultant,” according to an outside review of Lefton’s performance last year. According to that report, Lefton can be a “bit prickly” and “thin-skinned” when “people push back or he does not get his way,” the Daily Kent Stater says.
Still, that report says Lefton was dogged in pursuit of university goals and maintained the unofficial motto: “Resistance is futile:”
“Lefton is a “do-er” kind of leader who gets things done, even at expense of knowing that in doing so he may be disliked by the very people he is doing his best to help. In fairness, being a change-agent and universally loved as a University President is not something that can be easily accomplished.”
The Kent State Board of Trustees plan to launch a national search for a successor in the coming weeks.
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized changes in Kent State University’s endowment due to errors in financial data the university reported to the U.S. Department of Education. This story has been updated to include the correct information.