Kent State Trustees designate presidential home and leader to head search for Lefton's successor

By Jeremy Nobile | Staff Writer Published:

The home Kent State University President Lester Lefton built and has lived in since 2006 is now the official presidential home for the university.

The KSU Board of Trustees approved a resolution declaring the home at 1501 Elizabeth Court the official residence for KSU presidents Tuesday, along with a variety of other measures including an update to Lefton's contract reflecting the formal dedicating of the house.

KSU Trustees Chairwoman Jane Timken said declaring an official residence brings the university in line with others in Ohio that already offer official presidential homes and that doing so is beneficial in attracting the best presidential candidates -- an important factor considering Lefton's coming retirement on July 1, 2014.

Lefton, 66, emphasized that the building also ties the president to a Kent home, which was something the board believes is significant.

Timken said the home is also an ideal size to host visitors for social, administrative and ceremonial gatherings, which Lefton validated by noting he has hosted upward of 150 events at the River Bend neighborhood home located near Kent's northern border.

Timken said the board considered other possible residences in the community in addition to an outright purchase of a presidential home, but noted a lease agreement for Lefton's home was the university's best option.

"The trustees concluded this would be the best use of university finances in terms of procuring a university president residence," she said.

According to Portage County property tax records, Lester and his wife, Linda, purchased the finished home in September 2006 for $792,550. Lefton sold the house to Shaker Heights attorney Edward Cochran in March for $700,000.

Under his original 2006 contract with KSU, Lefton has received a $50,000 annual housing allowance for mortgage or rent payments. He has also received an additional $15,000 for utility payments and maintenance work since 2009 when that provision was added to his contract. A one-time $25,000 allocation for additional cleaning expenses also was allocated in 2009.

All those payments came in addition to Lefton's salary, which was $624,248 in total for the 2011-12 school year.

All together, Lefton has collected approximately $435,000 for housing expenses from the university between 2006 and 2012.

Lefton is not accepting the housing payments this year because of the sale. The board amended Lefton's contract to reflect that change Tuesday.

According to the lease agreement between KSU and Cochran, the university will pay a $56,000 rent annually, and that price will be revisited every three years.

Timken noted that although the lease agreement spans 20 years, KSU could walk away from it at the end of six years and every six years after that for the life of the contract as long as the university provides a one-year notice.

Regarding his retirement, Lefton said the "timing is right." He noted he'll be 68 when he retires next July.

"I'm leaving KSU at, I think, a particularly good time," he said. "The university is financially stable, its enrollments are good, we're in the middle of this building campaign -- I think it's important to leave an institution in good hands and in a good position and sort of hand off a nice platform to the next person."

Lefton said the timing is right for him personally, too, citing children and grandchildren he'd like to spend more time with.

"I have other things I want to do with my life," he said.

The board named Trustee Richard Marsh to head the committee charged with finding Lefton's replacement, who will be KSU's 12th president.

Marsh noted the committee is in a "very formative stage" and items including who else will be on the committee, what qualities a replacement president should have and a timeline for progress will be worked on through the summer. He said the board also needs to outline a clear vision for KSU into the future, and defining that focus will help establish what qualities the best candidate should offer.

"As things move through the summer months, we should have a much better handle on when things are going to happen and what our schedule looks like," he said.

Marsh said the nationwide search will involve gathering input from KSU faculty and students from all campuses, the city and the general public.

Some ideas for acquiring community feedback, he said, may include direct dialogues with the community and the formation of a website designed specifically for gathering input.

"We'll be giving the community several chances to give us input, and that's going to be an important part of our thinking as we go through this," he said.

In other business Tuesday:

Kelly L. Anthony was named as the director of enrollment management and student services at KSU's Ashtabula campus.

Young Kim was certified as the director of KSU's fashion design studio in New York City.

Any possible tuition hikes were not discussed.

Policies for creating additional distinguished academic ranks in special cases beyond designation of a full professor were established.

In response to provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the maximum hours a student employee can work were reduced from 32 to 28 hours.

Master's degrees for Health Care Design and Landscape Architecture 1 and 2 were created.

An Architectural and Environmental Design major within the College of Architecture and Environmental Design Master of Science degree was established.

An Advanced Nursing Practice major was established.

The design and construction of an indoor practice facility for men's baseball and women's softball was authorized.

Electrical system upgrades for 15 buildings on KSU's Kent campus were authorized.

A project to replace or repair HVAC units at KSU's Trumbull campus was authorized.

A project to improve 40-year-old science labs at KSU's Salem campus was authorized.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or jnobile@recordpub.com

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