Issue: July/August 2014
New president Beverly Warren has a lesson plan for making a smooth transition at Kent State University.
Call it Beverly J. Warren’s freshman orientation.
As the new president of Kent State University, she’s on a six-month “listening tour” traveling to each of the school’s regional campuses and throughout the country to prepare for the school year.
With stops in Arizona, California, Florida and New York, the former provost and senior vice president at Virginia Commonwealth University is visiting with Kent State alums and business leaders who employ the university’s graduates.
“I want to gain a better understanding of what is at the heart of Kent State University,” says Warren. “We must think about an environment that fosters innovation and find our distinctive advantage as a university and a community.”
As the 12th president in Kent State’s 104-year history, she arrives at the school following a 14-year stint at VCU, a school of more than 31,000 in Richmond, Virginia, that has much in common with Kent State. Warren, who has doctoral degrees in higher education and exercise physiology, coached college volleyball and basketball for 15 years early in her career.
After spending most of her career in the South, it didn’t take long for the Charlotte, North Carolina, native to experience a Northeast Ohio winter. On the January day before her appointment was announced, Kent experienced its coldest temperature in 20 years. “They’re already calling me Polar Vortex,” Warren laughs.
Warren’s tenure begins at a critical time in higher education for Northeast Ohio. Three of its major institutions have new presidents: Scott Scarborough replaces Luis Proenza at the University of Akron, and Jim Tressel takes over at Youngstown State University. For her part, Warren wants to continue the momentum created by outgoing president Lester Lefton, including the collaboration between the university and the city of Kent.
“Cities and universities do their best work when they work together,” she says. “So much of what we do as a university is centered around how well we are being good citizens with the local community. Kent could be that next Austin, that next Ann Arbor, a place where you have that daily energy.”
We talk to Warren about athletics, downtown Kent and dealing with tragedy.
IB: How does VCU compare with Kent State?
I talk often about the similarities. The sense of what we were about at VCU is very similar here. There is a keen sense of a collaborative spirit across disciplines. The size of the schools is very similar. They both really care about how students learn and gain more understanding of who they are as people.
IB: What is the most appealing aspect of your new job?
Kent State is a special place. It was an opportunity I simply couldn’t turn down. The most appealing part was having a platform and the opportunity to make a difference by connecting great people to great projects. That ripple effect is powerful.
IB: As a Cinderella team during the NCAA basketball tournament, VCU became a household name across the country. What is the importance of a successful athletic program to an institution?
It’s a critical question. What I’ve always said is we should strive for excellence in every area, whether it’s in the classroom or on the [basketball] court. If you’re able to land on a national stage through athletics, it gives you a window of opportunity to share the other parts of your university with the world. It’s important from a visibility standpoint and for the student experience.
IB: The city of Kent has revitalized its downtown and become a haven for the arts. How can the university benefit from this?
We need to continue our partnership with Kent. The whole idea of attracting talent depends on an energy and vitality. And we also want to have appealing housing options for the students and young professionals.
IB: The campus shootings of May 4, 1970, are inextricably linked to the university. How do you deal with that tragic legacy?
We need to pay tribute to those who were there and those who persevered and graduated in the early 1970s. This is a university that has been so very resilient and continues to be a beacon by being outspoken about what is right. We have to honor the past while we define our future.
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