An Open Letter to Dr. Lester Lefton, President of Kent State University

Editor’s Note: The following is an open letter to Dr. Lester Lefton, President of Kent State University on the importance of diversity in Ohio and the United States. It was originally published at

I am writing to you as Founder and President Emeritus of the Kent State University college chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (KSU-NAACP).  Both I and several hundred KSU-NAACP alumni have grave concern for the condition of the Department of Pan African Studies (DPAS).  We have been informed that the department is now nearing an 80% loss of African American faculty members.  This is, of course, a problem that requires your immediate attention for several reasons.

First, faculty attrition in the DPAS department has limited the number of important classes that can be offered to students. Like most college departments, DPAS is responsible for generating FTE to support operational costs.  The administration’s previous failures to fill vacant positions have resulted in a deficit in the department’s operating budget.  Secondly, Kent State’s students and future graduates are thus being diverted from courses that are influential in their calibration of knowledge on the nature and history of the African American diaspora.  This is significant because the African American workforce in Ohio is projected to increase over the next decade.  As we both know, many of our graduates tend to work in Ohio.  Notably, Kent State produces the highest number of graduates in the region, and therefore our institution has an important role in ensuring that all graduates have a firm grounding in their understanding of American culture, including African American heritage and the ability to understand and relate to people of all cultures. Diluting the department’s mission represents a failure on the part of Kent State University, and given the institution’s troubled history with people of color, this is a concern.

As an alumnus, I am typically informed on the leadership of my institution through the espoused values of the university’s strategic plan.  My evaluation of KSU’s strategic plan shows that we value diversity (which includes African Americans).  The problem occurring in the DPAS department is not occurring because the university no longer values diversity.  Instead, the vision to make the university a place that values inclusion and equitability for all is being subverted by poor management of KSU’s own strategic plan.  An 80% decline in African American faculty in the DPAS would not be acceptable in the biology or chemistry departments, and whether this phenomenon is deliberate or incidental, there must be a way forward from this situation.

kent-state-universityTherefore, I suggest the following. The previous paragraphs will be published on, a forum for African American culture that has an international readership.  This action is being performed so that you are aware that people around the world are watching your response to this situation, with the expectation that you will continue to serve as an advocate for diversity education in Northeast Ohio. Next, as it is now March, I would assume that your Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, who is charged with ensuring students’ understanding of diversity (Goal 1, KSU Strategic Plan) and recruitment and retention of high quality faculty and staff (Goal 6, KSU Strategic Plan), will report that as of this quarter there is an 80% decline in faculty in the DPAS department.  By April 12, 2013, I will expect from you a letter to the Daily Kent Stater acknowledging the reduced number of opportunities for students in the DPAS department and your plans to rectify this problem.  On April 14, 2013, I will be appearing on a nationally broadcasted radio show to discuss your leadership in ensuring that Ohio graduates have access to high-quality, culturally rich instruction that is inclusive of the ancestry of African Americans.  In the month of July, I and five former presidents from the KSU-NAACP and Black United Students will plan to meet with you and your Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to discuss your progress in the recruitment of faculty for the DPAS department.  We expect that the University will replace no less than three positions by the Fall 2013 semester. The aforementioned steps will ensure that the quality of education for all students at KSU remains intact and that large segments of the student and faculty populations are not marginalized. Your commitment to recognizing this aspect of Kent State University’s strategic plan will be appreciated.

Respectfully yours,

Richard Montgomery, ‘98