Beverly Warren cautions 'We don’t want to be Sears & Roebuck in an Amazon world' in final State of the University speech

Kent State University President Beverly Warren’s last State of the University address was sermon-like in its intensity, with the leader asking faculty to continue to transform the school for the benefit of students.

“We cannot force a 1998 curriculum on a 2018 student,” Warren said Wednesday, adding: “We don’t want to be Sears & Roebuck in an Amazon world.”

Warren, 70, who has been president since 2014, plans to step down from her post in July. In an email to the campus community last month, she said she plans to "to shift my focus to family and personal considerations” and would not exercise her option to serve as president for an additional year through 2020.

“Students First" was the first priority among five listed in the university's Strategic Roadmap to a Distinctive Kent State plan, the creation of which Warren spearheaded.

Warren sounded some of her favorite themes — collaboration and innovation. “It is a time to come together," leaving behind “silos … [desires for] self-preservation” and support students “in discovering their passion and purpose,” she said.

Warren delivered her speech to roughly 400 students and faculty and community members at the main campus student center. The speech was broadcast online to the university's eight-campus system.

Less PowerPoint

“We must embrace transformation,” Warren said, noting she sees “interdisciplinary, team-based work” at the center of delivering on the university’s mission to be student-centered.

“We must invent new models of teaching … learning,” she said, noting the Kent State Core — a menu of courses from which students can choose to meet “core” undergraduate requirements — “is ripe for reinvention.”

Warren said she wasn’t going to prescribe specific actions. Rather, she said, “I am here to support the work of our stellar faculty" in innovating.

“Now is the time for you to lead,” she said, citing examples of faculty members working together to bring creative instruction to students.

Through collaboration and innovation, “KSU will be far more adept “at preparing our students for a dramatically changing world,” she said.

“More experiments” in class and “less death by PowerPoint,” she said, garnering laughter from the audience.

Making reference to her plan to step down, Warren said, “A large part of me will always reside here at Kent State … I’ll always believe in you … never doubt your ability for innovation and transformation.”

Accomplishments

The end of her talk was met with a standing ovation. KSU theater major Montria Walker also got audience members on their feet, opening the event by singing “Rise Up.” The song is the hit single from Andra Day’s debut album “Cheers to the Fall.”

Warren began her talk citing some of the past year’s highlights, including the record number of bachelor’s degrees awarded last spring — 5,758. That’s nearly double the number in 2000, and is up by roughly 1,000 from 2014.

Other 2017-18 highlights she noted included the launching of a 10-year, $1 billion-plus facilities master plan for the main campus, and a record-setting $44 million in fundraising.

A total of about 27,150 students are attending the Kent campus this fall semester, down about 3.2 percent from a year ago. This is the second fall in which overall enrollment has declined. The number of new full-time freshmen totals 4,363, up from the fall 2016 record of 4,335.

KSU officials and those at universities across the country are being challenged by a decrease in high school graduates. Total enrollment at Kent State's eight-campus system — the Kent campus and seven regional campuses — is 38,323 students. That's down 2.7 percent from last fall.

 

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook.