Kent State University's national search for a new leader ended right on campus with trustees announcing Monday that Provost and Executive Vice President Todd Diacon will become the university's next president.
Diacon, 60, will replace Beverly Warren, who was appointed president in 2014 and is resigning July 1. He will be paid $475,000 a year.
“One of the things I told the board is I’m an unusual situation. I’m both an internal and an external candidate, so I bring the best practices from big universities and an understanding of how Kent State works. That ensures a smooth transition and getting up to speed much more quickly,” Diacon said.
He was named president Monday at a special board of trustees meeting.
Diacon came to Kent in April 2012, after serving as deputy chancellor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for two years. Much of his career was spent at the University of Tennessee, first as an assistant professor of history and finally as vice provost for academic operations.
In his role as Kent State's provost, Diacon oversees the administration, faculty and staff within the university's 10 colleges and seven regional campuses.
He has a bachelor's degree from Southwestern College, and master's and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Diacon lives in Hudson and is an expert in Latin American and Brazilian history; he has been featured in the PBS American Experience program's "Into the Amazon" show.
“The board is confident that Dr. Diacon’s substantial contributions to Kent State’s advancement over the past seven years demonstrate that he is the right person at the right time to continue our remarkable momentum and progress,” Board of Trustees Chairman Ralph Della Ratta said.
Kent State, with a main campus enrollment of about 27,000 students, appears to have followed the same process it did in its last two presidential searches — shielding its progress from public view. The approach has prompted criticism from advocates for transparency in taxpayer-supported institutions.
Both times, names of finalists were not released.
In December, the school hired a search firm, Russell Reynolds Associates of New York, to assist in the presidential search. The company’s proposal recommended a closed search.
In their initial proposal, Russell Reynolds laid out a 24-week timeline, starting with the announcement of their hire on Dec. 5. According to that timeline, the university is a few weeks ahead of schedule.
“We wanted a candidate by June 30 and we were prepared to use that time. Primarily because of the dedication of the search committee, we kept ourselves on a tight schedule,” said Board of Trustees Vice President Shawn Riley, the search committee chair.
Russell Reynolds asked Diacon to interview for the position after he was nominated several times through various forums and online surveys of the Kent State, city of Kent and Northeast Ohio community.
Riley said that the search committee recommended four prospects to the board. On April 15, the board interviewed the finalists and unanimously recommended entering discussions with Diacon. Diacon said he was offered the position a week ago.
“We weren’t sure he was going to [apply]. We were happy he did. And Russell Reynolds, even though we ended up with an internal candidate, Russell Reynolds helped us sort through the credentials of all candidates to make sure we satisfied our profile,” Riley said. He added that candidates came from around the country and both coasts.
Diacon said that along with following the strategic plan crafted by Warren, he hopes to explore more ways to make higher education affordable and increase enrollment numbers.
“In Ohio, Northeast Ohio in particular, it's predicted to have a double-digit decline in the number of high school graduates. We want to address that by expanding our areas from which we recruit,” he said.
“We have an opportunity to become a national leader in higher education and be a part of the conversation of the day. Here I’m thinking of May 4 and the upcoming 50th commemoration, and our responsibility to explain to the world the dangers of polarization, the dangers of anger and poison speech and the power of reconciliation,” he said.
City of Kent Mayor Jerry T. Fiala said he looks forward to working with Diacon in his new position and expects the relationship between the city and university to continue.
“That’s a strong foundation in this community and I think he’s the one to keep it going,” Fiala said.
John Green, interim president at the University of Akron, said: “I welcome Dr. Diacon to his new role as president. The University of Akron and Kent State University have a positive and productive working relationship as we both prepare our students for their futures in the life of Northeast Ohio."
Green said he and President Warren "have worked together very well, as have many members of our administrative teams, and we look forward to continuing to strengthen that relationship as Dr. Diacon steps into his new position.”
Diacon will remain provost through June 30, and Kent State will begin a national search to replace him “at the appropriate time,” according to university spokesman Eric Mansfield. Mansfield declined to comment on the search committee’s process and the other applicants.
The University of Akron and Northeast Ohio Medical University also are hunting for new presidents.
In December, UA trustees broadened that university’s presidential search committee. The committee — which previously was made up only of trustees — now includes leaders from various campus groups. At the same time, the trustees took steps to close the search process.
Beacon Journal staff writer Katie Byard contributed to this report.