This transcript was edited for clarity and length.
KentWired: How has the first month and a half been?
Diacon:“Its been great. Met a lot of good people, a lot of well wishers, been having ‘get to know you meetings’ with the trustees - not to conduct business just to get to know them. We moved to the presidential residence. Thanks to my wife that got done. I went to the Harvard seminar for new presidents for a week that was fantastic.”
KW: Going into the 50th year since May 4, what can people expect?
D:“College of Architecture and Environmental Design will hold a national conference on how the shape of an area played into how student protest took place. They’ll look at Tiedemann Square, they’ll look at the 1968 Massacre at Mexico and Mexico City. The history department and School of Peace and Conflict Studies will host an international summit from the Civil War because that’s another message of May 4. How do you reconcile after there’s been a tragedy and over the past 50 years those who have been involved and what lessons have they learned. It ranges from that to a Kent State museum exhibit from the fashions of the 60s to an October production by our great theater department. They will produce ‘Hair’ which is a quintessential 1960s/1970s musical and will have guest speakers throughout so it’s going to be a great year for the commemoration.
KW:“What is facing the university as its biggest struggle?”
D:“All universities in Ohio all universities in the upper Midwest and all universities in New England say they face a similar challenge and that was a demographic decline in the college growing age population. So what we know from U.S. census data is that Northeast Ohio will see somewhere around a 22% to 25% decline in the number of high school graduates over the next 10 years or so. Same thing for the upper Midwest, same thing for Pennsylvania and it’s the same thing for New York. Then in Ohio we have 14 public universities and then demographics so that’s always a challenge of how to manage that. We have a great new Vice President of Enrollment Management Mary Parker she started in January she’s already getting great value and she’ll spend this year with her team coming up with a known plan. Right now, I told the trustees I don’t know what the right enrollment is at Kent State but I do know what the right budget is and the right budget is balanced. We’ve had great success in enrollment. I will continue to work on that.”
KW: “What’s your biggest goal?”
D: “Right now we want to focus on being a student ready college so we want to look at all of our websites, we want to look at all of our policies, we want to look at all of our website materials and say ‘is this in a language that’s accessibe to all students and it makes sense to parents?’ You know this world better than I do. Say, ‘go file a FAFSA’ and with a student ready college approach we are committed to helping people who are struggling to fill out their FAFSA. We’ll help them fill it out on move-in day we’re going to have a satellite office of One Stop in the ballroom of the student center so that parents and students if they have any issues and they’re there we’ll be able to help them. So that’s a primary thing- a student ready college.”
KW:“What is your biggest concern you see students facing today?”
D: “We see a dramatic increase in the mental health of students nationwide. The number of students who come to us were going to come to us already for a prescription and we really have a commitment to helping all of our students read things about our university. One of the great things about our university is also one of the most challenging things. Running the university is one of the few places in the U.S. where people with wildly different political views and social cultural attitudes come together and interact. To me, that’s the greatest thing about being a university. You meet people with completely different backgrounds and people with completely different assumptions about what’s right and what’s wrong. They have assumptions about how to do things at the same time, particularly today with the discourse that we see in the U.S. Today a lot of contentious debates are, “I am right and not only are you wrong but because you think differently and then I think that there’s something wrong with you.” I think of the challenge that we all face at every university including Kent State is we want to continue and we will continue our fierce commitment to freedom of expression. At the same time, I want to honor a value of kindness and respect and all that you do so that’s an ongoing challenge.”
KW: “What’s one thing people don’t know about you?”
D: “I grew up in the county that grows the most wheat than any other county in America. I grew up in Sumner County, Kansas, which is right on the Oklahoma border. It was really just one big wheat field plus now sunflower fields. So I don’t know that a lot of people know that. I am a historian of Brazil. My Ph.D. is in history, and I wrote two books on Brazil.
KW:“What do you want to say to students?”
D:“I’m going to steal from our Interim Provost Dr. Melody Tankersley because I heard her in our welcome at Destination Kent State say to students you’re going to need help at some point here. It might be tutoring, financial aid or directions around campus. She would ask students aloud, “I need help.” So I’m going to borrow from the Provost and say that my one piece of advice is ask for help. You’re new here. Ask for help and then for the students who are finishing this year, congratulations you made us proud. I look forward to watching you do great things.
This interview was conducted by Rachel Karas, Clay O’Neal and Erin Simonek. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.