LANGSTON — For the past four months, Kent Smith has had two jobs.
Smith, the new president of Langston University, formally took office this week. But he's been working since he was appointed in January to familiarize himself with Oklahoma in general and Langston in particular.
All the while, he continued his duties at Ohio University, where he served as vice president for student affairs and chief student affairs officer. Generally, he said, that meant going to work in Ohio, coming home in the evenings and putting in long hours to prepare to start work at Langston.
“It's hard,” he said. “For me, the job didn't start yesterday.”
Smith succeeds former Langston President JoAnn Haysbert, who left the university last year to return to Hampton University in Virginia to serve as executive vice president. Haysbert worked in various administrative and academic roles at Hampton for 25 years before coming to Langston in 2005.
Smith holds a bachelor's degree in secondary education and a master's degree in administration and supervision from Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, La., and a doctorate in education and human resources from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.
Smith's first days in office have been eventful. Officials announced Tuesday the university had hired Mike Garrett to be the school's new athletic director. Garrett succeeds former athletic director Patric Simon, who left in April to take a similar position at Alcorn State University in Mississippi.
School officials planned to introduce Garrett at a news conference Thursday.
Formerly athletic director at the University of Southern California, Garrett was fired from that post in July 2010 after overseeing the program through a period of major NCAA violations.
Garrett represents Smith's first major hire as LU president. Smith said the search process for a new athletic director helped him acquaint himself with the university more quickly. Courting candidates for the job forced him to learn more about the university so he could effectively sell the university to applicants.
One of Smith's main goals for the university is an image overhaul, he said. Good things happen at the school, he said, but the university hasn't done a good job of telling its own story. As a result, he said, many Oklahomans don't know much about the university or its history.
When Langston does find itself in the public view, in many cases it is for crime. The university has struggled in recent years with campus violence, including a high-profile shooting at an on-campus apartment complex in 2010.
According to federal campus crime data, Langston's main campus reported 20 instances of aggravated assault in 2010 — more than 35 percent of the state's total, and more than twice as many as any other school in Oklahoma. Although more recent data aren't available, school officials have said security upgrades put in place since then appear to have quelled violence on campus.
Code of conduct
Smith said he plans to take steps to make sure those problems don't arise again. Those steps would begin with recruiting students who won't be likely to cause trouble, he said.
Once those students are on campus, Smith said, he'll speak personally with them about the university's expectations for behavior. In the years to come, he'll also work with students to revamp the university's student code of conduct, he said. Allowing students to take part in that conversation is important, he said, because students tend to take greater ownership over policies when they're involved in creating them.
Smith said he's encouraged by the legacy previous presidents left him. Under the leadership of former President Ernest Holloway, the university's enrollment grew. More recently, Haysbert left Langston on sound financial footing during a time of economic turmoil. Those contributions leave the university in a solid position, he said.
“I think there's tremendous opportunity here to go into uncharted waters,” he said.