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The phone in Kent J. Smith Jr.’s Ohio University office kept ringing. On the other end was a search firm that kept saying he was destined to be Langston University’s next president.
Smith was hired in January, but wanted to fulfill his obligation in Athens, Ohio, before making the move later this year. He started making contacts in the state soon after he accepted the job.
“Initially, I was catching them off guard,” Smith says with a laugh. “They didn’t know who I was.”
All along the process, Langston knew who Smith was.
“Four or five times, I told them I appreciated it, but I’m good where I’m at,” Smith says. “I’ll give the search firm credit: They kept calling.”
That committee took several months convincing Smith to fly to Oklahoma for an interview. Once he arrived, he realized that he was ready to leave behind his life as vice president for student affairs in Athens, and take a position he had always dreamed about.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he says. “I knew of Langston University, but I didn’t know Langston in detail. I feel like I’m going to be part of an institution that has worked very hard to be financially stable,” he says. “Outside looking in, as I spoke to more and more people, they knew the name Langston and knew the historical significance, but really did not know the ins and outs.”
In the geographical landscape of historically black colleges, Langston is the farthest west.
“That creates some opportunities,” Smith says. “I plan to be a president who is out there recruiting and talking with young people on a consistent basis about all that Langston University has to offer.”
He will bring three children with him to Oklahoma, ranging from ages 4 to 17. Another child is attending college.
He succeeds former university president JoAnn Haysbert, who resigned last summer after six years of service to return to Hampton University.
“We are very pleased with our selection of Dr. Smith as the next president of Langston University,” says Andy Lester, chairman of the search committee and member of the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical Board of Regents. “As a scholar with a strong record in administration and a deep appreciation for the history of Langston University and its importance to Oklahoma, Dr. Smith is a superb choice. He impressed us with his focus on student education and desire for academic rigor. He also brings solid leadership qualities and a collaborative management style to the position.”
Smith comes from a school with tradition and deep ties in the community.
Halloween in Athens is legendary for drawing students and residents out in droves for a night of revelry.
“I’m from Louisiana, so thankfully, Halloween in Athens has nothing on Mardi Gras,” Smith says with a laugh.
Henry Ponder will serve as the school’s interim president until Smith officially begins this summer as Langston’s 16th president.