Campaign Calls for Changes in Kent State Athletics

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A group of Kent State athletics supporters is actively campaigning to fix what they perceive is "the damaged culture" in the department, according to a report by the independent website

In a letter sent Sept. 13 to Kent State president Todd Diacon, former employees, student athletes, coaches and donors asked to meet with him to work on solving the problems the signees see in the department, including issues they have with Joel Nielsen, the director of athletics.

The letter lists concerns about gender equity in the department, along with a lack of success on the playing field. It also calls the work atmosphere "toxic," and expresses concerns that attendance is down, along with monetary donations. The tipping point appears to be Kent State's decision to halt a Division I field hockey match between the University of Maine and Temple University as it headed for double overtime in order to accommodate pregame events for a KSU football game on an adjacent field.

Related: Kent State to Investigate Field Hockey Incident

The letter states, "All of us admired your September 12 letter to the Kent State University Community, your decision to initiate an investigation, and your insistence that 'we can, and must, to better.'

"We agree with you when you wrote the incident 'does not reflect who we are as a university or a welcoming community.' Unfortunately, based on our combined experiences, we believe the incident does reflect what Kent State University's Athletic Department has become during the last decade."

The letter goes on to list concerns, including staff turnover, Kent State's rank of 346 among 351 Division I athletic departments in terms of women in coaching, as well as a coverup of a sexual harassment investigation of Nielsen. 

A website called "Remove Nielsen" was also launched, and describes itself as "The Campaign for Change in Kent State Athletics." 

Related: Kent State AD Apologizes for Field Hockey Snafu

On Oct. 8, vice president and university secretary Charlene Reed emailed David Carducci, one of the organizers of the effort behind the letter and the website, on behalf of Diacon that the university will be reviewing its strategic plan for athletics and will involve "stakeholders" in "charting the course for Intercollegiate Athletics over the next few years."

Diacon declined to meet in person with the signees because “it would be inappropriate for the university president to discuss personnel matters with individuals outside of the institution.”

Buzz Starner, who is on the executive board of the Kent State University Foundation, is one of 20 people with connections to KSU athletics who signed the letter, and reportedly even more individuals wanted to sign. 

“We’ve seen some very good people [in the athletics department] that have been, in our estimate, mistreated,” he said. “We are not people who are going to just ignore the situation. It’s come to a point now that our group and those people that are joined within that group are committed to getting this right once and for all and removing that toxic environment and treating people the way they need to be treated as employees of the university.”

Mollie Radzinski, Kent State's assistant director of athletic communications from 2012 to 2017, is now the assistant athletic director for communications at the University of Cincinnati. She said she left Kent State for the same reason she signed the letter — due to how “toxic” she felt the athletic department at Kent State had become. 

“I love Kent State,” Radzinski said. “I went there [as an undergraduate student] and never regretted a second I was there. When I got the job there, I was really excited and didn’t foresee myself leaving. But there were so many issues happening, both publicly and behind the scenes,” she said. “When you go to work every day, you should be happy and feel comfortable and safe in your workplace and it got to the point where I wasn’t feeling that anymore.”

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