With the plaintive  sound of school  bells just days away for a new semester, Hemingway could write that they will toll for the University of Akron.  August has been a horrific month for the school, which occupies a generous portion of the city’s downtown real estate and an equal portion of the city’s upscale business world.

Not in recent memory have such critical voices been raised to bruise the sensibilities of the administration and  trustees. And deservingly so.  With the stats on poor student graduation rates, huge debt, falling enrollment  and a growing phalanx of six-figure management operatives (including some double-dippers) on the campus,  it is easy to guess  how it  arrived at what is trending to a point of no return.

On August 7, President Luis Proenza  confirmed rumors that he would give up the reins in June 2014, after which he would take a year’s sabbatical and return as  a full-time professor and president emeritus.  His lifestyle will be sustained by a base salary increase  to $500,000 for his final six months on the job after Jan. 1 and during the  sabbatical.

Meanwhile, the school has ordered  faculty cutbacks – in numbers and hours – for part timers and revealed red ink in other ways.  It has,  through Proenza’s  game plan,  invested more than $600 million in a new campus-scape and erected a $62 million football stadium with the unfortunate consequence that the scenery doesn’t score touchddowns.    The  Zips, even with Terry Bowden, a coach with a celebrity family name, won a mere one game in 2012, matching the futility of Bowden’s predecessor.

So, to the front office’s dismay,  the Beacon Journal’s coverage told the unpalatable story.  Columnist Bob Dyer described the poor graduation rate as “pathetic.  Almost criminal.”

Others seized on the contrast between the spending and the cuts.  An op-ed piece by Joseph Yeado , an analyst at the Education Trust,  complained about  UA’s priorities  that pursued an “extensive building spree” while so many students failed to graduate.

Walter Hixson, UA distinguished  professor of history and former faculty union president,  observed in his letter to the editor:  “What all too may universities are really about in the modern, corporate environment – and the University of Akron is a real ‘leader’ in this regard – is an ever-sprawling, bloated nonteaching administration and the financial enrichment of architects, planners,  contractors, builders, lawyers, football coaches and assorted charter school shysters and hospital board administrators.”

It doesn’t end there. Matt Williams, the vice president of the New Faculty Majority (adjunct professors), wrote in a letter to the editor  his disdain for the kind of golden parachute given to Proenza  and the “orgiastic spending” at UA while  part-time faculty worked for “poverty wages”. I suspect that conversation will continue.

The unsurprising official  University response:  The critics are overreacting to the numbers.

Oh. Did I mention that  rumors are mentioning former OSU football coach Jim Tressel , now titled as a “strategic engager” at UA, as a potential successor to Proenza. The idea was not dismissed out of hand by the Board.

But would he have to give up his part-time job as a radio host?

  • rhetorical

    Matt Williams is a moderate Republican and regularly gets pilloried in the ABJ’s comments section by his own partisans.
    Walter Hixson remains the best teacher I ever had, and he’s dead on in his assessment. I miss that guy.

  • dmoore2222

    For years colleges have been competing more on the basis of amenities than on academic rigor. Posh dorms and student centers are the norm now. The mall babies see this as the norm.

  • Retrofuturistic

    Their demise started during Governor Taft’s attempt to put Creationism into Ohio’s “science” curriculum. Many of the right-wingers behind that attempt were employed at the “University” of Akron….

  • anastasjoy

    Well past time to abolish competitive college sports. When only 19 schools in the entire country — and only one in the state of Ohio — make money on them and don’t have to subsidize them, it’s time to pull the plug. A $62 million football stadium is an obscenity and an insult. Other countries laugh at our conflation of “education” and pre-professional sports. Between this and the cost of education in this country compared to other countries, I don’t see how we can stay competitive. Real change is needed.

  • rhetorical

    The trustees and management are largely tied to the GOP.

  • Natasha

    Sorry to have to disagree. The purely Tea-Bagger Republican notion that collegiate athletics and college athletes are devices for the schools to “make money on them” is the root cause for most of the problems we see in the BIG-time intercollegiate athletics and later in professional sports.

    The best universities and academic institutions (Think Ivy League and the U.S Service academies not BIG 10 and SEC) all have tremendous intercollegiate athletic programs and teams that are core components of the education that the participating athletes get at these highly selective and world renown academic institutions. Athletes are recruited and do not get scholarships to compete in a plethora of different sports. They are truly part of the student body in the classroom and in the athletic competitions.

    There is a powerful benefit to learning trust, teamwork cooperation and the demands placed upon you to be a member of a team and succeed as a student in these academically rigorous and top-notch universities. These lessons serve these athletes well in their later endeavors once they earn their degrees.

    Our military forces and the business communities are often filled with leaders who are former NCAA athletes all to the benefit of the organization and our nation. Competition is the element that these young athletes learn whether they win or lose.

    What’s wrong is that the money grubbers pols, most of whom never competed at anything physical or ever served a minute in the military or in combat, are running the show because they promise the financial rewards they cannot deliver based on their incredibly stupid policies. Since they rigged the elections with brazen and cowardly gerrymandering, they ensure themselves that they never will have any competition in their political cesspool they call government in Ohio.

  • carrieee4

    How sad I am a UA graduate and a teacher in Akron. It makes my heart sad. They are doing a great things with our High School students who are in the Early College program in giving very good scholarships as they continue on in exchange for the use of the high school right next to it or something like that. Any way I know it is helping many students who otherwise may not be able to go.

  • gigi

    The early college program is actually right in the Polsky’s building and part of the Summit College. It is an excellent program and gives young people from families where no one has ever gone to college the opportunity to graduate in 4 years with not only a high school degree, but a 2-year college degree or the first 2 years towards a 4-year degree.

  • MyNameIsBill

    Just saying the $62 million stadium was paid with donation money. UA didn’t put money into building it.

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