Soon after Texas-bred Scott Scarborough settled into the president’s office at the University of Akron in June 2014 with a unique sweetheart contract, he set out to show everyone that there was a new sheriff in town. If the school was to meet the challenges of heavy debt, declining enrollment and shrinking support from the Kasich Administration, there would have to be dramatic changes in how UA would be tending to higher education. Anybody for “rebranding”?
He zealously put the faculty on notice that he would insist on punctual discipline from everyone, even telling the Chronicle of Higher Education that trash pickup was part of a quality educator’s noble obligation.
“A person who is too importnt to pick up trash is probably too important to help a student who is struggling to understand an important concept or practice,” he said. Stooping to pick up trash, he explained, “Is the most effective reliable indicator of effective leadership.”
Here, then, was the former provost at the University of Toledo – where he was unpopular with the faculty – who was ready to literally clean house with a long to-do list that would pay him $550,000 plus princely benefits, and a $950,000 restructuring of the university-owned home to satisfy Scarborough’s needs. Would you believe that it also meant turning two bedrooms into a suite for his wife’s parents, live-ins to look after the Scarboroughs’ six year old daughter. (The contract also called for free tuition for the daughter at any Ohio college when she’s ready years from now).
Scarborough also had grim words for four Northeast Ohio institutions that unless they were prepared, as he was, to change their ways, they faced extinction..
The hubris in his tone at the Cleveland City Club rostrum in May brought a sharp reaction from the presidents of the four schools:- Ronald Berkman (Cleveland State); Jay Gershen (Northeast Ohio Medical University); Jim Tressel (Youngstown State University; and Beverly Warren (Kent State University). In a signed letter directing their fire at the UA guy, they said Nortrheast Ohio’s schools would be a lot better off working together than predicting their demise.
Meanthile, Scarborough, in free flight from a comatose Board of six Republicans and two Democrats, was busily projecting hunt-and-peck plans to change the name of University of Akron to, maybe, Ohio Tech, now tagged as Ohio Polytechnic University, eliminating 215 jobs as well as the school’s baseball team and delivering other clumsily executed decrees which had a habit of being rescinded. Even the band uniforms struck the A” from their identity and now bear a “Z” – symbolically more cool, I guess, for our day.
There’s much more: Team Scarborough called for offering $50 per-credit-hour tuition for some introductory courses, and later said never mind. It closed the University Press office and moved the tiny staff to the already pinched library.
Hardly a day passed that there wasn’t one more report that fed the chaos. Scarborough did finally put down the name-change commotion by saying there would be none, emphatically adding, “period”.
Among the prime cost-cutting targets was E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall, named for the late Goodyear chairman who, along with Publisher John S. Knight contributed effort and money for the nationally celebrated hall that opened in 1973. The entire staff was laid off with the order that there would no longer be non-academic events staged there. That would exclude the Akron Symphony Orchestra and the highly respected Tuesday Musical series. After considerable blowback from the arts and a flood of confusion over scheduling contracts, that idea , too was reversed.
Although the school’s new team argues that it is only trying to cut into a $60 million debt (it’s not clear that’s the real figure) UA hired a start-up company with sparse experience at $843,000 to provide “success coaches” for freshmen. You can also throw in a hefty contract with Scarborough Texas acquaintance Randy Best’s Academic Partnerships for an online nursing program.
Oh, Scarborough also presided over the hiring of several executives whose combined salaries approached $1 million for a school pleading poverty.
The Infant Scarborough era is not playing well on the campus or for financial support groups that have announced they are withholding scholarship money. And a just-released campus survey by the Akron Chapter of the American Association of University Professors reported that 72 pct. of the 450 respondents disapproved of Scarborough’s leadership.
John Zipp, the Akron- AAUP president, said it would be folly to dismiss the figures as a “few disgruntled faculty”.
Scarborough, apparently a man of serious religious conviction, has said that he believes that “moments of failure are when we are most receptive to actually hearing what God has been trying to say.” If so, he’s been hearing a lot these days from heaven as well as earthly voices, too.
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