The University of Akron’s acting President John Green recently revived the school’s  report card  that has been a troubling story for too long.  In his State of the University address, Green, who has a been at the helm since last April , soberly observed  that the downtown  campus has been an academic center in decline from plunging enrollment,  weighty debt and a lack of a sustaining  can-do mission that’s hardly encouraging. Given its recent woeful history, it’s doubtful that both its true state of despair and ragged image will be be reversed anytime soon.

Green is a political scientist who was plucked  from a successful role as the director of the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics.  He has been a respected national  voice for whatever political moment commanded his attention.  He’s  not a  flame thrower but basically a serious  academician. (Full disclosure:  He attended my book of published political columns.)

But he has now been trapped in quicksand warning his listeners  that there are problems  that could painfully defy his successor,  from budget cutting to  thinning classrooms to faculty morale.

Yes, he says,  there is talent on the campus, but it has yet to find much hope in the optics.

UA presidents come and go without much long-term vision – four in the past four years.  As one who has maintained years of close ties with the university, I can say that Green was perfectly on target to cite the unyielding truths of a school in retreat. The problem will darken the future with the tangential corporate structure  that guides it. I refer to the politically appointed board of trustees  that seldom talked seriously about the school’s academic credentials.  if indeed, the trustees even truly understood them. Bricks and mortars, yes.  But that hardly lured a student into a classroom in the presence of a remarkably able history  or language professor. To put it quite bluntly:  Why is the campus open for business in the first place?

Without any fanfare talented educators are here today, gone tomorrow. I audited a half dozen classes with an extraordinary art history professor.  But, alas,  she’s gone west.  The school’s music department turned out some fine operatic voices. But what happened to it?

In the past several decades, sport programs have  taken the “educational “ headlines with the hiring of celebrity coaches. Pure cosmetics, as have been so many  of the other ideas that drew cheers  from the UA thinkers.   Over the years why have they risen in joyous  response to the cosmetics of a  debt-swamped  football stadium  (a landmark of Luis Proenza) and  ill-destined initiiatives  from a president like  Scott Scarborough, who convinced the board  that fantasies in other plans were  not artificial insemination to change the school’s brand to Akron Tech – “Ohio’s Polytechnic University” – with new letterheads and dashing insignia on the band uniforms? They had a short life.

In an early public address at Akron Roundtable, he set his path to campus reforms as a disciplinarian  by scolding faculty members who did not pick up a sliver of trash on the campus and asserted that his inside team would come to meetings on time and respond to his questions with short answers. Such child’s play is  hardly worth mentioning to an offended  jury of PhD’s.

Many of his moves backfired. The Faculty Senate responded with a no-confidence vote.

I have taught at the school, audited a number of classes, directed an Elderhostel program there and worked closely (to no avail ) with president after president but came away believing that they were here to advance their own academic goals at the national level  with op-ed columns.  The Elderhostel attraction drew folks from around the country.  But  the front office killed it as a non-profit sold-out money loser  (about $5,000) , which we knew would happen as a promotional UA showpiece that sent the  40 or so visitors home in an upbeat mood about the  school .
..

Nice try, Dr. Green.  You laid out the problem  but…

 

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