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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