The University of Akron announced this week that leaders from some of Ohio’s top companies will provide advice to embattled university administrators who face mounting criticism over increased administrator salaries, deep budget cuts and a rebranding of the university as a technical college.
This past Sunday, The Akron Beacon Journal carried a full-page ad signed by some of those business executives that called on the community to support the university and its leaders. Although the ad was signed by those on the newly formed Akron Business Executives Advisory Council, it was paid for with funds from the school’s gift-receiving arm, The University of Akron Foundation. The money for the ad was donated by Richard Pogue, former chair of the university’s board of trustees, Chief Communications & Marketing Officer Wayne Hill wrote in an emailed response to questions. However, when asked if the foundation could provide documentation of Pogue’s gift, Hill did not respond.
Asked whose idea it was for a committee of business people to be formed to advise the university on its decisions, Hill wrote, “… the idea grew out of numerous discussions President (Scott) Scarborough has had with a wide range of community and business leaders since he became president in July 2014.”
The newly formed advisory council includes the presidents and CEOs from companies such as FedEx Custom Critical, Welty Building Company, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Akron Children’s Hospital and FirstEnergy Corp. Interestingly, in October Eileen Burg, widow of former FirstEnergy CEO and Akron University alum Peter Burg, wrote in a scathing letter to the Beacon Journal that she had ceased her regular donations to the school because of the university’s administrative decisions. In the letter, Burg wrote, “There are wonderful things going on at UA. I do not feel they are coming from the leadership or the board of trustees.”
Hill in his email declined to provide a specific example of the type of policy decisions the committee would advise on. Dr. John Zipp, professor of sociology and president of the Akron chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the AAUP was not notified of the formation of the committee, nor of the type of policies the business executives would advise on.
“There are certainly some aspects to management that would profit from the advice of successful business leaders, such as downsizing and layoffs,” Zipp said in a phone interview.
Asked whether the university was contemplating widespread layoffs or downsizing, Hill wrote, “The university’s three-year budget plan outlined the major steps being taken to address the $60 million financial problem that was faced and no further actions of that nature are contemplated.”
“I don’t think they’ll be as helpful as faculty would be with academics related decisions,” Zipp said of the business committee. “To be an expert in an area, one has to follow it and be immersed in it, and I don’t see how these business leaders are. Universities already get advice from people in the business world; they’re called trustees,” Zipp said, noting that most trustees who serve on university boards have a background in business.
The formation of the advisory group comes as the university’s faculty senate considers issuing a vote of no confidence in President Scott Scarborough. At its November meeting the senate voted to create a committee tasked with considering a resolution expressing the senate’s lack of confidence in the president. A decision is expected after the new year.
And in September, an AAUP survey found many faculty members unhappy with university administration. Zipp asked 450 fellow professors their opinions of the university’s administration. Of the survey respondents, 79 percent said the university is worse off than it was one year ago, 80 percent said they do not have confidence in the university’s strategic planning and budgeting process, and 77 percent said they are not confident the board of trustees is upholding its responsibilities.
Many connected to the university are unhappy with decisions and policies implemented by the university’s new leadership. Protests are common on the campus, and petitions are circulating that call for Scarborough to resign. Since Scarborough’s tenure began in July 2014, salaries for administrators have ballooned while the university budget has been slashed by $40 million. One of the most publicized outcries came when it was learned the university spent almost $1 million to renovate the university home that Scarborough inhabits.
“I’ve spoken to people at other universities around the country,” said Zipp. “They’re appalled by what’s happened here. They’re shocked and they feel badly. I’ve even heard people say that their boards of trustees and their managers are surprised by what’s going on here.”