AKRON, Ohio - University of Akron President Dr. Scott Scarborough admits that prior to making tough decisions in an attempt to reign in the school's finances and increase enrollment, he knew there were only two choices, both of which would have a damaging impact on morale on campus.
In his first full year in office Scarborough has helped to engineer the elimination of more than 200 positions, get rid of the university's baseball program and re-brand the University as 'Ohio's Polytechnic Institute.'
During his 'State of the University' address he said when he was interviewed for the job, he was made aware of the university's fiscal challenges and declining enrollment. He told members of the Board of Trustees that whatever decisions he would recommend to correct the problems, there would be consequences.
"Once we had the plan we took the plan to the board and said now is the time, do you want do do all the hard decisions up front or try to sprinkle them out over a period of time? And ultimately we said we don't know what the future holds. If we do it over three years not only might we impact morale negatively for three years but the problem might actually run away from us and get worse, so the decision was made in July to make all the very painful difficult financial adjustments that we made," Scarborough told an audience at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall on Tuesday.
"If you essentially take kind of a 'rip the band-aid off' approach, fix all of the major issues, make all of the tough decisions, then what you can do is look everyone in the eye after it is over with and say 'it's over, there is no other shoe to drop.' We have made the tough decisions now we can re-focus on moving the university forward. The problem with that approach is, you take morale down very low when you do that, because an institution, particularly an institution of higher education, can only take so much change," said Scarborough.
Outside of the hall, members of the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors demonstrated to show just how low morale and confidence has dropped.
"There's very little support for the direction the university is going. Between four and seven percent of the faculty agree with the direction the university is going with shared governance and so forth and so we are trying to drive home that point," said AAUP President Dr. John Zipp.
The AAUP distributed fliers outlining their dissatisfaction with the size of the permanent faculty, the decision to re-brand the university, and additional decisions.
The flier also listed University of Akron successes that include a record number of students at UA receiving their degrees in spring 2015 and an increase in federal research expenditures.
Where the two sides have a common ground is that they both want the university to be successful.
Dr. Scarborough says an independent examination of university finances shows they are now in a position to invest in faculty and in programs he hopes will increase the student population and the reach of the school.
He proposes taking the University of Akron from its traditional place as a regional university to one with more of a national outreach.
"We are at that point in time again, we are at a point in time where the University of Akron is adapting and transitioning in order to respond to changing economic and social conditions and prepare itself to move forward to elevate . I would suggest to you today it's time to think about becoming a national university, not just a regional state university, we must become a university with a wider reach and pull," said Scarborough.
"In order to sustain and move this university forward we have to reach out to other parts of the state the region the country and the world to bring in students from areas that we have not historically recruited before. We have to become more of a university with a national reach, an international reach and we are at that time, that's the reason it feels uncomfortable at the moment because we are making a transition from merely a regional state university to a national university with international reach," he added.
Board of Trustees Chairman Jonathan Pavlov introduced Scarborough, noting that the University of Akron has experienced a growth in its freshman enrollment, its honors enrollment and that incoming academic scores are at a record high.
Scarborough read from a book about the history of the University of Akron to demonstrate that on numerous occasions since the very founding of the school, there have been periods where changes were necessary to adapt to new circumstances and to address financial challenges.
"Every time the university did adapt to its changing circumstances the university prospered, evolved and moved forward. So that's our culture, that's really our history," said Scarborough.