AKRON, Ohio – University of Akron President Dr. Scott Scarborough admitted on Wednesday that mistakes have been made in the university’s attempt to eliminate a $60-million deficit.
The comments came during a regular monthly meeting of the University of Akron Board of Trustees. Board Chairman John Pavloff also said the board could have done a better job communicating its plans over the past several weeks.
Scarborough and the board members have been the targets of criticism since laying off 180, eliminating 200 positions and ending the baseball program. The staff of the University of Akron Press and E.J. Thomas Hall were affected by the cuts.
Board members were assured that programming will continue at E. J. Thomas Hall, and a working staff for the press would be developed to honor all current publication commitments and “create the press of the future.”
“We actually think that our programming (at E.J. Thomas Hall) is going to strengthen over time because what we have been able to do in these past few weeks is develop stronger relationships with the civic theater with Playhouse Square. We have great contacts with the Covelli Center in Youngstown. It is my belief that in time the programming in E.J. Thomas will actually strengthen, but most importantly, we wont be spending $2 million of student money in support of E.J. Thomas. That is the primary objective we were trying to achieve,” Scarborough said.
Many demonstrators said they understand the university needed to do something to reign in its finances, but feel the decisions were not well thought out.
“I hope the trustees realize that this is a very, very serious issue for the campus, that morale is quite low and that any decisions, decisions that were made in error, can be undone,” said Dr. John Zipp, president of the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
“I’m sure they acted in what they felt was the best interest of the university, but they have acted without any real consultation with the major stakeholders of the university. That’s the faculty, that’s the students and that’s the community,” said Dr. Kevin Kern, an associate professor of history and a former member of the editorial board for the University of Akron Press.
“We did make mistakes along the way. We have been forthright about that. With as much as needed to be accomplished, we knew there would be mistakes that would need to be corrected. And that indeed happened and we are working to correct those mistakes as they become clear,” Scarborough told board members. “The larger goal, however, has been accomplished. We have had to reduce administrative costs, strengthen our finances and invest in those activities that will make us stronger in our future.”
“It’s not just what we were going to do, but how we were going to go about it. We probably owed answers to folks in advance of the announcements coming out and I think that summarizes it. We have tried to move down that path and will try to do better in the future,” Pavloff said.
Scarborough called the last two weeks difficult.
“The reduction in force was the significant and difficult part of what we did. Over 200 positions have been affected, I think over 180 real people. So that’s what we are grieving, that’s what we are mourning, that’s what we are kind of working through. The fact that we have lost that many people out of our community,” Scarborough said.
He also said the decisions that were made were not without a great deal of consultation across campus.
“We worked very carefully. I mean, the process that we went through, to try to get to these very difficult decisions. We worked over six months, in my office, with the leadership of the faculty senate, with the leadership of the faculty union, the department chair that represents all the department chairs. So we worked through all of these very difficult decisions to make sure that we didn’t impact the academic core,” Scarborough said.
Associate professor of music Guy Bordo joined the demonstrators, insisting the cuts affected instruction at the university.
“When you live here, that’s not the way this is. There are lots of decisions that are made and then all of a sudden, what are the ramifications of these decisions and the things that we need to teach, we aren’t getting. I mean, it’s just that simple. It’s just a chaotic mess,” Bordo said.
“There have been no faculty layoffs, but there has been tremendous faculty attrition over the years,” Zipp said. “The university has often presented data from 1999 to the present to compare the changes. Well, if you look at the student-faculty ratio from 1999 versus today, if we had the same ratio today that we had in 1999, there would be 190 more full-time faculty members.”
Scarborough continued to say the university’s focus has been on education.
“This was really about doing two things. One: restoring our financial health. And two: creating a new initiative pool to be able to invest in our academic core that which is most important to maintaining our academic quality and then returning to growth as an institution,” Scarborough said.
Scarborough also addressed administrative cuts, with some demonstrators believing the university remains top heavy.
“If you look at the positions that were eliminated, many of them were very senior positions, all the way up to vice president. When we benchmark ourselves against other public universities, we are fairly lean at the vice president level and we intend to do that. We are honored to do that and we want to try to be as lean as possible and to focus as much of our resources as possible in our academic core. That’s everyone’s goal and we think we have actually taken a positive step forward in the budget that was approved on June 10th,” Scarborough said.
Some of the demonstrators also continued to be frustrated by the university spending nearly a million dollars in renovations and refurnishing the university-owned presidential house prior to Scarborough and his family moving in.
Pavloff repeated his previous comments that the money for the furnishings at the home was all privately donated, specifically for that purpose.
“All of the dollars that were used to renovate and furnish the presidential residence were donated and directed for that specific purpose. Wo there were no monies from the general fund, no monies from the state share for instruction that went into acquiring any of the furnishings or in the renovation or the acquisition of the residence,” Pavloff said.
“Our single focus at this point in time is doing the things we need to do to strengthen the University of Akron to maintain the excellence that it has had historically and to take it to the next level, to be that great public university,” Scarborough. said.