With the plaintive sound of school bells just days away for a new semester, Hemingway could write that they will toll for the University of Akron. August has been a horrific month for the school, which occupies a generous portion of the city’s downtown real estate and an equal portion of the city’s upscale business world.
Not in recent memory have such critical voices been raised to bruise the sensibilities of the administration and trustees. And deservingly so. With the stats on poor student graduation rates, huge debt, falling enrollment and a growing phalanx of six-figure management operatives (including some double-dippers) on the campus, it is easy to guess how it arrived at what is trending to a point of no return.
On August 7, President Luis Proenza confirmed rumors that he would give up the reins in June 2014, after which he would take a year’s sabbatical and return as a full-time professor and president emeritus. His lifestyle will be sustained by a base salary increase to $500,000 for his final six months on the job after Jan. 1 and during the sabbatical.
Meanwhile, the school has ordered faculty cutbacks – in numbers and hours – for part timers and revealed red ink in other ways. It has, through Proenza’s game plan, invested more than $600 million in a new campus-scape and erected a $62 million football stadium with the unfortunate consequence that the scenery doesn’t score touchddowns. The Zips, even with Terry Bowden, a coach with a celebrity family name, won a mere one game in 2012, matching the futility of Bowden’s predecessor.
So, to the front office’s dismay, the Beacon Journal’s coverage told the unpalatable story. Columnist Bob Dyer described the poor graduation rate as “pathetic. Almost criminal.”
Others seized on the contrast between the spending and the cuts. An op-ed piece by Joseph Yeado , an analyst at the Education Trust, complained about UA’s priorities that pursued an “extensive building spree” while so many students failed to graduate.
Walter Hixson, UA distinguished professor of history and former faculty union president, observed in his letter to the editor: ”What all too may universities are really about in the modern, corporate environment – and the University of Akron is a real ‘leader’ in this regard – is an ever-sprawling, bloated nonteaching administration and the financial enrichment of architects, planners, contractors, builders, lawyers, football coaches and assorted charter school shysters and hospital board administrators.”
It doesn’t end there. Matt Williams, the vice president of the New Faculty Majority (adjunct professors), wrote in a letter to the editor his disdain for the kind of golden parachute given to Proenza and the “orgiastic spending” at UA while part-time faculty worked for “poverty wages”. I suspect that conversation will continue.
The unsurprising official University response: The critics are overreacting to the numbers.
Oh. Did I mention that rumors are mentioning former OSU football coach Jim Tressel , now titled as a “strategic engager” at UA, as a potential successor to Proenza. The idea was not dismissed out of hand by the Board.
But would he have to give up his part-time job as a radio host?
Abe Zaidan has been a professional journalist and freelance writer for more than forty years. He was the Ohio correspondent for the Washington Post, as well as a political columnist at the Akron Beacon Journal.