Sunday, July 26, 2015

For UA Trustees: Just another day at the office?

Monday will be a critical day for the University of Akron  as well as the city and surrounding area itself.

Unanswered questions about the school may be answered.  And then, considering the reticence of everybody concerned, may not.  Will the University remain a university in name only, instead of a place where ideas have room to ferment in a traditional  academic culture? Or will the Board of Trustees, who will be meeting Monday morning,    address itself to the school's  severely damaged image and promise to do better?

Oh, I know. UA has a $60 million (or more) debt and is attempting to scrub  $40 million of it by cutting 215 MORE jobs on top of what it's already lanced the past few years while adding princely paid managers as the pick of its litter.   Will E.J. Thomas Hall, one of the brighter lights on campus with a strong public reach, become a shell of a once proud edifice?

And what about that silly billboard that says you can save $5,000 by  taking six classes?    What a demeaning concession to cheap commercialism  for a school of  assumed higher goals.  Will there next be BOGO promotions?  

The decline at the downtown  campus has been occurring for  more than decade, much of which happened  when former President Luis Proenza went on a spending spree without the money to back it up.  Where was the Board of Trustees at that time?  Meanwhile, our once influential local newspaper has played a mostly passive role.  (Passive?   Not a story in the weeks following the original announcement of the looming shrinkage by President Scott Scarborough!)  

The are plenty of F grades to go around.

Local political leaders are deeply concerned that the lost  taxes will hurt, particularly after the rubes in the legislature cut $2.2 million from Akron's local government funds.

How bleak have  been the weeks been since the Scarborough announcement?  Much of the gloom has settled on E.J. Thomas Hall, which may have been in the cross hairs of a total shutdown.  I'm told that inquiries were made by UA to the Civic Theater's management about whether it could handle the Akron Symphony Orchestra and Tuesday Musical seasons that were scheduled for E.J.  They were simply told NO.

How brutal that long-time faculty and staff were hearing these things without a word from the UA brass. As one veteran staffer put it:  "The campus has been freaking out." So much for the morale at a school  fumbling to rebrand itself.

The only hero arising from these flickering embers is Larry Snider, the  distinguished Professor of Music who blistered the administration and trustees for making a bad situation even worse with a hit-and-run announcement of mysterious cuts.

In a public notice,  Snider  urged everyone with a stake in UA's future to turn out at 7:30 make their presence felt at the Board of Trustees meeting Monday in the Student Union.

I don't know it will work. Bush-league institutional inertia has been in place on this deal locking lips across the campus as a business model. Why not an academic model instead in which  students learn things, graduate and get on with their lives?

If there's  anything these political appointees don't want to hear, it's  that they made some  horrendous mistakes, errors of omission as well as commission.

It 's  an epic take-down of UA-style  higher ed.  And even considering the damage to the school's reputation, it's likely to stay that way for a long time.

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