Monday, July 27, 2015

The fall of the house of Knight and Thomas

As University of Akron President Scott Scarborough  issued his very businesslike death warrants  Monday for working folks on the campus, the staff at E.J.Thomas Hall for the Performing Arts gloomily awaited their fates when a UA human resources person and police officer arrived with horrific news:  the entire staff including Dan Dahl, the executive director for a  quarter-century, were severed.

Think of it, people,  and don't tell me something had to give because the building itself was a  hole in the budget.   There were plenty of places including the failed but expensive football program that could have taken a few hits, too, as were the newly arriving  highly paid executives at the top of the heap.

By late afternoon there were still unanswered questions  that season ticketholders might be asking if the school hadn't closed the ticket office, too. Even with those who might be sympathetic with the UA leadership, who could defend the amateurish way they handled it? They lost me when they advised the staff that they would have to take a 2-week administrative leave,   return for six months, and then part company again. As I've written, it all had the makings of a hunt-and-peck game plan.

Or how about the front office's notion that it would allow families of the fired workers to attend UA at cut rate tuition?  Nice.  How do you think that will play? Like the $50 per credit hour added and then rescinded?  Or the denial that the school's name would be changed but later change it?

This wasn't your ordinary housecleaning.  the entire faculty and staff were frozen in the weeks leading up to Monday's brief  trustees meeting in which Scarborough read a statement that was obviously honed in executive session so that he and the board could circle the wagon without taking questions from the dissenters on  hand.

Sadly, the sdministration's hit on the hall upended its long relationship with the Akron area.  When the glamorous place opened in 1973, out- of- town writers from the New York Times,  Newsweek and other publications  raved about its glorious birth.  Times  architecture writer Ada Louise Huxtable declared it be a building "in which any world capital could be proud" and Newsweek described it as one of the "most innovative"  U.S.   cultural centers.

Two  of Akron civic leaders saw it as an important cultural initiative for a progressive city.  To that end,"Eddie" Thomas , the Goodyear board chairman, put up $1.25 million toward the $14 million construction cost, and his close friend John S.Knight , contributed $500,000. The fountain outside the building bears his mother's name, Clara.  The Knight Foundation later added a $1 million grant for programming.  That should settle any question about the city's stake in UA.

Howard Tolley, who was Goodyear manager of community relations during the Thomas years, remembers the rationale for the campus-city partnership and was stunned by   Monday's action.

"That's a backhand to the memory of Eddie Thomas.  This is incomprehensible," Tolley said.

 Dahl agreed.   "The community needs to understand that the Board of Trustees is not a private concern and that we are there for people outside the campus, too. It's bad for the community." You bet.  Check with restaurant owners downtown who enjoy business arriving from the campus. Did anybody even consider the economic consequences of trying to undo the sins of the past decade of thoughtless building under
Team Proenza?    Yes, the football stadium, too.

We heard some jittery talk when Scarborough  was hired in the spring 2014.  Some of it were negatives that accompanied him.  Or as a Toledo Blade source  told me:  "People hated him.  He doesn't look at a university as academic".  Business, yes. But as Mitt Romney might have said, students and faculty are people, too.

I would add that he hasn' 't as yet considered an urban campus as a critical  part of the larger community. Over at Akron City Hall, interim  Mayor  Jeff Fusco was working to piece together the bits that came his way from the campus.

And the largely anonymous political trustees, who prefer it that way, were happy to have the new guy.  Anonymous,? You can find their roster on UA's home page.  Interesting.  
In bringing him to Akron, they have settled on the academic version of a hired gun for $450,000.  Nice work, if you can get it.  Some staff members at E.J. may not be that lucky.

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