Wednesday, July 15, 2015

University of Akron: A failed business model

Like a wounded giant, The University of Akron is in a state of suspended animation..   People wondering whose names will be drawn for dismissal in the campus-wide lottery. Scuttlebutt.  Rumors. Telephone calls often unanswered. As one senior manager told me:  "I'm not permitted to talk.  Even if I could, I don't know anything."

Such was the fallout from UA President Scott Scarborough's announcement that 215 jobs will be eliminated from the university,  as well as  the death warrant for the school's baseball team and some direct hits on  the  campus food service.  Public programs at E.J. Thomas Hall no more.

It's a bleak picture, no matter the public relations push to resolve a $40 million budget deficit.   Did Scarborough really understand the mess he inherited when he arrived at the University last year?

Folks, it didn't just happen.

Years ago, when a financial expert looked at the books,  he  warned former president Luis Proenza that there was a lot of red ink.  He was later forced out of his position.

So,  begin with Proenza's 15 years as the school's  chief executive who,  with perfect timing,  exited last  year with a $500,000 salary cushion and promises that he would return after a year's sabbatical.    Don't bet on it.

And consider the board of trustees with a voice-over by Summit County Republican chairman Alex Arshinkoff.   Forever in a non-contentious collegial mood,  trustees seemed happy enough with the President's upbeat reports  to them as he laid out a $620 million  building program to lure students with a modern setting.

Trustees and president worked as a close unit in which a discouraging word was seldom heard.   According to former trustee, Jane Bond, then-board president Richard Pogue, a well-connected  Cleveland lawyer,  insisted that "we all agree on everything;  there could be no dissent.  "  It served as a corporate formula.

 And don't forget the bumpkinish legislature in the trifecta that never quite understands why universities should be here to stay.

 Gov. Kasich, with a chip on his shoulder as big as Gibraltar, summarily warned university presidents to make spending cuts  or risk his own hand in slashing their budgets.  End of discussion. He's not one with much patience with debates.

Meantime,  UA's front office was heard to  be exclaiming great joy over the opening in 2009 of  a  $61.6 million football stadium.  The Beacon Journal recorded Proenza's response as  "WOW!"  -  a word he affixed to many of his proclamations about the school's purported greatness.  The rationale:  A new stadium would create an army of football fans. Or so I was told.

As we all know, the projected attendance never came and the fail-safe stadium is, well, a stadium  in need of fans (and a winning football team with celebrity coaches).  .

The board had other oddly inattentive moments to the budget as UA continued to  stock its roster with six-figure vice presidents  and managers.    There was even the bizarre promotion of an assistant secretary to the board, Russ Sibert.   It promoted Sibert  to vice president, thus having one vice president reporting to another, Ted Mallo.

In a letter to the Beacon Journal,  Walter L. Hixson, UA Distinguished Professor of History, defined the mess this way:
"When I came to the university in 1989, it had real academic leaders and strove to be an institution of higher education, not a badly-run corporation.  The Republican-dominated state government, board of trustees, Proenza and Scarborough orchestrated the disaster that is UA today.    They should be held accountable, not encouraged." 
There isn't much wiggle room on the campus today as it copes with a business model that failed.  We'll see how honestly the present regime tries to explain this one. And then we'll take a another shot at Rubik's Cube.



1 comment:

Henry said...

Obviously a case of the Emperors New Clothes.