Tuesday, September 22, 2015

UA becoming a company campus

You would think that a new regime that claims strategic academic advances  would have at least considered the adage "Look before you leap".

By now we can conclude that University of Akron President Scott Scarborough and his meek servants on the Board of Trustees didn't.  And so, the school's reputation and credibility  are in free fall.

Scarborough arrived with a spotty resume from the University of Toledo  last year with a merit badge for wanting to get things done quickly.  He had tried to sell his grand plan  to the Toledo faculty and failed.  I remain puzzled  over why the UA Trustees chose to not only hire him but also to grant him an unchallenged and a richly rewarded command post to carry out his scheme to change the university's name (now , he says, abandoned). The price of renovating his home at nearly three times the original estimate was particularly troubling for a school insisting it was flat broke.  And what parent couldn't react sharply to a contractual perk that his daughter could someday attend any school in Ohio at no charge?

There have been other retreats from his initiatives along the way that exposed hasty efforts to "rebrand" UA into a tech center. Today's mail brought to us a flier from the University of Akron,  tagged Ohio's Polytechnic University - not a comforting fit for UA's music school's programs, do you think?

In the past year there have been too many reports of Scarborough's shredding of some of the school's departments  to cut into the school's debt.  Add the odd  administrative mistakes bobbing like apples in the pool of new executives  too highly paid to be making them. There have been too many bulging contracts for questionable  new programs.

On Sunday, a deeply researched report in the Beacon Journal included a startling statement for those of us who have fallen into the trap of linking UA with a $60 million debt.

"UA," reporter Rick Armon wrote, "doesn't have an annual $60 million deficit or shortfall".

That's what UA Chief Financial Officer Nathan Mortimer told him.  The explanation was too complicated for this column.

Still, Scarborough found his  comfort zone in the well-paid executives he brought to the  campus, morphing UA into a company school. That includes a hire who had once functioned in David Brennan's parallel $1 billion  taxpayer funded universe of White Hat Management's  charter schools.

Under Brennan's command,  Todd Rickel, UA's new vice  provost and dean of College of Applied Science and Technology,  made it known that he was an "education futurist" as White Hat's "Chief Learning Officer."  What could go wrong?

 Inasmuch as White Hat's charters are tanking  with  awful grades (as they did under Rickel on Brennan's payroll) you might wonder what he's doing at UA with a  $295,000 salary anyway.

 Brennan has long boastfully considered  himself a "futurist"  and years ago invited me to a private breakfast where the speaker  predicted the total demise of universities.

Folks, this whole rebranding idea is going nowhere as it stumbles over its own flubs.     Right now it's a high-priced game of academic silly putty.  Guess who's picking up the tab.

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