“This historic institution may be facing its greatest challenge since Buchtel College burned to the ground” [in 1899].
—Jane Bond, former judge and UA trustee (2008-2012)
With shrinking numbers of full-time, permanent faculty to teach its students, with a President and Board of Trustees who do not have the confidence of the faculty, and with the limited university budget increasingly diverted away from its central mission, the university has become the focus of increased concern in the community.
- A recent poll of full-time tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty indicates that 72% lack confidence in the President’s direction and 78% lack confidence in the Board of Trustees.
- The size of the permanent faculty has shrunk by 10% in the last five years and is well below the proportion of such faculty on the teaching staff at comparable schools nationwide. Now, 1 in every 8 full-time faculty members are “temporary visiting faculty,” who typically earn less than beginning public school teachers with only a B.A. degree.
- In a time of supposed financial restriction and the firing of more than 160 staff, millions are being spent on gimmicks, including “rebranding” the university as a polytechnic; hiring new, high-priced administrators to run centers before the centers are even approved by Faculty Senate; and entering into a $840,000 contract with an untested startup company to provide 16 minimally-trained “success coaches” to serve all entering freshmen.
What You Need to Know
- There is no polytechnic wave in higher education. More universities have added lacrosse teams in the last 5 years than are re-branding as polytechs.
- It is a considerable stretch to compare UA to MIT, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech and Georgia Tech. MIT rejects 92% of applicants, while we accept 96%. Only 46% of UA faculty are full-time, while 83-91% are full-time at these other schools. In 2013, UA had roughly $40 million in externally funded research; Texas Tech had $100 million, Virginia Tech had $350 million, Georgia Tech took in $600 million, while MIT earned $815 million.
- Despite the doomsayers, the number of colleges and universities is not declining, but rather is growing: there was an 80% increase in their numbers between 1970 and 2000, with another 10% increase since then.
The Strengths of The University of Akron
The University of Akron has an incredibly dedicated group of accomplished faculty and staff members. While their numbers have shrunk and their service responsibilities have ballooned, they have continued to further the mission of the university and provide a quality education to their students in spite of the lack of support from the administration, all while continuing their scholarship in the lab, library, studio, and archive. In the words of Jane Bond, the faculty are “an asset to be cultivated.”
- A record number of students at UA received their degrees in spring 2015, thanks to the efforts of faculty and staff. The six-year graduation rate (based on first-time, full-time freshmen) has gone from 35% up to 40% in the last five years.
- Federal research expenditures increased by 67% from FY10 to FY14, an especially impressive achievement given the shrinking number of permanent faculty.
- Due to the success of the Pathways program, the retention rate for incoming students is now at the highest level for at least a generation.
- Alumni who fondly remember their time at UA continue to generously contribute to scholarships which help our current students as well as attract future students.
A Way Forward
Akronites are proud of our town and of our university. We know the struggles that Akron has faced, as the rubber industry and its jobs declined, and we realize the ways in which The University of Akron has increasingly come to shape and define our future. We don’t need to run away from the name “Akron,” nor diminish it in anyway with a “polytechnic” tagline.
In order to recruit students we should build on our historic strengths, particularly among non-traditional students and veterans. There are 130,000 Ohioans who have completed 2 years of college without earning a BA; and we already enroll more veterans than any other NE Ohio university. Both are groups that we can and should recruit.
The University of Akron has long provided a quality education in many different fields at a reasonable cost, at the same time as it has grown a national and international reputation in research. There is much to be proud of in this institution, and many areas of quality to build upon. We encourage the administration to learn more about the strengths and potential of this university from the student, faculty, staff and community viewpoints. We must do a better job of building on these strengths to chart a path forward.