Akron AAUP Protecting Academic Freedom For a Free Society
The University of Akron Chapter |
American Association of University Professors

Prior to the holidays faculty and staff received from the upper administration an emailed message of seasonal cheer.  In that message acknowledgement was made of the anxiety long present on campus over the uncertain fate of programs, departments, and jobs.  Unsurprisingly, the message contained no facts, no concrete plans, no answers; simply an implicit statement — one which has far too long summed up the administration’s negligent approach to shared governance–  “We’ll let you know what we decide.”  Happy Holidays, indeed.

–We Suggest A Clear Policy Decision Not to Implement Organizational Changes

The Provost’s office has been in possession of the recommendations of the program review committee since the end of last spring semester.  To date nothing has been done.

We strongly urge the Provost and other upper administration personnel not to implement further proposed changes.

Both the President and the Provost have spoken of the presumed need for significant reorganization. But we’ll point out two things: There have been no clear discussions anywhere detailing the specific concrete, material benefits to be gained. And this–both the President and the Provost are leaving the University.  Neither of these gentlemen will be present to endure the consequences of a plan, the implementation of which remains poorly articulated and communicated; a plan which we consider to be dangerous in its consequences to The University of Akron, its faculty and its students.

–Reorganization Saves Nothing

Here’s something else to consider: if every recommendation of the program review committee for changes in The Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences were put into effect the University would see a savings of $63,000.  Read that number carefully–that’s sixty-three thousand, not million, dollars.  That’s the cost of a single full-time faculty hire, perhaps the first monthly payment on a lucrative multi-million dollar retirement package.

63,000 dollars.  Out of a budget of well over 400 million.

And in exchange for these insignificant savings?  Faculty continue to exist on this campus in a years-long state of enduring worry and concern over the fate of programs and departments that they have spent entire careers building and developing.  Faculty in a number of departments have now received word that their programs are next in line for another round of academically indefensible reorganization. And more importantly, most importantly, area students are enrolling elsewhere because of the corrosive uncertainty of the future of many programs.

–What is the Point of Reorganization?

Across the country there are many examples of universities merging departments, sacrificing program identity and academic integrity in the name of administrative efficiency in “resource utilization.”  Meanwhile, across these same states other universities are separating programs into distinct departments–for the very same reasons. It is clear that this kind of restructuring is little more than a shell-game, an administrative sleight-of-hand to impress…who?  Boards of Trustees? Surely. State legislators? Probably.  Future presidential search committees elsewhere? Perhaps. And all to suggest that members of these administrations are doing….well, something, anything….no matter the actual cost or harm to their institution’s heritage, reputation and students.

–What are the Next Steps at UA?

The unofficial word is that Physics is on the chopping block.  One of the reasons–a three year search has failed to produce a viable candidate for department chair.  Of course it hasn’t.  How could any administrator imagine that any self-respecting physicist would leave a secure position elsewhere to lead a department whose future is so grievously and inexcusably in question?  The solution is not to eliminate physics but to invest heavily–no matter the financial risk– in its development; to demonstrate solid and convincing support for growing this, and all other, programs.  We’ll add this–a university so enamored of its image as the number one research university in NE Ohio will appear disingenuous and ineffectual without a Physics department. The solution is not reorganization, or closing of programs, but investment in faculty positions, in teaching and research, no matter what the cost may be to the pet projects of those in administrative positions. It would help if the current unproductive system of Vice-Presidential “shops” was immediately disarticulated.

Anthropology is under consideration for reorganization or realignment–that department’s only weakness being its overall size.  The administration at every level seems to care nothing for the fact that this small department outperforms the norm when it comes to research funding and graduates per faculty. It’s a department that pays for itself every year without exception. And yet, successful beyond expectations despite an almost complete lack of administrative support, it’s existence is now seriously in question. Will it be merged with another, entirely unrelated, discipline? Will it be buried where it began, as a minority in the department of Sociology? No one can say. No one WILL say. Such is the continued state of shared governance and communication at UA.

–Reorganization Damages Our Programs–Have There Been Any Actual Savings ?

The Theater Department appears indefensibly to be doomed.  The School of Family and Consumer Sciences has been hobbled. Parts are now in the College of Health Professions, and what remains of the School is now buried in the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences, most of its space and resources lost in the process. Its Family and Consumer Sciences Education and graduate programs have been crippled by the process of “reorganization”, students have for years been dissuaded by administrators from applying, and now the heart of one of the oldest academic disciplines on this campus is likely to be ripped out by administrators who do not understand nor respect this female dominated profession. If the program review recommendations are carried out, its remaining programs, viable and lucrative for the University, will perish. It’s only a matter of time.

The Myers School of Art has lost autonomy, being forced into BCAS as well.  Where is the public accounting  to demonstrate the concrete savings and economic benefits of these academically indefensible moves? How much, exactly, has been saved?  Or, is it possible that these manipulations have actually resulted in higher costs? We think you ought to ask those questions at every opportunity and demand such an accounting.

–How Will Our Alumni Respond?

We wonder what the many graduates of these programs will think when the programs from which they received their degrees disappear.  Will they feel compelled to join the UA Alumni Association? Upon achieving success in their fields will they feel moved to donate to the Alumni Association or the foundation if their programs are unrecognizable, or gone?  Will they feel confident in sending their children to the University of Akron? You can bet we’ll be tracking down those students and asking them those very questions. You can help us do so.

How is it possible that the administration believes, as it seems apparently to do, that elimination of programs will attract students and financial support from graduates to the University of Akron? It’s inconceivable to us.

–UA Continues To Struggle While Kent Is Flourishing

For several years data have been available predicting a three percent drop in the pool of graduating high school seniors in the area. Putting aside the budgeting process that failed utterly to account for this decline and generated yet another continuing budget crisis, something is clearly wrong with the university’s management of academic affairs.  Campus wide enrollment this year is down 5.5 percent; in the University’s largest college enrollment is down 6%.  Yet, just 10 miles away as the crow flies, Kent State University, drawing from the same pool of high school graduates in the same geographical area and economic climate is flourishing.  Despite the decline in high school graduates enrollment there is up by 1%.  In every measurable category Kent reports record high enrollments–record high enrollments overall; record high enrollments on the main campus; record high enrollments on their satellite campuses; and a record high freshman class.  While enrollment is clearly cyclical between these two adjacent universities, this certainly seems to be something categorically different than a temporary fluctuation.  UA is down almost twice the expected number while Kent is setting records.

–KSU is Investing in Academic Programs; UA is Not: Reorganization Isn’t Working

We don’t think the reason for this disparity is difficult to find. Compare the online Job Opps pages of these two institutions.  In every area–faculty and staff,  Kent is investing heavily in growth, in new positions. This is a positive message to which students are responding favorably. In contrast UA’s page presents a dismal lack of employment opportunities. It’s a sign of an institution whose management policies are leading it inevitably to decline. Our students have noticed.

Last year a number of productive long-term Kent faculty went through the process of retire/rehire–with tenure intact, we’ll add. At UA this is an economic benefit that members of the administration still resolutely arrogate to themselves.  But the real difference is this: Kent is taking the monies saved by these moves and reinvesting in new faculty lines. Departments are growing in spite of regional and national economic difficulties.  Here at our beloved University of Akron the administration is cutting, reducing, shuffling, destroying programs, pinching pennies everywhere in services, classroom space, faculty–everywhere except the administration and athletics, of course.  And the statistic that matters, the ONLY statistic that matters–student enrollment–makes clear that this is at best an ineffectual and potentially a disastrous course of action.  It should stop.  And yet, unbelievably, the administration continues to reward itself.  Check your e-mail for a message sent to you over break detailing a fresh round of promotions, new titles, new Vice-presidential positions. Despite a failure adequately to manage the budget; despite a more than significant decline in enrollment, the upper administration continues to congratulate and reward itself at every opportunity.

Vision 20/20, despite its lack of concise and clearly detailed plans for action, and despite the malleable administrative interpretations of details of implementation from one semester to the next, once seemed almost an inspirational possibility for our future.  It should now be shelved as a myopic failure that has resulted in no material benefit for the University, its faculty or our students.

–Investment in Academic Programs is the Only Real Solution to Budget Issues

The administration simply cannot persist in its failed attempts to cut our way to success. The corporate model of university leadership is clearly flawed, ineffective, and a harmful approach to “management” of an institution of higher education. We do not need a new team of presidential and provostial leadership with yet another grand administrative plan–we’ve seen far too many of these over the years.  We need leadership committed absolutely and primarily to expensive and yes, even risky, investment in the growth and development of our academic programs.  Don’t cut Theater–double it! Don’t eliminate Physics–double it! A department is too small?  Invest in it! That, and that alone, will bring students to the University of Akron.

–With Imagination And Courage This Can Be An Opportunity to Cast UA as A Model to be Emulated

This is, in fact, an opportunity for the university administration. It’s an opportunity to stop following national trends blindly and to present The University of Akron as a true leader in shaping and protecting higher education, in making the university attractive to new and productive faculty, in defending and increasing the value of a real education and to attract the one thing that will resolve our issues: more and better students. It doesn’t take imagination or courage to follow a trend. It’s foolhardy to pursue a trend that leads only downward. We are confident that students will respond positively to a public message that, despite economic concerns, The University of Akron is committed to investing in and growing the many programs already in place.

Our students surely deserve adequate counseling, guidance and advising, but they don’t need a staff of 80 hourly-wage “encouragers.”  They need faculty and full time academic advisors!  They need programs, no matter how large or small, that receive unwavering economic support from all levels of the administration. The current approach of cutting, pruning and destroying programs will only serve to send them elsewhere.  They’re already leaving.

Reorganization and realignment plans are harming our university economically and academically. The uncertainty that pervades our campus is destroying our reputation among the population we most need to attract. These plans should be stopped immediately before the damage is devastating and irreparable.

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