2019 State of the University Address


State of the University Address

Interim President John C. Green
January 18, 2019

Prepared text

Good morning and thank you all for joining us today, both in person and online.

I would like to acknowledge the leadership of The University of Akron Board of Trustees represented here this morning by Trustee Mrs. Olivia Demas and student trustees Mr. Joshua Thomas and Mr. Andrew Adolph.

In addition we are honored by the presence of several prominent elected leaders their representatives, community leaders and partners, as well as many alumni, donors and friends.

And I want to give special recognition to our students, who are just completing their first week of the spring semester …although I acknowledge that it does not look much like spring outside right now! Our students are our reason for being, and it is good to have the campus alive with their presence.

When we chose the date for this address, we were not aware of an interesting coincidence today is the 199th birthday of the University’s founder, Akron industrialist and philanthropist John R. Buchtel. That makes this an especially appropriate opportunity to re-establish what had been an annual tradition at The University of Akron the President addressing the campus and community about our present condition and future prospects.

This occasion was part of the University Council’s recommendation for a planning and budgeting process that meets the expectations of the Higher Learning Commission. I accepted their recommendation to renew this tradition and believe it will further enhance communication among the administration, campus and community.

I hope this address will serve as a bridge between an annual cycle of planning in the fall semester, and budgeting in the spring semester. The beginning of the calendar year, and the spring semester, is an ideal time to take stock and look forward.

So in this spirit, I will do just that.

The state of the University of Akron is in transition, as it has been for some time. But the fundamental changes that have occurred as a result of our collective actions during the last six months are making it a purposeful transition.

The University has some weaknesses and is confronted by serious challenges, some unique to us and others common to universities across Ohio. But we also have many strengths and opportunities before us. We must face our situation with both candor and confidence.

Our weaknesses begin with leadership instability, ranging from the presidency down to the department level. Stability demands that we methodically, thoughtfully, and promptly erase the adjective “interim” from the titles of our University leaders.

Another weakness: for too long we have been distracted from the task of making regular, necessary and substantive updates to our academic programs, student services, and institutional activities. We are now replacing immobility with innovation.

A third weakness is a lack of confidence by some individuals in our products and people a sense that we are not up to the tasks before us. We could look to a certain NFL team just a few miles north of us, as a reminder that we, too, have great talent and great potential. We need only a spark to produce results that reverse these perceptions and attitudes.

We must also resist the temptation of self-pity. Look around. Universities and colleges, public and private, across Ohio are grappling with serious challenges produced by recent demographic, technological and economic trends.

Multiple strengths

The University of Akron’s fundamental strength is its excellent faculty, contract professionals and staff. These dedicated individuals are the foundation of strong and distinctive degree programs some longstanding and some emerging, some with international reputations and others deeply embedded in our local communities.

Another immense asset is our loyal alumni base, more than 170,000 strong. They form a vast network that benefits our students and graduates and facilitates our more than 600 partnerships with public, nonprofit, and private organizations.

We are currently conducting a national search for a new president who will lead these great resources. I am grateful that the Board of Trustees and elected campus leaders worked together to improve the presidential search process. These improvements will increase the likelihood of a successful search and stable leadership in the president’s office.

This new president will find here a public university with strong federal and state support. For example, our Cyber Range, which will train a new generation of cybersecurity workforce, benefited greatly from $1.2 million in state support. We are grateful to our elected officials for their recognition of The University of Akron’s ability to contribute to the state’s economy and future.

In addition, our region is on the move socially and economically with the Elevate Akron plan designed to generate growth that will include all people and leave no one behind. The University of Akron will be a dependable and vital partner in this effort working closely with the County, City, the GAR Foundation and the Greater Akron Chamber in this important initiative.

A fine example of such mutual cooperation, and the real and significant benefits it can generate for our community can be found in the University’s collaborative work with Akron Public Schools. We are proud to have been chosen APS’s first sister university working with Akron Early College and STEM High School, both located on our campus. Last year Ellet High School, which has posted the highest number of Innovation Generation Scholars over the years, joined that partnership.

The bonds between the University and the city and the community are strong because they have stood the test of time. Less than twelve months from now, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of The University of Akron. Our Sesquicentennial will bring new energy, attention, and resources to our campus. I will return to the topic of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in a moment.

We will respond to the challenges of our times by harnessing our many strengths and we are already engaged in this task. For the first time I can recall, we have a shared sense of priorities to guide our University as we move forward.

In the fall of 2018, all campus units developed three-year action plans. By various steps these were fashioned into a University-level plan. This plan was reviewed by the Faculty Senate, endorsed by University Council, and approved by the Board of Trustees. The action plans are feasible, and the outcomes are measurable they will be reviewed every fall and adjusted when and where appropriate and they will define the top priorities that the University budget will fund.

I am grateful for everyone’s hard work on these plans, which were developed efficiently and in a very short period of time. We all should be proud of this effort. When a new president arrives, he or she will find a plan and a process already in place. This accomplishment will be a compelling selling point to attract quality candidates to our search.

Four priorities

We have settled on four top priorities, which will be implemented in different ways in different units.

The priority is to Increase Success of Our Students.

The University of Akron has always cared about student success, but it is time to recalibrate and intensify our efforts. All of us must be more attentive to our students’ needs and aspirations with a determined effort to further increase both student retention and graduation. Equally important are our efforts to promote and support diversity, equity and inclusion and to foster a campus climate that respects and values differences.

The second priority is to Emphasize Academic Distinctiveness.

The University of Akron has always had distinctive programs, but we must bolster those that are still distinctive and develop new ones. We will continue our cutting-edge research in focused areas of strength and maintain our attention on programs and expertise that set us apart from other regional institutions.

The third priority is to Generate Additional Revenue.

The University of Akron has long generated revenue, of course. But new efforts are needed to recruit students, raise funds, and recover costs. Like every other public university in Ohio, we must reduce General Fund subsidies in certain areas and move toward tangible returns on investment.

The fourth priority is to Continue to Improve Efficiency and Effectiveness.

The University of Akron has regularly pursued these goals, and these efforts must continue and expand. We must all find new ways to trim costs and save money. It’s like the admonition one hears from a doctor: we no longer can think in terms of a diet; it has to be a lifestyle change.

These four priorities will guide the development of next year’s University budget and set a path for the next three years. This task will be difficult: we must enhance our ability to increase revenue in the long term while reducing expenditures in the short term.

Thus my budgetary goals are two-fold: first, to prepare the University to grow enrollment in 2023, when a positive demographic shift is forecast, and second, to eliminate our large structural deficit over the next three years.

This will involve a combination of revenue gains from increased student success and fundraising and expenditure cuts beginning with a significant reduction of base expenditures in fiscal 2020. All elements of the University must and will participate in solving these fiscal problems.

There is good news and bad news on this front. The good news is that we have three years to correct the structural budget deficit the bad news is that we only have three years to correct the structural budget deficit. We have already made some very tough choices and we will have to make even tougher decisions now and in the near future.

I understand that change is hard. But organizations as well as individuals eventually come face to face with this hard truth change is an unavoidable hammer that reshapes the present into the future. The only choice given us is this – with which part of the hammer do we make contact: the head or the handle? I no longer want us to encounter the head of the hammer and feel pounded into unpleasant places. Instead, I want us to collectively grasp the handle of the hammer, and remake this University into the shape appropriate for our time.

We cannot be – and should not try to be – all things to all people. What we can and should do is to see to it that The University of Akron makes a special contribution to the world by doing what we do best, and doing it better than anyone else.

Ideas into motion

When I was dean of the Buchtel College of Arts and Science, I served on the board of the National Choreography Center, which is housed on our campus. I learned the special contribution of the choreography center in a sudden “aha!” moment. With all the awe of children at their first birthday parties, I exclaimed to the Center director “Wow! Dance is about ideas!”

Everything we do on this campus should be about ideas, from the daily homework assignments to new research discoveries. The classroom, the library, the laboratory, the studio, the practice field and off-site internships are all natural habitats of ideas that prepare our students for productive careers beyond graduation. The biggest of these ideas is common to all universities, and that is the medieval notion that we illuminate the truth.

And the truth will set us all free.

The University of Akron’s special contribution is putting ideas into motion just like a choreographer sets dancers into motion on a stage before an audience. In each of our areas of distinction, we make ideas become real in the world connecting our University and our students to the communities beyond our campus. By doing so, we set people free to enjoy richer, fuller, and more meaningful lives.

We should be proud of our special contribution, of who we are, and what we do so well. It has been this way since our beginning. Our motto is Fiat Lux, “let there be light.”

Through our teaching and scholarship, we have helped illuminate the world for almost 150 years. I’d like to return to our sesquicentennial anniversary and debut the logo that will be associated with that event.

Mark for the 150th anniversary at The University of Akron

As you can see, the numerals are prominent. That is an intentional and powerful reminder of the obligation, honor, and responsibility entrusted to us.

For a century and a half this University has lighted the way for the people of this region.

How many generations have been shaped by us? How many families have risen from poverty to prominence and prosperity, because of the education we provided their members?

How many businesses have thrived in the regional, national and international economies because of the innovations and professionals produced here in Akron?

How many fields of science, letters, and art have been advanced by the perseverance and imagination of our researchers, scholars and artists?

For 150 years, the men and women of this university have met the mandate of “Let there be light.” Now it is our turn. Let us make the 150th anniversary the rallying point for our future.

The path forward for The University of Akron is this to embrace and enhance our distinctiveness and to actualize and export our ideas in places and ways that produce unique value to the world. And above all else: to provide people of all races, genders, creeds and backgrounds the chance to shine forth their special light.

I have no doubt whatsoever that The University of Akron will be strong and vibrant 150 years from now preparing to celebrate its tercentennial anniversary. It may well look quite different than now—as different as we are today from the original Buchtel College founded in 1870.

I have been granted a glance into our future and I believe our future is bright.

Together we can turn this vision into reality.

Thank you.