2022 State of the University Address
A Future of Opportunities
President Gary L. Miller
Feb. 11, 2022; noon
Location: Quaker Station (and livestream)
Remarks as prepared.
Thank you Michael, and good afternoon everyone. I am so glad to be here with you today, whether you are here in person at Quaker Station or watching on the livestream.
I deeply appreciate this opportunity to provide an update on The University of Akron.
I also want to thank Carla and the Akron Press Club for hosting this event, and also for encouraging donations from those attending today.
Your donations support scholarships for journalism and public relations students, which of course perpetuates the next generation of professionals in those important career fields.
Before I begin, I want to recognize my wife Georgia who is with us here. She is an essential partner in our work in the Akron community.
I am very proud to say, without reservation, that The University of Akron is strong, and very well-positioned for the future.
I look forward to giving you an overview of our position and some thoughts about the future.
However, before I get to that I want to say how very proud I am of the faculty, staff and students of this great university for their resilience, creativity and grit in what is now the almost two years we have lived with this pandemic.
Great universities don’t just endure in tough times. They find strength in their mission and create ways to move ahead during those times.
The University of Akron is truly a great university.
I could not be prouder to have served this university during this challenging time.
The University of Akron is a large, nationally recognized public urban research university.
Urban universities like UA are among the most important public institutions in American higher education for a number of reasons.
- Those, like UA, who were once municipal universities have symbiotic relationships with their host cities.
- They educate the largest array of different kinds of learners, many of whom are older or come from families with no tradition of higher education and many students who work part time.
- Their research and service activities intersect with the broadest possible set of economic, educational and social challenges.
- And such universities often provide a large portion of the arts, culture and entertainment in the urban environment.
Because of our urban orientation and because of our long and rich history with this great legacy city of Akron, we embrace a number of special obligations.
Among the most important of these are:
- To understand and respond to the entire range of higher education needs in a very diverse community.
- To be a value-adding partner to the business, non-profit and public sector.
- To very intentionally and vigorously address the wide range of social, educational and economic issues in our community.
- To be a leader in social justice.
- And, to provide a platform for broad and constructive civic discourse.
An example of nearly every challenge facing America today can be found in and around the City of Akron. As an urban university, it is our obligation to lead in addressing these challenges.
Because urban universities operate in such complex and diverse environments, they also encounter a vast number of opportunities.
Indeed, we like to talk about The University of Akron as an Opportunity University.
Our role is to give people the chance to transform their lives through education, to support commerce and create new ways for people to interact for the common good.
The way in which the University of Akron is fulfilling our role as an opportunity university is what I want to talk about today.
I want to talk about three general categories of opportunities on which UA is focusing:
- Creating access to higher education and ensuring students have a good chance to succeed. (Access and Student Success)
- Re-inventing the University for the future
- Using creative partnerships to advance both the mission of the University and that of the city and region as well (A New Approach to Partnership)
Access and Student Success
The University of Akron has a portfolio of academic programs in engineering, business, health care, the arts and sciences and law that is important to the current and future job market.
Students graduating from our programs typically earn higher starting salaries than our competitor schools in the region.
The success of our more than 180,000 alumni is truly impressive.
So, we know the UA degree has significant value.
The two most important opportunities for The University of Akron, thus, are to:
- Provide access to higher education for as many people as possible, and
- Give every one of our students a chance to succeed by getting a college degree or an important certificate.
Of course, we must do this for our own survival. Increasing enrollment is one of our most important goals.
But, just as importantly, we must do this to meet the current and future workforce needs of this region.
We are doing this by working to make UA a student ready university:
- We have adopted a holistic approach to admissions. Rather than looking at just test scores, we want to know what students can bring to the University, and what we can do to help them fulfill their dreams of higher education.
- We are re-inventing the way in which we advise students and the way in which we support faculty and advisors.
- We are working to hold tuition costs steady and reducing our housing rates.
- We are optimizing the way in which we award financial aid so that we can accommodate the needs of more students.
- We are investing in student services including significantly more investment in mental health support and supporting a vibrant student life program.
- We are redoubling our efforts to make the campus and the areas surrounding the campus safe.
- We are enhancing the way in which we tell our story and the places we tell that story through our “We Rise Together” campaign.
All of this is having a positive effect on our enrollment.
- We have an increased number of applications for fall 2022 compared to last fall.
- We have been very successful in providing a path for students who decided not to join us in the fall, because of fears about COVID, to rejoin the University this spring.
- We are seeing a strong number of housing contracts for next year.
We know that we have a way to go in enrollment. But we are encouraged by these increases in admissions and housing applications.
Re-inventing the University of Akron
When I arrived at UA in October 2019, it was clear to everyone that if the University was to prosper we would have to undertake considerable change.
As I just mentioned, many of these changes related to enrollment and how we serve students.
But we also undertook a number of other bold moves:
- We reorganized the University from 11 colleges to five colleges and the Williams Honors College.
- By doing this, we brought together similar programs in the same administrative unit. We are already seeing exciting collaborations emerge.
We recruited exciting new people for our top leadership positions. John Wiencek joined us as Provost and Dallas Grundy has assumed the role of Chief Financial Officer. Under their leadership we have:
- Refined our strategic planning process to be more inclusive and to focus on more immediate outcomes.
- Remodeled our financial systems to begin enabling deans and their faculty to have more autonomy in building programs and partnerships.
- Initiated a program to replace the antiquated computer enterprise system at the University to give us more analytical power and security.
One of the most important things the provost and CFO have achieved is to work with our faculty and staff to develop a new, more transparent and direct way to interact with one another at The University of Akron.
In higher education we call this shared governance. Our goal is to collaborate with all of our campus constituents to develop policy and strategy to move the University forward.
We have also moved aggressively to replace interim leaders through national talent searches.
- Recently, we recruited exciting deans for Law and Business and we are in search processes for a dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences and a director of the School of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering.
Finally, it is important to reemphasize that we are a research university. Our research programs connect us to business and the larger research world to create opportunities for faculty, students and the community.
The University is blessed with an exceptionally talented research faculty.
From July 2019 to December 2021, the University had 118 patent applications approved.
The significant research for all of these patents happened in our classrooms, laboratories and research centers and often included the work of undergraduate students.
35 current faculty members were named among the top two percent of scientists in the world, according to a Stanford University study based on research citations and output and scholarly productivity.
This designation really highlights the fact that our students have an incredible opportunity to work with some of the top researchers in the world, right here in Akron.
To support this important dimension of the University, we are now actively searching for a vice president for research and business engagement, a position the University has not had for a number of years.
A New Approach to Partnership
The way in which universities generate opportunities for their students and faculty is to create partnerships with other universities, business, government and the non-profit sector often by leveraging the research power of the University.
Urban universities have more obligations and more opportunities for this.
I want to mention a few of the exciting opportunities before us.
- Partnership with the City of Akron and Summit County.
- There is no scenario of prosperity for the City of Akron or The University of Akron that does not depend on a close collaboration of the two.
- Because of this, Mayor Horrigan and I have committed to working with uncommon collaboration.
- We have formalized this commitment by establishing a permanent city-university working group that meets every two weeks to discuss issues and plan for collaborations.
- Among the areas of active collaboration between the City and the University are:
- Safety and police coordination
- Economic development
- Joint infrastructure projects
- Crisis management
- Arts, culture and entertainment
- The University is committed to supporting the City’s major investment in downtown. Downtown Akron must become part of our campus.
- We are also blessed with a close collaboration with Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro and her team.
- The County has been a strong supporter of our safety initiative South of Exchange Street and our AkronArts initiative in downtown Akron.
- Last fall at the Akron Roundtable I announced the AkronArts initiative, which is a centerpiece of our efforts to connect the University with downtown Akron.
- One of the highlights of this project is to open the Polsky Building to main street with renovated space that will connect with the Lock 3 Civic Commons project and the Civic Theater.
- The vision for the space includes performance stages, an art gallery, a boutique and café, and shared public spaces.
- The initiative is an opportunity to engage with downtown in a way we haven’t done before and, in the process, support the city and the efforts of our friends at the Knight Foundation to revitalize downtown Akron and surrounding areas.
- Already we have, as part of the AkronArts initiative, engaged in a partnership with the Akron Civic Theatre to merge some operations and event oversight for the Civic, Goodyear Theatre and our E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall.
- Under the leadership of Vice President of University Advancement Kim Cole, we have restarted the Arts Advancement Council, a group of community leaders who will help guide the AkronArts program.
- Polymer Manufacturing Scale-up facility
- The University of Akron is part of a coalition in Northeast Ohio that has been selected as one of 60 national finalists, out of more than 500 applicants, in the "Build Back Better Regional Challenge," the marquee American Rescue Plan Act program of the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
- Our coalition is the only finalist group from Ohio, and we feel very optimistic about our chances. If selected, manufacturing projects in the region could receive up to $75 million in funding.
- UA’s role in the coalition will be to establish a polymer research and development facility and commercialization space to innovate and test new smart materials for use in advanced manufacturing products, especially polymeric materials.
- This is an estimated $15 million project that will be a tremendous showcase for the University, will provide innumerable research opportunities for our faculty and students, and will open up partnership opportunities with the research and business communities.
- It is very important to thank Steve Millard and the Greater Akron Chamber for their work to secure this grant opportunity and for their partnership in the polymer cluster initiative, which organizes the activities of the over 500 polymer companies in the 9 county region.
- Zips Athletics
- One of our most important community partnerships is our NCAA Division I Zips athletic program.
- Athletics provides opportunities for hundreds of student-athletes each year over half of whom come to play at UA without an athletic scholarship. Under the new leadership of AD Charles Guthrie, this partnership is on the move.
- Thanks to several generous donors, we recently announced plans for new and renovated facilities for the track and field, basketball and swimming and diving programs that will improve the experience for our student-athletes and increase our level of competitiveness in the Mid-American Conference.
- We have also started an initiative to ensure our brand and spirit logos are consistent and aligned across all platforms, channels and facilities.
- The goal is to present a comprehensive identity that is aligned with the rest of the University and also drives engagement both for students and our fans in the Greater Akron community.
- We’re also focused on the rollout of our Nike all-sports partnership for apparel and equipment, which will be in place this summer in time for the start of the fall sports season.
- Zips fans, I expect to see a lot of spirit gear in the stands this fall.
- Post-COVID re-engagement with alumni.
- Finally, I want to share the opportunity we have to re-engage a very important group to us – our alumni. Now that we’re able to cautiously travel more, we want to make good on our wish to visit University of Akron alumni all over the country.
- Georgia and I recently visited friends and alumni in Arizona, Dallas and Florida. Later this spring we will be in New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. There is much excitement out there about the future of the University.
The state of The University of Akron is strong. Its future is bright.
We have challenges. With your support, we will transform those challenges into opportunities.