Remarks by Matthew J. Wilson at his appointment as interim president

The following is prepared text of Matthew J. Wilson's remarks to the University’s Board of Trustees concerning his appointment as interim president.

I stand here today to honor this outstanding university, and the critical role it plays in the lives of our students, our faculty, our staff, our graduates, and our community.

I am truly humbled in receiving this invitation to serve as Interim President. The trust expressed by the Board of Trustees in appointing me is sincerely appreciated. I am grateful that this outstanding group of leaders is committed to the ideals of public higher education, research, quality teaching, student service, and the mission of the University. I promise to do everything in my power to live up to the responsibilities of this position.

My commitment to serve as interim president stems from my firm belief in the greatness of this institution, my faith in the University and local communities, as well as my genuine desire to see the University of Akron excel. We have exceptional students, faculty, staff, programs, and opportunities. We also have an alumni base and community that truly care.

With every new day, a new dawn comes. I encourage all members of our University community to see this as a new day, and to turn to the future…to collectively seek sustainable solutions to our challenges…to exercise patience and understanding in the process…and to work as a team going forward.

We must unite for the benefit of our students, our institution, and the greater good of our community.  I invite everyone to join with me to not only conquer our existing challenges and rebuild relationships, but also to innovate and explore new opportunities.

Now is the time to expand our horizons.
Now is the time to focus on the positive, embrace innovation, and think outside of the box.
Now is the time to tap this University’s vast pool of scholarship, expertise, ingenuity and energy.

‘It is my mission to lead our efforts to attract students, to let them know about the unique opportunities available at The University of Akron, and to provide students with the assistance, training, and services necessary for them to graduate and succeed. My door will always be open to our students as well.’

My door will always be open to every member of this community. I personally invite everyone to provide input and share ideas with me about how we can best move forward. Also, I invite the community to re-invest in our special institution.

As a teenager, I would randomly hop on the bus or ride my bike to the public research university where I later earned two bachelor degrees. Why?

I wanted to walk around campus to bask in the feeling of campus life, to dream about my future, and to gain a small glimpse of the opportunities that might be afforded to me despite my humble means. That campus was a “special place” that gave me inspiration and hope, and ultimately brought me here today.

I assure you, the same thing happens on this campus.  Young visitors – and some not so young – stroll across Buchtel Common, sit in the audience at E.J. Thomas, or sip a coffee in the Student Union and watch students pass by.  They picture themselves as college students here. They dream, they wonder, they dare to hope.

It is for them that we must pull together and liberate the potential of this great institution.

The University of Akron is “special place,” and I accept the responsibility to lead our collective efforts to attract students, to educate them, and to provide them with the assistance, training, and services necessary to graduate and succeed.

For over a hundred years, this university has produced graduates who have gone on to become leaders in the community, in business, in society…and even leaders in their families and homes. This is the solid foundation upon which we will succeed and thrive.

‘As interim president, it is my mission to ensure that The University of Akron will continue to flourish as a vibrant institution and endure for decades to come.’

As someone who personally scrapped and sacrificed to pay for my own degrees, I understand the financial challenges faced by many of our students and their families. We must provide our quality education at an affordable price so that students from all economic backgrounds can become part of Zips Nation.

To do that, we need the support of everyone, including our alumni base and friends in the community. To all of them I say, if you have the means to support our scholarships, please do so. If you don’t have the means, at least add your voices to ours to promote this institution. 

It is essential that our children, our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors, our coworkers and business partner fully understand the potential benefit we offer to each of them. Once the significance of that potential is realized, I am sure many will take advantage of the talent, opportunities, knowledge, and resources we provide.

It is no exaggeration to say the UA makes a difference at every level, from the individual to a global scale. I will personally endeavor to enhance this understanding and trumpet all of the Akron advantages.

At the same time, we will work together to improve our graduation rates, enhance the diversity of our university community, and prepare our students to thrive in a global, multi-cultural society.

Two years ago, I came to the University of Akron to serve as the Dean of the School of Law. Some questioned my decision to take the helm of a law school located in a crowded legal education market, particularly when law school applications across the country were plummeting.

I am grateful and proud to say that The University of Akron School of Law has become an extremely attractive destination. We made national headlines last year when our first-year enrollments increased by about 30%. Applications this year have consistently been running more than 20% above last year’s numbers, and the selectivity of our admissions has increased nearly two-fold. Akron Law has recently received national accolades, positive attention, and top ratings in multiple areas.

How? Why?

The secret to this success is no secret at all. It’s a simple formula: work hard, work together and work creatively to provide students with the best educational experience we can offer.

Akron Law students have taken advantage of our affordable tuition, high-quality instruction, practical training offerings, innovative programming, an expanding global presence, support systems, and family-like environment.  And as a result, Akron Law students succeed in the marketplace, on the bar examination, and in national competitions.

I thank all of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni at the School of Law who make it such a special place. I know that with goodwill and collective effort, we can replicate that success at the university level because the law school is only one of a multitude of success stories here at the University.

I look forward to help tell the story of our strong academic programs, distinguished offerings, and exciting accomplishments in Polymers, Engineering, Business, Arts & Sciences, Education, Health Professions, Music, Honors, and the like.

We have outstanding opportunities for students to excel at the undergraduate, masters, doctoral, and professional levels. We have beautiful main and regional campuses and facilities.

Our athletics programs have demonstrated the kind of excellence and grit that should make every member of Zip Nation proud. And in just a few weeks, two more Zips – Clayton Murphy and Shawn Barber – will compete in the Rio Olympics. We wish them both the best of luck and hope they bring home gold in the 800 meters and pole vault events, respectively.

We need to take pride in what we have accomplished, and then we need to share that pride. We all need to talk positively about UA’s academic programs, innovative offerings, top professors, student successes, cutting-edge research, campus life, and many distinct advantages of being a Zip.

I am a proud father of four and grandfather of two. I have taken my family all around the world over the past three decades. Originally from the Rocky Mountain region, I have lived in Utah, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Florida, the tropical paradise of Saipan in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Tokyo, and other parts of Japan. I also have spent significant time in South Korea and a little time in the Philippines.

When I first arrived here, many people asked “Having lived all around the world, why Akron?” That question made me realize that I could offer a perspective that lifelong residents don’t have.

Never discount Akron or take it for granted. This is a vital heartland city and an ideal place to call home.  It is family-friendly yet metropolitan, It has a dynamic economy in sync with the pulse of business, government, and community. And believe it or not, Akron’s impact extends beyond the local and regional levels to national and even global stage.

On a personal level, I have found its residents are genuine, caring, and driven. Its charming neighborhoods are surrounded by vibrant communities. It has some of the best medical facilities in the world, which I learned during my son’s recent battle with cancer. I thank the good people at Akron Children’s Hospital for their role in saving his life.

Akron itself boasts many of the same amenities and attractions that are available in larger cities, while also possessing the advantages and affordability of small-town living. The seasons, outdoor recreational opportunities, community events, sporting opportunities, and a national park in our backyard are truly incredible.

Yes, I have seen a lot of the world. You could say I have seen the grass on the other side of the fence. I can attest to the fact that this area is genuinely and truly beautiful, and it contains many treasures. One of the best is The University of Akron.

The faculty and staff here truly care about the student experience and hands-on learning. The University of Akron provides a safe and welcoming environment for traditional and non-traditional students to explore and obtain the tools necessary to succeed in today’s challenging world.

The University features top faculty, cutting-edge researchers, and caring staff. The beautiful campus offers a wide-array of arts performances, Broadway shows, sporting events, and exciting activities. Students can have an exhilarating “campus” experience in a safe setting here at UA. There are so many people out there who are Zip-proud.

I tell you these things to restore some balance in how we see ourselves. There has been great discord within our university family recently. And that has resulted in an unprecedented enrollment challenge. As Interim President, I will invest significant time, resources, and personal energy together with our enrollment management team to recruit, enroll, retain, and graduate students from all walks of life. But we cannot accomplish our mission alone. With the start of this new day in the history of UA, I ask every member of our community to share your enthusiasm about The University of Akron with everyone around you. Ignore naysayers and pessimists and recognize that there is plenty of good news at this University, and there will be even more moving forward.

We will build upon past traditions and successes.
We will meet the needs of local, state, national, and global markets.
And we will welcome traditional and non-traditional students of all races, colors, creeds, orientations, religions, physical abilities, political preferences and social backgrounds.

I believe that it is my mission, as interim president, to do everything I can to ensure that the University of Akron will continue to flourish as a vibrant institution and endure for decades to come. As I work on increasing enrollment, developing a sustainable budget, improving student retention, strengthening relationships with our various constituencies, and growing our development efforts, I invite everyone to join me in this mission. I greatly appreciate your support and input along the way.

Matthew J. Wilson

Interim President Matthew J. Wilson