Excellent Universities Begin with Excellent Faculty

The following article was published originally on the website of the AAUP chapter at the University of Akron, though it appears that the university will soon have a new name—and the article concerns that “rebranding.” The article is reprinted here with the permission of the chapter leadership.

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On Friday, May 15, President Scarborough unveiled the new re branding campaign at the City Club of Cleveland. If you haven’t already, we invite you to listen to his remarks here and to view the press briefing here.

In his speech, President Scarborough talked about the need for the university to re brand to improve its image and reposition itself for new markets. He repeatedly mentioned “achieving excellence,” and spoke specifically about “shoring up our teaching mission.” Because these are important issues that affect faculty, we at the Akron-AAUP would like to respond.

No one knows whether the “re-branding” as “Ohio’s Polytechnic University” is the right decision or whether or not it will work.  What we do know, however, is that in the past 15 years, The University of Akron has had 4 provosts, 2 presidents and a series of strategic initiatives (e.g. “Charting the Course,” the “Balanced Scorecard,” “Return on Investment,” “Vision 2020,” “Pathways for Student Academic Success,” “Zip Start,” “Achieving Distinction”) that have had three things in common: considerable initial fanfare about their transformative powers; relatively little meaningful faculty or student input; and results that fell far short of initial expectations.

We agree with President Scarborough that the University may be on an unsustainable path. However, what we see as unsustainable are exorbitant increases in tuition (up 135% between 1999 and 2014) and general fees (up 340%). This increase in fees coupled with an increase in students (up 22% in the same period) produced revenues that in turn funded an increase (up 23%) in staff/administrators. There was, however, essentially no increase in the number of full-time faculty (up less than 1%).  In 2014, as in 1999, there was 1 administrator or staff member for every 12 students, but by 2014, there was only 1 faculty member for every 23 students (rather than the 1:19 figure from 1999).  (Source:  University of Akron IR data.)  Today there are almost twice as many administrators/staff per student than there are full-time faculty. Put simply, today there are more students paying substantially more in tuition and fees, and there are fewer full-time faculty to work with them. This is what is unsustainable.

In his speech to the City Club in Cleveland, President Scarborough told the story of being advised, by a University of Akron Board of Trustees member, that his job was simple: to move the University of Akron to “the right side” of a napkin on which were written two lists of Ohio universities. On the right side were Ohio State University, The University of Cincinnati, and Miami University. On the left side was every other state university. President Scarborough also lauded the reputations and achievements of three prestigious tech schools: Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Texas Tech. One thing that these institutions have in common is their high ratio of full time, tenure-track faculty to students, as well as the high percentage of full time faculty compared to part time faculty, facts not mentioned by President Scarborough; see below. Indeed, he didn’t refer to UA faculty whatsoever in his speech, although he did say we must “shore up the teaching mission”. One is left to wonder what the president means by this phrase, especially since we are down 38 FT tenured/tenure-track or NTT’s (-5%) in the last 5 years and those of us who are left are teaching more (the share of SCH’s taught by T/TT and NTT faculty is up almost 16% since 2010) (Source: UA Key Performance Indicators, April 2015).  With more retirements/separations this year, it is even more critical that UA commit to a plan on how to address these losses. If we are truly to become a great university, Polytech or not, there simply is no way to get there without substantial investments in full-time faculty.

Students spend a lot of time and money on college; it is not unreasonable for them to expect that universities will provide an opportunity for them to become more educated citizens and to improve their career paths. Again and again, surveys of employers of college graduates have told us that “broad learning” – regardless of what a student majors in – is the best preparation for long-term career success.  This broad learning includes oral and written communication skills, the ability to work with others, critical thinking, ethical decision-making and an ability to apply what students learn in real world settings (Association of American Colleges & Universities). Rather than simply focus on job skills, a university education is expected to provide students with life skills that enrich them in ways that extend far beyond the workplace.

Akron-AAUP believes that our students, and our community, deserve no less than this.  We remain committed to working with the administration  as a true partner to make The University of Akron a great public university, one that meets the needs of our students and community today and tomorrow.

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We applaud President Scarborough’s public commitment to making UA  a great public institution, and we share that goal with him. We think the following data from CollegeFactual.com are suggestive as to what is required to accomplish this.

 

VIRGINIA POLYTECHNIC AND STATE UNIVERSITY
Virginia Tech 1

 

Virginia Tech 2

 

 

GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Georgia Tech 1

 

Georgia Tech 2

 

 

TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY

Texas Tech 1

 

Texas Tech 2
The president has told faculty a number of times that UA cannot afford to continue to invest in full-time faculty.  If his goal is to match the merits and reputations of these three public Polytech Universities it seems quite clear that he cannot afford not to.

 

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