University of Akron Name Change Considered in an International Context

In previous posts, I have focused on controversial decisions by President Scarborough during his first year at the University of Akron. Several posts have reported on his decisions to eliminate, then to redefine, and finally to restore the University of Akron Press—and, on the faculty and student activism that influenced those changed decisions.

But, beyond that issue, the elimination of 213 staff positions, the closure of the university’s E.J. Thomas Hall for the performing arts, the elimination of the intercollegiate baseball team, and the proposal to change the university’s name have all created an uproar not just on the campus itself but across the broader Akron community.

On the last of those issues, President Scarborough has proposed “re-branding” the university as Ohio Polytechnic University. Although he believes that the name change will herald an institutional shift toward more “entrepreneurial research,” critics of the name change have pointed out that, at least in Ohio, the new name suggests the sort of technical degrees available at community and technical colleges, rather than cutting edge doctoral-level research.

In a previous post, I asked rhetorically, “What Is the Point of Re-Branding if the New Brand Is Not Unique?” [See: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/03/what-is-the-point-of-re-branding-if-the-new-brand-is-not-unique/]. I quoted from an article in the Akron Beacon-Journal by Rick Armon, which noted that Purdue University and Washington State University’s Tri-Cities Campus have approved adding the word “polytechnic” to their names. I should have then noted that President Scarborough’s original proposal was not to simply add the word “Polytechnic” to the university’s name but to replace that name.

But I did note:

This is all well and good, but the word “polytechnic” has actually been part of some university names for a very long time. In fact, quite ironically, the name of the third largest university in Virginia was changed to Virginia Polytechnic University in 1944, but for a long while, just about everyone has preferred to call the university Virginia Tech.

Somehow I don’t think that Akron Tech or even Ohio Tech has the same ring to it.

So this story illustrates several truisms about administrative brainstorms:

1. What is presented as new or innovative, is almost never either but, instead, something that is either recycled or imitative, or both.

2. What is presented as a “difference maker” almost never makes any substantive difference and, in fact, very often produces almost the opposite of the intended result.

 

Before I get to the point of this post, I would like to make reference to one other previous post. In “Another Perspective on the Three-Year Baccalaureate Degree” [See: https://academeblog.org/2013/06/08/another-perspective-on-the-three-year-baccalaureate-degree/],

I noted that even as a variety of proposals are being advanced in the U.S. to shorten baccalaureate education to three-years, some of the leading universities in India are moving away from the three-year programs that are the standard in that country and are, instead, adopting the four-year model provided by U.S. institutions. And the reason for this change is the failure of major Indian universities to achieve high rankings on most international lists of the best universities worldwide.

So, in the spirit of those two previous posts, I would like to quote from an article by Benson Afful that has been published in the Business and Financial Times in Ghana. The article, I think, serves to reinforce the arguments against the institutional name change at the University of Akron—unless, of course, one embraces the increasingly international effort to narrowly redefine the mission of higher education as the provision of corporate training and corporate R&D:

“The Ministry of Education is yet to find a suitable name to replace the ten polytechnics in the country even as plans are far advanced to convert the institutions into universities by next year.

“The government in 2016 is expected to convert all the 10 polytechnics into technical universities in a bid to make them offer more practical programmes for developing middle-level manpower to facilitate development.

“However, the debate has been whether the converted institutions should be called polytechnics or universities. The argument has been that the former will ensure that the institutions will keep to their core mandate of skills training while the latter will shift that focus.

“The technical committee which worked on the conversion of the ten polytechnics into technical universities recommended that the polytechnics be called “technical universities”.

But an Associate Dean of Innovation and Industrial Partnership at the Accra Institute of Technology (AIT), Dr. Benjamin Aggrey Ntim, is asking government to maintain the name of the polytechnics as it upgrades their status to a degree-awarding institutes.

“He argued that polytechnics have a core mandate to train industry-based students who will be needed at the country’s industry and manufacturing sector, for which reason the name should be maintained for the purpose of fulfilling that mandate.

“According to him, some developed countries are rather converting their universities to polytechnics citing China as an example, where the country has converted over 600 of its universities into polytechnics because it needs manpower to develop.

“[Proponents of the name changes have argued, however, that], the decision to convert the polytechnics to technical universities is tantamount to repositioning the polytechnics within the tertiary education system which requires an expansion of their mission. The establishment of the technical universities is expected to lead to a more diversified higher education landscape with clear mission differentiations. . . .”

 

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