Source says business advisory group bartered to have polytechnic tagline dropped
by Chris Horne
When controversy at the University of Akron first spilled over the borders of campus, what gripped the community’s interest was word that a name change could happen under the new president. In mid-March, sparked by a February post on ZipsNation.org, President Scott Scarborough confirmed with the Northeast Ohio Media Group it was considered, and in April, an online petition started circulating in protest against the move. Though the university’s response was slow, ultimately it was definitive.
On May 4, Scarborough posted on UA’s website denying there were any proposals or plans to change the university’s name. The whole thing had been, he wrote, the product of “a great deal of misinformation fueling the rumors.”
Now an email he sent June 25 has since surfaced that suggests otherwise.
In it, Scarborough writes to Larry Burns, the VP of Advancement, who also oversees communications, “I spoke to Jon Pavloff about his notion of a ‘campaign’ yesterday. He believes it should be a literal political campaign with the desired goal of people asking us to change the name of the university by next January. That’s his notion of what we need to plan, organize, and deliver.”The Devil Strip transmitted the June 25 email to university spokesman Wayne Hill late Wednesday afternoon with three questions, including why launch a campaign if there were no plans in May; what led to the decision to pursue a campaign in June, and when where the Ohio Tech renderings prepared?
At 11:30 am Friday, Hill released this response: “There were various discussions over a period of time about a possible university name change, as has been well-covered previously. The ‘Ohio Tech’ sketches were created in early 2015. The so-called Phase II brand marketing campaign that began in early September is designed to establish the distinctive tag line of ‘Ohio’s Polytechnic University’, describing how students learn, not what they learn. Dr. Scarborough and Board of Trustees Chair Pavloff have made it clear that there will be no university name change effort.”
No other answers were provided and no direct comment on the email was made.
Sources familiar with the email say this campaign was intended to begin in conversation with upwards of 100 community leaders. A slide from the deck Scarborough used for presentations, which was released to media in July, shows 80 “Targeted Opinion Leaders,” each under a different priority grouping for July and August. Had the majority of this group been persuaded, the campaign would have gone public.
Dr. John Zipp, president of the faculty union, says the email confirms rumors he heard over the summer from people close to local community and business leaders that a name change was imminent in January. However, he had not seen evidence and wonders now why Scarborough wasn’t upfront about the campaign.
“It would have been nice if he had been completely transparent and said, ‘We did think about this and based on the feedback we got, we decided not to pursue it.’ I think people would feel good about that because it’s okay to try something and test it, find it doesn’t work and move on,” Zipp says. “It’s a good sign. You’re being responsive to your constituents.”
In the email, Scarborough directs Burns to have former university administrator John LaGuardia to help the president reconnect with people he’d met after he first took over at the university.
“The old guard is fussy at the moment–not enough love and attention from me about the polytechnic repositioning,” Scarborough wrote.
In late August, he told the NEOMG the name change idea hadn’t been completely shelved. But then community concerns again grew loud following the removal of the Akron “A” from band and sports uniforms, coupled with the release of a proposed logo and renderings of buildings and athletic uniforms bearing the name Ohio Tech. On September 15, Scarborough and Pavloff issued a joint statement: “There are no plans to change the name of The University of Akron—now or in the future. Period.”
The idea for a name change, they wrote, had been only raised in strategy sessions and then it was subsequently dismissed. Neither made mention of the “literal political campaign” that Scarborough wrote he and Burns “need to plan, organize, and deliver.” Instead, the statement pointed to “speculation, rumors and assumptions” that resulted from the “open dialogue” with “many different constituencies.”
Zipp says it’s hard not to be bothered with the fact that Scarborough and Pavloff chose to keep a planned campaign under wraps in their September 15 proclamation.
“It does make you feel like, ‘Now are there other things that are at this level of significance that you don’t know about?’ It doesn’t mean you have to know everything that’s going on, but if it’s at the level of almost doing a campaign, or at least thought of doing the campaign, but no mention of this, then you start wondering what else is going on at a similar level. And that just causes you to have concerns.”
Graduates Over Greed, an anonymous UA student and alumni advocacy group, wasn’t as generous in their assessment.
“This is yet another example of how President Scarborough has misled the public regarding his actions at the University of Akron,” they wrote in a statement released via Twitter direct messaging.
Efforts to revive the name change may now be dead, as promised in September, and it may not be alone. Sources tell The Devil Strip the tagline that has accompanied The University of Akron since May, “Ohio’s Polytechnic University,” which cost the university $111,000, may be headed for an early grave because the consortium of business leaders who plan to advise Scarborough bartered their participation in exchange to have that part of the rebranding nixed.
Wayne Hill said he was not aware of such an arrangement.
The June 25 email also gives substance to a recurring complaint among community members, as well as current and former university employees, that Scarborough is more concerned with how things appear than what they really are. As a result, it has caused some in the business community to question whether Scarborough has the skill set to be an effective chief executive officer, as is his role at the university.
That is also part of the concern expressed by Graduates Over Greed, who wrote, “The president of a university is expected to work with students, staff, faculty and the community in an honest and honorable way. President Scott Scarborough has shown on a consistent basis that he is either not willing or not capable of living up to that task.”
A protest of the December 9 meeting of the University of Akron Board of Trustees has been planned, and a new petition has been posted calling for Scarborough to step down or be removed by the trustees.