UA Board of Trustees considering contract extension for Scarborough

Pub Notes 18.2: The real problem with extending Scarborough’s contract is… 

editorial by Chris Horne; photos by Shane Wynn


The Board of Trustees have discussed — and may decide to vote on Wednesday — a contract extension for President Scott Scarborough. That idea emerged in hopes of mitigating the faculty senate’s then-pending no confidence vote after trustees were asked to consider another extension for Zips head coach, Terry Bowden, who just led the team to its first bowl victory ever.

Well, while the ball coach is evaluated by wins and losses, the closest Scarborough has come to that was last July in the Akron Beacon Journal’s love letter recap on his first year. That fact has given some of the trustees pause as they realize it’s hard to justify an extension when they haven’t officially evaluated his performance.

University spokesman Wayne Hill, by email, writes, “There is nothing on the Board agenda related to your question at this time…” [note: ellipsis his, not mine].

***Correction: Hill says his ellipsis was accidental, not an intent to imply anything.***

Of course, it’s not like the community — both the broader community around the university and the specific community on campus — would know about such a discussion until a decision had been reached.

Hill writes, “…personnel matters are discussed either in Board Committee meetings or Executive Session (and the Executive Session discussions are confidential); then, the full Board takes any action in public session. That’s when any announcement would occur, not waiting for production of the Board minutes” [note: ellipsis mine, not his].

That might sound like the same deal you get from city council or the legislature or Congress, but the public at least has some mechanisms for offering feedback. The public isn’t allowed to address the trustees at their meeting. If protesters get too loud outside the meeting, they’ll be arrested. The trustees are political appointees so they won’t have to face you on the campaign trail and they don’t have to fear losing your vote. You cannot write, email or call them directly unless you’re a friend and just happen to have that information. Even when they’re divided, they speak as one through board chair Jon Pavloff alone.

Here’s how well that works.

Wanting to speak with Pavloff and Ralph Palmisano, who was quoted telling UA students he has no confidence in them, I called Paul Herold, who is Scarborough’s assistant and the board’s secretary. He wasn’t available so I left a message which was then passed along to Hill. I also called Ted Mallo, the university’s retiring general counsel who is the former board secretary and current assistant board secretary. He answered then refused to talk because he said he was busy. Like the Board of Regents Chairman Vinny Gupta, he did not call me back as promised. So I asked Hill about speaking to Pavloff and getting a statement from Palmisano to clarify or correct the comments he made.

Despite statements by the faculty senate and the faculty union refuting Pavloff’s allegations of collusion between the two organizations, Hill wrote, “No further comment beyond what was issued last week.”

Though I was hoping to learn Palmisano’s troublesome comments were taken out of context or entirely misquoted, or anything that would suggest a member of the governing body of the university isn’t nearly as calloused towards the student body as “I have no confidence in you” sounds, I was told, “Nothing further.”

Considering this, there’s no way the board could be any more emphatic about its support of Scott Scarborough, except to give him a contract extension at the moment when opposition has become its most vehement.

But why? Why would the trustees feel such a strong statement is necessary? The answer: They think they’re doing what’s best for the University of Akron.

Dr. Scarborough and Mr. Pavloff share a smile before the August meeting of UA's Board of Trustees. (PHOTO: Shane Wynn)
Dr. Scarborough and Mr. Pavloff share a smile before the August meeting of UA’s Board of Trustees. (PHOTO: Shane Wynn)

This is why, whether the board votes to extend Scarborough’s contract or not, the very notion itself illustrates how bad the relationship between the trustees and the community has gotten.

Someone has told the trustees that their public support is what’s necessary now, that their support will buy enough time and create enough momentum to prove they were right to hire Scott Scarborough in the first place. And the truth is, they were right at that time. Either they could start their presidential search all over again or go with a candidate who may not have been their first choice but was qualified enough to be a finalist. (The majority of them wanted to hire Jim Tressel, but the process took so long he chose Youngstown State — then insisted on a pay cut and donated $1 million to the university.)

The trustees are not bad or corrupt or dumb. They are good, smart people trying to do the right thing. You can say the same for the protesters who’ll be outside the trustees’ meeting Wednesday. It’s also true for the local executives who signed full page ads urging the community to come together — just as it’s true for the community group countering with full page ads that call for a change in the administration. And of course, it’s also the case for the faculty senate members who voted no confidence in the president, and it’s true for the handful of faculty members who support, perhaps less vocally, the president.

What’s hurting everyone right now is the fact the community can’t communicate with the trustees directly.

When you relegate a conservation to whichever sides can yell loud enough to be heard, you drown out the moderate voices, who are the ones most likely to resolve the conflict. That’s how people get pushed to extremes instead of talking about how to achieve their common goals, which everyone in this case would say is to make the university even better than it already is.

The good news is that the trustees could still fix this. And they wouldn’t even have to fire Scott Scarborough to do it.

Here’s my modest proposal: Let’s have a public town hall with the trustees. I’ll gladly find a venue and pay for it, too. I wouldn’t even open my big mouth once it starts. We’ll get an agreed upon third party mediator. All they’d have to do is listen to the community and respond thoughtfully — take questions, answer them earnestly, and share their perspective.

This job of helping the university grow can and should be done collaboratively instead of antagonistically.