President Scott Scarborough with members of the UA Board of Trustees (PHOTO: Shane Wynn)

From olive jars to layoffs and secret deals: A year in the life of UA President Scarborough

Sometimes, it helps to take a step back and examine how far you’ve come, even in as little time as a year. Here’s a look at some of the controversy from the past year that’s surrounded around the University of Akron, its trustees and the president they hired to run the place.

Leading up to Dr. Scarborough’s tenure

proenzaAugust 7, 2013 – Dr. Luis Proenza announces he will retire as UA president on June 30, 2014. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reported that, at a time when UA’s budget required the elimination of 100 positions, the trustees approved a salary increase for Proenza from $425,000 to $500,000 a year. That figure would continue through a year-long sabbatical, followed by a decade-long appointment as the “Trustees’ Chair in Higher Education and the Economy” with a $325,000 annual salary, for which he’d raise $1 million to support the position.

January 2014 – Dr. Beverly Warren hired at a salary of $450,000 to become president of Kent State University, which has an enrollment of more than 41,000 students systemwide.

May 8, 2014 – Former Executive Vice President for Student Success Jim Tressel withdrew his name from consideration and the UA Board of Trustees announced Dr. Scott Scarborough would be named the 16th president of the University of Akron. Tressel announced as the next president of Youngstown State University.

July 1, 2014 – Scarborough, Warren and Tressel begin in their official capacity at each respective university

TIMELINE — March 2015 to March 2016:

Scarborough1_1300x600March 11, 2015 – In an emailed statement to NEOMG reporter Karen Farkus, President Scott Scarborough confirms the administration was considering a name change for the University of Akron. Until then, it had been a rumor sparked by comments posted to by user AirRage.

April 15, 2015 – After UA announces $50 per credit hour online GenEd Core Pilot Program, the presidents of Cuyahoga Community College, Lorain Co. Community College, Lakeland Community College and Stark State objected to Scarborough’s claim that it makes UA a better value than community colleges.

May 14, 2015 – The Knight Foundation gives $5 million for a partnership between UA and DANCECleveland to launch a national center for choreography.

May 15, 2015 – Scarborough announces rebranding campaign to position the University of Akron as “Ohio’s Polytechnic University.” UA later refused to release marketing studies they spent $111,000 to get, paid from $250,000 unrestricted grant from the Knight Foundation.

May 20, 2015 – The presidents of Kent State, Youngstown State, Cleveland State and Northeast Ohio Medical University write letter rebuffing Scarborough’s City Club speech prediction that those institutions would likely close within the next 50 years.

June 9, 2015 – Scarborough tells ABJ, “Rest assured there are going to be some cuts proposed on June 10 that involve the athletics program.”

June 10, 2015 – Trustees approve $484 million budget which includes $10.4 “new initiatives fund,” freezes tuition and foretells of success coaches, layoffs and significant spending cuts but without many details.

June 11, 2015 – Director of athletics Tom Wistrcil resigns to take a new position in Dallas.

June 11, 2015 – More Ohioans surveyed by Public Policy Polling said they would support the country switching to the metric system (23 percent) than said they supported UA’s branding as “Ohio’s Polytechnic University” (22 percent).

zippy is all inJune 16, 2015 – reports UA spends $50,000 to sponsor Cavs shirts at Game 6 of playoffs.

June 29, 2015 – Zips football garners lowest attendance in the nation. Scarborough says he wouldn’t have built the $65 million stadium, debt payment for which accounts for $4.3 million of the program’s $8 million annual budget.

July 2, 2015 – Scarborough unveils plan for military-style Corps of Cadets program led by retired Army Lt. Col. Bradley Harvey with a salary of $100,000.

July 6, 2015 – NEOMG reports UA is charging upperclassmen an additional $50 credit hour fee, which upsets students and state lawmakers alike after the latter had voted to freeze tuition.

July 10, 2015 – Scarborough says the university has a “$60 million financial problem.

University officials begin laying off 161 staff as part of $40 million in budget cuts that eliminated 213 positions and the baseball program, outsourced student success coaches and dining hall services, severely limited — some said closed — UA Press and EJ Thomas and then functionally reduced the Office of Multicultural Development to events and programming after letting go of former diversity chief Lee Gill’s staff and restructuring.

July 20, 2015 – Faculty tell the administration to consider taking budget cuts from the $8 million football program whose coaching staff instead received bonuses.

July 27, 2015 – Trustees rescind the upperclassmen fee; Scarborough cites $4 million in unexpected funding from state and “expected savings” from retirement plan systems switch.

Big Mistakes - OlivesJuly 31, 2015 – NEOMG reporter Karen Farkas uncovers $950,000 spent on renovations to UA’s president residence — including a now-famous decorative olive jar that cost $556.40 — despite earlier reports from the university that the upgrades were budgeted at $515,000. In December 2014, Farkas reported UA spent more than $25,000 on hotels for the Scarborough family during renovations.

August 1, 2015 – The Devil Strip is first to report the story behind UA’s decision to give $843,000 to an inexperienced startup, TrustNavigator, over contracting with InsideTrack, a proven company in the field of student success coaching.

August 3, 2015 – Rubber City Clothing offers “Fire the Scar” shirts for sell with proceeds later donated to the University of Akron’s John Puglia Art Scholarship fund.

August 10, 2015 – The university spends $45,000 to sponsor hospitality area at Bridgestone Invitational, according to NEOMG report, which also notes the “UA to Z” program hosted by Larry Burns costs $500 a week.

Protesters outside of UA Board of Trustees meeting. (PHOTO: Shane Wynn)
Protesters outside of UA Board of Trustees meeting. (PHOTO: Shane Wynn)

August 10, 2015 – The Devil Strip reports UA faculty are concerned Dr. Todd Rickel, who bounced around the for-profit education industry before landing with University of Akron, falsified his curriculum vitae when applying for the position of Dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology. Scarborough calls major changes in Rickel’s CV “careless mistakes.”

August 12, 2015 – Protestors rally outside meeting of UA’s Board of Trustees. Scarborough and board chair Jon Pavloff say, “Mistakes were made.”

August 13, 2015 – Despite widespread reports in mainstream media, LeBron James does not commit financially to UA scholarships for qualified students in his I Promise program. The partnership between James and UA is similar to an existing, funded deal with Akron Public Schools, except for renaming the College of Education for the LeBron James Family Foundation in exchange for the star’s appearance in university commercials.  

August 14, 2015 – Former UA President Luis Proenza defends his legacy in statement.

August 15, 2015 – The Devil Strip reports claims that Scarborough manipulated a search committee to hire the Honors College dean he hired at the University of Toledo, Dr. Lakeesha Ransom, to become UA’s new Honors College dean.

August 17-18, 2015 – The administration reinstates two positions at UA Press, which had been cut by the administration during layoffs. A day later, UA named Larry Williams its new athletic director after three other candidates withdrew.

calvinAugust 26, 2015 – Former Akron mayor Don Plusquellic is caught peeing on a tree in a UA parking lot.

August 26-28, 2015 – The Devil Strip is first to report Scarborough’s ideas for a “grand entrance” that would run through the field where the baseball team used to play, revealing other reasons than the “$60 million financial problem” for the $650,000 annual program being cut. That “symbolic” gesture, in the president’s words, was followed by the university funneling $700,000 more in scholarship money into the $8 million football program under new NCAA rules because, Scarborough explained, “…frankly we needed to make additional investments in football.”

August 31, 2015 – Enrollment at UA declined 3 percent but the freshman class grew 5.3 percent from the previous year after applications rose 16 percent.

September 1, 2015 – Scarborough signs contract with Academic Partnerships to help UA develop, market and manage an accelerated 8-week RN-to-BSN online course with at least six starts a year, starting in Spring 2016. As of print, sources say this program hasn’t begun due to faculty push back in the College of Health Professions.

September 5, 2015 – UA launches “Are You Out There?” ad campaign that runs three months at approximately $900,000 cost.

September 8, 2015 – UA Law School gets $2 million gift for building renovations.

September 10, 2015 – New marching band uniforms omits Akron. Noted boosters revolt.

SLIDES_infamous slideSeptember 15, 2015 – Slides released by the university show mock-ups of facilities and football uniforms featuring Ohio Tech name and logos. Scarborough and Pavloff say the name will not change.

September 28, 2015 – A survey of UA’s faculty union membership taken by 450 respondents revealed 70 percent had “no confidence” in Scarborough, the trustees and the plan to resolve the university’s “$60 million financial problem.”

September 29, 2015 – University officials announce plan to hire 55 full-time — both tenure track and non-tenure track — faculty after UA lost 43 faculty and administrators through attrition.

Oct. 2015 to April 2016


October 2, 2015 – The Devil Strip is first to report the university’s efforts to launch “One World Schoolhouse,” an on-campus K-12 school where students in the LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education could learn to teach while, Scarborough wrote in an email, either co-founder Jeff Hoffman or current EXL Center resource director Ian Schwarber could serve as headmaster “until the school grows in enrollment.”

October 4, 2015 – Scarborough hosts town hall with students, who are upset that they couldn’t directly ask the president questions but instead had them filtered through text. ABJ recaps Scarborough’s comments about One World Schoolhouse at forum.

October 8, 2015 – The Devil Strip reports Scarborough made a failed bid in 1990 for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives before running the local Republican Party in Austin, Texas, which added anti-gay language to its platform under his leadership.

October 14, 2015 – Protesters escorted out for disrupting Board of Trustees meeting after more than 100 demonstrated outside.

October 20-21, 2015 – Scarborough gives his first State of the University speech, unveiling ambitions for UA to have national and international reach. The next day, he sat for a 90-minute interview with The Devil Strip before meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama who was visiting the University of Akron with LeBron James at a ceremony for I Promise program students.

October 23, 2015 – A report says donations to the University of Akron Foundation fell by 42 percent for a drop of $1.34 million over the previous year.

October 27, 2015 – TrustNavigator founder Thomas Roulston III comes under scruntiny by the Ohio Dept. of Commerce for not telling investors about $342,000 in loans used to prop up his insolvent investment advising firm.

November 18, 2015 – The Devil Strip is first to report the university’s request for state funding to demolish historic St. Paul Episcopal Church and parts of Quaker Square while also trying to get the city to pay $8.7 million for moving expenses and renovations in building swap to facilitate Akron’s Bits and Atoms maker space in Polsky.

November 29, 2015 – Seven area business leaders sign off on an ad in ABJ supporting Scarborough and urging the community to come together. Student publication The Buchtelite learns the $5000 ad was paid for by the UA Foundation, not the business leaders. An oppositional group runs a series of ads with dozens of signatures from community leaders.

November 30, 2015 – Akron business leaders form Executive Advisory Council to help guide Scarborough. Group meets once and is not expected to gather again.

December 4, 2015 – The Devil Strip reports email exchange between Scarborough and VP Larry Burns contradicts public “no name change” pledge as they discuss Pavloff’s desire for a “literal political campaign” to change the name of the university by January 2016.

December 9, 2015 – Protesters are told by UA police they are not allowed to make so much noise that they can be heard inside the meeting room where the trustees are gathered. The board later announces Provost Mike Sherman has been moved to the research foundation and general counsel Ted Mallo would be retiring.

December 15, 2015 – Local real estate consultant Bob Cooper’s four-month contract is extended through June 30, 2016, paying him $12,000 a month for “community relations, donor cultivation and real estate strategy.” He’s paid through the University of Akron Foundation.

January 1, 2016 – Former Summa CEO Marty Hauser signs six-month consulting contract worth $12,000 a month for donor development, community relations and academic program initiatives. Fred Wright, the former Urban League president who was fired by its board, signed a six-month deal for $8,000 a month for recruitment and mentoring African American males. Cooper is paid through the foundation while Wright is paid through the university.

January 28, 2016 – The Devil Strip is first to report Scarborough quietly working on deal to create extended satellite network with partnership between Higher Education Partners and ITT Tech, an embattled for-profit chain of colleges.

February 2, 2016 – Officials announce a $3 million donation to the honors college, which will be named for Dr. Gary B. & Pamela S. Williams. That pledge brings the couple’s total giving to $10 million including $7 million for a lecture series endowment started in 2008.

February 4, 2016 – Faculty Senate votes 50-2 “no confidence” in Scarborough as president. The next day, a representative group of the university’s department chairs and school directors issue their own letter condemning the administration.

February 9, 2016 – The Devil Strip reports UA trustees are weighing contract extension for Scarborough despite “no confidence” vote and the lack of formal evaluation.

March 7-11, 2016 – UA’s faculty union, Akron-AAUP, holds strike authorization vote after negotiations with the administration breakdown.

March 11, 2016 – A day after 99 percent of the eligible and participating Akron-AAUP members voted in favor of a strike authorization, the university and the faculty union reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement, which completed negotiations that began in October 2014. The deal was finalized on March 24, 2016 by the UA Board of Trustees.

April 8, 2016 – Scarborough says, on the UA to Z radio show which is sponsored by the university and hosted by VP of Advancement Larry Burns, he plans to return for his third year at the University of Akron.