Better Now Than Never: A view from campus on the dawning of the post-Scarborough era

a NSFW screed first-hand account by Chris Drabick

On campus, it seems like any other summer morning. Grass being mowed. Very few souls moving. It almost seems like the place is closed.

But after turning the corner on the third floor of the Student Union, it’s obvious something very different is afoot. Well-dressed people with noses in smartphones. One, two, three, four high-priced cameras of the sort carried by news reporters, like those gathered near the entrance of the Board of Trustees room. I take a seat next to a dude with an Associated Press satchel. Something is going down.

I’ve been waiting for that something to go down for nearly a year now.

IMG_1203I’m pretty sure I’m the only one here wearing a “Fire the Scar” shirt. I’m totally certain I’m the only one who spent hours before the October meeting of the trustees putting together 50 paper bag puppets around a dining room table with my wife (thanks for that idea, Alison). As the reporters laugh and joke about the sorry state of this place, the name change, the secrecy, I recognize this is just another story to all of these people.

This is personal for me.

It’s personal because I’ve been continuously insulted by the hubris of an administration who’ve hired a group of yes-women-and-men for far too much money at the expense of people who could have done a more effective job, lying and altering CVs and bullying search committees along the way.

Because it’s personal, I don’t trust Scott Scarborough’s background as a politician. I don’t think you can be the head of a Major Political Party for your county in Texas without connections. I don’t think you can run for the state government without connections. I don’t think, without connections, you can sell an entire college to a private enterprise, as Scarborough did at DePaul University with Barat College. I don’t believe you come to Akron and immediately try and privatize as much of the operation as possible as quickly as possible without connections. All the sorts of connections that I find an affront to public life and public education.

It’s personal because I lost my job here at the University in a second, quiet round of faculty cuts.

I understood all was not as it appeared with the incoming Scarborough administration because of that house. The President’s residence. The Palace of Burning Tree Drive. When the news hit that they were remodeling that house, and that the bill would be $350,000, I took some notice. That seemed excessive for a school crying poverty, a school bringing in a business-minded president to clear up a (seeming) financial mess (seemingly) caused by the aggressive over-building of the Proenza era. But $350,000? Goodness. How do you spend that much on a remodel?

Then several weeks later, new details emerged. The bill had ballooned to nearly $600,000, then $750,000 and finally $950,000. That’s when my curiosity was piqued. That made me dig.

There had been whispers about why Scarborough was suspended from DePaul, where he was the Executive VP of Finance, before he resigned without explanation shortly after. Most focused on rumors of an extra-marital affair being the cause of his dismissal but I thought there might be something associated with his transfer of Barat College to Academic Partnerships, a company owned by Randy Best, who made a fortune on No Child Left Behind because of his connections with George W. Bush.

[Note: Though the failed deals with “outsource partners” like ITT Tech and TrustNavigator received all the attention, the administration’s attempt to privatize an online nursing masters degree program through Academic Partnerships very quietly never materialized and it appears it never will. – Chris Horne]

The more I poked around, the fucking scarier it got. I started to sense a bigger picture, and it did not portend good things for me, or the University, or this community.

In the meantime, I’d made friends with the Devil Strip’s publisher, Mr. Chris Horne, shortly after he relocated to Akron from somewhere warmer with giant mosquitoes. I explained why I thought Dr. Scarborough was potentially as disinterested in actually advancing the cause of education as were the privatizers behind No Child Left Behind. I shared what I’d found to support why I thought Scarborough would act swiftly and without engaging the faculty, staff or students — but with the blessing and foreknowledge of the Board — to sell off as much of UA as he could before anyone noticed.

Chris Horne and I noticed.

I won’t get into the fact that your local media was completely asleep at the wheel while Scarborough backed up metaphorical moving trucks and eliminated 200+ full-time positions last June and dismissed the entire baseball program in the hopes of creating a “Grand Entrance” off of Exchange. It was frustrating that no one seemed to be bothered that a house remodeling went $600,000 over budget, that Scarborough’s friends were being brought in at higher salaries than their predecessors, that shared governance was a useless concept to the new president. [Note: NEOMG’s Karen Farkas did an excellent job breaking the story about the cost of renovations at the President’s residence. – Chris H.]

It was a frustrating time to be a member of the University community. Faculty was disheartened that no one was listening to anything they had to say. Entire departments were in disarray after the June firings, assistants moving all around, IT wiped out, student success farmed out to TrustNavigator. It felt surreal. The Press was cut. The Press was resurrected. No one was sure what the hell was going on at EJ. The connective tissue of UA, the very community was being carelessly, needlessly, ceaselessly severed. I felt dazed. I walked around stunned and angry once the semester began. It felt like no one knew how to stop it, even though everyone I knew wanted it to stop.

We protested every BoT meeting. I made new friends. Graduates Over Greed formed, and made those wonderful videos, inspiring my wife and I to make those puppets (“Money!!!”). The Olive Jar got its own Facebook page, and over 1,500 followers. Every new bad decision or controversy began to feel like old hat. Like $4.1 million in fees essentially stolen from students? Yawn. Did that last year. UA trying to partner with a crooked for-profit like ITT (all handled with the usual Scarborough cloak-and-dagger)? Ho-fucking-hum. A 50-2 No Confidence vote from Faculty Senate? Whatevs.

I felt good as I walked into that boardroom the morning the Scarborough era ended, smiling as widely as I had in months. It’s too late for me. I’ve joined the hundreds Scarborough and his yes-women-and-men put out of work. But I’m not going anywhere.

It was a great morning. I felt a sense of accomplishment, as though the t-shirt and the puppets and the shouting (“I have no confidence in you!”) finally made some sort of difference. The truth is, it’s probably the falling enrollment that did, and that no one heard any of us at all. This is indicative of the hard work we face. The same Board of Trustees is in place. Most of the administration remains. The University inches closer to ruin. Will they listen this time? Will we make the requisite noise?

An important obstacle to the success of The University of Akron has been removed (don’t worry, as it’s still going to cost a lot of money). I want to celebrate, believe me. I will celebrate. But then I will get back to work, making noise. Please join me.

Let’s keep making some fucking noise.