Who’s The Man? Picking UAkron’s Next President

by Chris Horne

As far as I can tell, there are no female candidates to become the interim president of the University of Akron. There’s also a feeling that the interim president won’t be a short-term placeholder, which makes some sense because the Board of Trustees certainly doesn’t want to rush a search for the permanent president. This also means the interim, if he does a good job, has a good shot at becoming the permanent selection. Thus, the headline.

Since it seems likely that the next meeting of the trustees — this evening, Monday, July 11 at 5:30 p.m. in the Student Union, room 339 — may lead to the announcement of an interim president, this is a good time to talk about their choices and who the pick may be. Of course, when they get behind closed doors, anything can happen.

Dr. Rex Ramsier

(featured photo, taken by Ilenia Pezzaniti/The Devil Strip)

The rest of the candidates will appear in alphabetical order, but it makes sense to start with the acting interim president because he’s the man already in the hot seat. Dr. Ramsier has seemingly been the go-to interim for nearly everything at the university, including his current post as interim provost, which he took after the former provost, Dr. Mike Sherman, was pushed out to the UA Research Foundation. Noted for his “foot soldier” mentality, Ramsier figured into some of former President Scott Scarborough’s more controversial hirings, serving on Honors College Dean search committee that led to hiring Dr. Lakeesha Ransom and chairing the search that led to Dr. Todd Rickel’s hiring as vice provost and CAST dean. Rickel, whose resume featured several discrepancies — some called them lies — in his academic publishing record, was recently axed while Ransom, who’s won some faculty over, appears safe. But what of Ramsier? For years, he built a reputation as, in the words of more than a few faculty, staff and administrators, “an asshole” prone to glowering at and even shouting at those who dared disagree with him. That opinion of him hasn’t changed, but of late, he’s seemingly tried putting a softer touch on things, perhaps angling to become the permanent provost. I’d rate his chances of becoming president slim to nil. However, most folks I spoke with assume he’ll try to run the show behind the scenes as long as he’s at the university.

Dr. David Baker

DrBakerThe Margaret Clark Morgan Executive Director of the Center for the History of Psychology at UA, Dr. David Baker was likely the favorite heading into the search for an interim. That makes sense considering what he’s done with scant university resources for the Center, which is little-known locally but has a global reputation and is a Smithsonian Institute affiliate. He’s well-respected around campus, been featured in local and national press, and served for a time as the interim provost before Dr. Sherman was hired. He has the administrative chops to guide the university into this next era when it has to pick up the pieces. He’s an astute fundraiser, which is what’s kept the Center afloat, and an academic, which was a knock against Scarborough who was generally seen as an accountant with a Ph.D. As a professor of psychology, who is still active in the classroom, he’s attuned to the lagging morale on campus and equipped to repair it. Few at UA would complain if Dr. Baker were named interim president but the trustees seldom seem in sync with the mood on campus.

Dr. David Gordon

gordon-david-600pxWith an M.D. from Harvard and record of accomplishment as the College of Health Professions Dean, Dr. David Gordon also quietly killed the arrangement Scarborough made with Randy Best’s Academic Partnerships to outsource an online RN-to-BSN program that would leverage UA’s reputation globally then send almost half the profits back to Texas. In the aftermath of that, he was made the President’s special adviser for faculty affairs. Perhaps aware of Gordon’s positive reputation around campus, Scarborough also asked Gordon to become the interim Chief Diversity Officer after Lee Gill left for Clemson. The good doctor advocated on behalf of the United Black Forum, but declined that job on top of all his other responsibilities. However, he has thrown his hat in the ring for interim president. Between grievances black students and faculty have about their treatment under the previous two administrations and Gordon’s efforts to create pipelines for minorities into health professions, he could be the answer to many problems on campus. However, it doesn’t appear those problems rank high enough for trustees to warrant his selection.

Dr. John Green

drjohngreeLauded by former and current students, colleagues and community members, the ever-bearded director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at UA is currently the interim dean of Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences, which is the largest of the university’s colleges. For years Dr. John Green has also proved to be a good representative for the university as an oft-interviewed political science expert for TV and print media (examples here, here and here). Similarly, he’s leading the effort to establish the Bliss Institute in Columbus and he seems to have a good relationship with funding organizations like the Knight Foundation. That stands to follow because I’ve received almost exclusively stellar remarks about his work and his character. But just as he’s an insider’s favorite, there is internal concern about whether he’s already spinning too many plates to successfully operate as president, even on an interim basis.

Dr. Ravi Krovi

KroviSmallThere are mixed reviews by folks who’ve worked for or with him, but Dr. Ravi Krovi has performed commendably as the dean of the College of Business Administration. Made permanent after serving in the interim capacity, Krovi began his academic career in math and engineering, and has been a bridge between the tech and business sides of UA’s identity. As dean, he’s overseen the college as it’s offered a lauded MBA program and been named a “best business school” by US News & World Report and The Princeton Review. A former chair of multiple departments, Krovi reportedly opposed the letter from the department chairs and school directors that called for an “immediate change” in the administration, which followed the 50-2 vote of “no confidence” by the Faculty Senate. So, he’s seen as a Scarborough sympathizer on campus. However, ultimately, his candidacy is likely doomed by the anticipated public pushback for another “business-minded” president helming UA.

Matthew Wilson

matthew wilsonBusiness is good at UA’s law school, which not only bucks national trends but is a reversal of fortune from where the law program was when Matthew Wilson took over. As you might guess, right at the top of the trustees’ to-do list is reverse the university’s shrinking enrollment, which understandably catapults Wilson to the top of the list. It’s worth noting that prior to this steep decline for this upcoming semester, enrollment at UA was stabilizing so it’s reasonable to believe that the task, though daunting, is within the realm of possibility. Though the praise isn’t universal — some consider him a “Scarborough suckup” who went along for the polytechnic ride with Scarborough, Burns and the board — but those who like him, love him. One law school faculty member said, “He’s the best leader I’ve ever worked for.” A lawyer and professor with international experience, he’s been described to me as a hard-worker who has dealt with difficult challenges, personally and professionally, and can call someone on the carpet without damaging their morale because he possesses high levels of social and emotional intelligence. In the end, it may be this part that puts him ahead of all the other candidates because he’s considered someone capable of winning trust and leading. Whether it works outside of the law school remains to be seen.

And the winner is…

If I had to put money on it, I’d bet the trustees tap Wilson to be the interim president, and if he is as good as some say, I can imagine him becoming the permanent president, even after a national search. Regardless, the one thing the next president has working in his favor is that there will be no pressure to pursue big ideas immediately. He’ll have time to assess and tweak and build relationships, which is exactly what the university needs right now.

All photos, except for the featured image, courtesy of The University of Akron.