The problem isn’t that President Scarborough is running the University of Akron like a business. It’s that he isn’t.

an editorial by Chris Horne, publisher

The subtle message undergirding the University of Akron’s “What I did with my summer vacation” narrative is that they’re running the university like a business.

In a business, within reason, you can hire anyone you want. In a business, you don’t have to tell anyone outside the company—or even many inside the company—what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. In a business, you can contract with pretty much any company you please. Maybe you’ve thought about these things. “What’s the big deal? They’re running the university like a business!”

Except they aren’t.

ABOUT THIS ISSUE'S COVER: When photographer Shane Wynn saw what was happening with the protests outside the Board of Trustees meeting, she hopped in her car with her camera, headed to UA's Student Union and started snapping photos. This one, of 3-year-old Jahara, was one of our favorite shots. (Find more, like the feature image on this story, in the back of the issue.) Thank you, Shane!

ABOUT THIS ISSUE’S COVER: When photographer Shane Wynn saw what was happening with the protests outside the Board of Trustees meeting, she hopped in her car with her camera, headed to UA’s Student Union and started snapping photos. This one, of 3-year-old Jahara, was one of our favorite shots. (Find more, like the feature image on this story, in the back of the issue.) Thank you, Shane!

President Scott Scarborough isn’t running the university like a business because in a business, he’d be using his money—not millions in taxpayer dollars. When it’s someone else’s money, it’s easier to pad the six-figure salary of an under-qualified candidate you prefer with an extra $100,000 a year more than their predecessor received. If the trustees were running the University of Akron like a business into which they, like stockholders, had invested large amounts of their own money, would they approve nearly $1 million in renovations for the house where Scarborough lives?

“Oh, but Chris, it’s totally okay because that came from private donations!”

One, the laborers—before they were fired—were paid by the university, not private donations. Two, considering the financial crisis Scarborough inherited, why didn’t the trustees talk those private donors into putting their money towards something else on campus? Even half that amount could have funded UA Press for multiple years, or almost paid for another season of baseball while the university looked for help in the community. Even if you think the house needed work, who in the world thinks budgeting $140,000 on furnishings is, to quote Pavloff, “acceptable”? You could argue the responsible—albeit “tough”—decision would have been to sell the house, donate the proceeds to the university and give Scarborough a housing allowance.

If they considered these options—and you’d hope they had—why didn’t they go that route? Totally legit question, right? Might have a totally legit answer. But I haven’t heard it. Ditto for many of the others I’ve asked. Why cut one position from the football program but 54 from Student Success? How could Scarborough defend the $8 million spent on football as a “marketing expense”? Aren’t there other, perhaps more productive and less expensive ways to market UA? According to UA’s 2014-15 budget, the university brought in $4 million more than it spent, so from whence did this $40 million shortfall come?

These are the kinds of questions the Akron community deserves to have answered, which is traditionally where your news media enters the picture.

Well, friends, this rinky-dink publication of ours isn’t getting anywhere with the people who hold the answers to these questions. They’re ready to put this summer in the rearview. They do not want this to fester long enough for the campus to fill up with students, staff and faculty.

So, I’m still waiting for responses to questions that are a week old, some older. I’m waiting on a records request, made in July, to get a list detailing who was laid off, who retired, who quit and which positions hadn’t been filled, which you’d think they already know. It took a week to get the apology Dr. Todd Rickel mentions in his statement about the “careless mistakes” on his vita (His written apology to Provost Mike Sherman is literally “I apologize for the errors…”). From the beginning, I’ve asked for a plan that explains why some cuts were made and others weren’t, a logic guiding the “difficult decisions” Scarborough and the trustees say they have to make.

From the email "TR," er, Dr. Todd Rickel sent his new boss, Provost Mike Sherman, "explaining" the errors on his CV after they were spotted by a faculty member, not the search committee.

From an email “TR,” er, Dr. Todd Rickel sent his new boss, Provost Mike Sherman.

Maybe by the time this issue is printed, they’ll have answered. More than likely, they won’t respond until you make them. You, the people of Akron, and you, the news media of Northeast Ohio. The ball is in your court. If you want the answers, you have to demand them. You can’t be satisfied by lame, incomplete responses.

For example, all the university will tell me about how Rickel explained the significant errors he made on his application CV is that he apologized, they discussed it and now consider the matter closed. We aren’t talking about a couple of errant words but panels with radically different titles and topics listed at conferences that, in two cases, have no record of him even attending. After making promises to communicate better, they seem to be trying hard to keep from answering at all.

UPDATE: The University’s official “response” to questions about errors on CAST Dean Todd Rickel’s CV 

That tells me to keep digging because I think you deserve to know why the administration isn’t concerned it’s paying a man nearly $300,000/year (with a $1500/month car allowance) when, at best, he can’t perform the attention to detail it takes to get his own resume right.

But the questions around his vita are just part of the big picture what’s going on at Buchtel Hall.

So the cover story this issue is an attempt to combine all the pieces of the puzzle—UA Press, EJ Thomas, baseball, the layoffs and all the VP hires from Toledo—we have so far to try seeing the big picture.

A key could be one clause in the request for proposals (RFP) to outsource an online nursing program. That clause gives the university the right to extend the services of the winning proposal to outsource other classes and degrees. Worth potentially tens of millions of dollars, this RFP garnered just one proposal: Academic Partnerships. Just imagine an RFP for a construction project that allowed the university to grant the same extension to whatever company won the proposal.

“Great job with the College of Education, let’s get you on that new promenade for the Corps of Cadets! No RFPs!” Nothing weird or worrisome about that, right?

If former president Dr. Luis Proenza overbuilt, will Scarborough over-outsource? Outsource student success coaching to TrustNavigator. Outsource the RN-BSN program to Academic Partnerships. Outsource dining to Aramark. So how does that fit into his idea about what makes a great public university? How does it match yours?

I’m still open to the possibility that there is a plan that makes sense and is good for both Akron and the university. I just want to know what it is. The “trust us” routine only goes so far, especially when the things that keep surfacing make it seem like they are not simply bad at communication—as the daily paper’s editorial board continues to suggest—but rather actively trying to conceal information.

UPDATE: Below, view the University’s three-sentence reply to 10 questions The Devil Strip asked about the hiring of Dr. Lakeesha Ransom.

Response to Ransom questions

The questions to which the above is supposed to be an answer:

Questions posed about Ransom

Screenshot of our follow-up, requesting answers to questions regarding the hiring of Dr. Lakeesha Ransom. Note, none of them were answered in the University’s official response.

8 Responses

  1. Robert Fowler

    “For example, all the university will tell me about how Rickel explained the significant errors he made on his application CV is that he apologized, they discussed it and now consider the matter closed. We aren’t talking about a couple of errant words but panels with radically different titles and topics listed at conferences that, in two cases, have no record of him even attending. After making promises to communicate better, they seem to be trying hard to keep from answering at all.”

    I asked you a while back on Facebook about the different conference presentations that are asserted on the two different Rickel CVs. Have you been able to obtain the programs for those conferences? Such things are routinely produced for conferences, and these days they are often in electronic form, and one might hope they would be available on the websites of the sponsoring organizations.

    But you appear to be saying above that you have been in contact with the sponsoring organizations, and they “have no record of him even attending”! Can you say more about that? If you can document that, that’s a front page news story. In particular, the faculty at the U of A, who often scratch and claw to work their way onto the program of an academic conference, would be _very_ interested to learn the precise details of Rickel’s non-participation in conferences that he included in multiple conflicting CVs.

    Keep up your good work. You’re doing real journalism!

    Reply
    • Chris H.

      Hello Robert, I have confirmed with two conferences (WASC & AACC) that they have no evidence that he presented or attended either year he listed on the first version of his CV. They advise that there is *some* chance that he was there and presented, as a backup option, but that it is unlikely. Further, when President Scarborough responded to the question of whether Dr. Rickel was at the conferences in the first version of his CV, he said these were title errors, not unsupported claims that he was at those conferences on panels with those titles. In other words, Scarborough says that Rickel somehow mistyped three conference panel titles, one conference name and one conference year in the same three listing space. – Chris

      Reply
      • Robert Fowler

        I myself am an academic–I know how conferences and
        conference papers work. Sure, it’s not _impossible_
        that someone not on the program would be asked
        to fill in an empty slot, but I don’t think I have ever seen
        this happen. (It’s not impossible that I could win
        the lottery, but realistically, what are the chances?)

        If the sponsors have no evidence that person X
        registered OR presented (you can’t present unless
        you are registered!) at a conference, the logical
        conclusion is that person X did not register OR present.

        It would make a lot of sense if the names and titles
        of these organizations and presentations were different
        on different CVs if all of it was totally made up and bogus.
        People who make up stuff like this probably have fingers
        crossed that no one will ever look into things to verify
        the claims made.

      • Chris H.

        That was sort of my take on it too. It reminded me of medical examiners and scientific experts testifying in court refusing to give black and white answers about impossibility versus improbability.

  2. MJ

    I love your coverage of the shenanigans going on at UofA. I am concerned that a significant piece of information is getting misrepresented in the media, especially in the ABJ. Why are the low salaries being reported “salary and benefits” (have yet to figure out how these costs add up to a “salary”?) and the top execs are being reported as salary plus car allowance. Come on…if they are tacking on $30k in benefits to make the low salaries look “greater”, shouldn’t all the salaries be reported the same way. Let’s keep this equal; add up all the bonuses, the stipends, the sick days, the vacation days, the club memberships, the benefits, the retirement and then let’s print in fairness what the top is making. Please!

    Reply
    • Robert Fowler

      Nice point. Being a public institution, such information about U of A salaries, benefits, perks, etc., ought to be available to the public.

      Reply
    • Chris H.

      The figures I’ve reported are those provided by the university. Unless I have a reliable source to offer otherwise, I can’t really use it. So the “fringe” benefits can’t be included. The exception is with Dr. Ransom. When the university provided her information it was for total compensation, which is the figure I’ve used. I agree their real total compensation is much larger than the salary makes it appear. That, however, is an open records request for another day. – Chris

      Reply
      • Sad

        Actual salaries of the people who lost their jobs will eventually be public as part of a Board report, but don’t expect a simple list. Do people know that some of the people who lost their jobs are employed for 6 more months?

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