Burns on branding, donors, education


Kristina Aiad-Toss

John Buchtel’s statue looms in front of Buchtel Hall, where Larry Burns’ office is located.

By Kristina Aiad-Toss, Photo Editor

On Friday, Oct. 30, UA Vice President of Advancement Lawrence “Larry” Burns was interviewed about the naming of the Honors College. After discussing details, Burns gave further comments on the University rebranding, along with his thoughts on its relation to donations, academic quality, and reputation.


Q: What is the timeline for the naming of the Honors College?

A: “We have to find the right match, hopefully a donor. We need somebody that is willing to make a commitment based upon what we believe the Honors College can be with Dr. Ransom’s  and Dr. Scarborough’s leadership. It would be my hope that we could come to some conclusion within the next six months.”


Q: Are there any potential candidates that you are considering naming the college after, and what qualities do you look for in this individual?

A: “There is a number of potential individuals that we need to talk to privately to see if they are interested in that kind of support and commitment. That is underway in a very private manner. Ideally, we are looking for somebody who has some University of Akron heritage or someone from the community. We are looking for a person who understands the value of branding a college, can send a message to prospective students, and really wants to be a part of broadening the reach of the University of Akron.”


Q: How long has branding the Honors College been under discussion?

A: “During [the] last six or seven months.”


Q: Do you hope to gain the same sort of publicity for the Honors College that naming the College of Education brought forth?

A: “We do, and not only the Honors College, but every other college as well.”


Q: Are you considering naming more of the colleges?

A: “We would hope so. We need to find the right partner, the right donor, the right connection. Because if you were to look around the country, many premier colleges within premier universities are named after someone. If someone were to offer to name the business school right now, then that would be something that we would immediately talk about. Currently, we are in the process of looking for potential donors for all of the colleges. We already have a lot of named centers and institutes, like the Bliss Institute and Infocision. We need to elevate that and now name the colleges.”

Q: Recently the Akron Beacon Journal wrote an article of the 42% decline in donations to The University of Akron. Is the naming of the Honors College and other colleges a response to this decrease in donations?

A: “No, it doesn’t have anything to do with it. From a fundraising strategy, the naming of colleges has been something that has been under discussion for a long time. If successful, they tend to be the larger gifts. It’s something that we need to continually think of and be successful with. I do believe that one success will lead to another. If we are able to find a donor for the Honors College, I think that will help to find a donor for the College of Arts and Sciences or the engineering school.”


Q: What other initiatives is the administration doing to boost the amount of donations?

A: “We are trying to make sure that our alumni and our non-alumni donor base[s] are accurately informed about the direction of the University and that they have an opportunity to be engaged and ask questions. Hopefully, that engagement will result in them investing in the University.”


Q: Why do you believe it is beneficial to name colleges?

A: “It allows you to have an identity within a brand. You can build upon the attributes, not only in the college, but also of the individual whose name is on it. For example, the success of the education college has a lot to do with the power of LeBron James’s brand. Every time we find a partner like that, be it an individual, company or foundation, it allows us to expand the brand of the University with the person’s own brand.


Q: Why is naming colleges and branding of such importance to the University?

A: It is important, because we believe that we need to expand the reach of the University to grow enrollment. That, financially, is something that we really need to do. Branding allows us to be in the fronts of people’s minds and it asks people to look further into the University. Branding can be the entry to a new relationship to get the University’s name out there to the rest of the world. It’s the same reason that companies brand themselves with the Olympics. It puts them in front of people that normally they wouldn’t be in front of.”

Q: How does branding help students post-graduation?

A: “If our brand at The University of Akron is more well known, employers are going to be familiar with The University of Akron. It elevates a student’s ability to get the employer’s attention. You then have to sell yourself and do a good job in an interview. But, you got their attention because of where you came from, because of the brand.”


Q: How does branding and renaming colleges affect the quality of education?

A: “Education is our responsibility. A brand is simply a promise. If we brand ourselves as a place for experiential learning, we are promising to you as a student that you will have that opportunity. Think of brands that you are familiar with. One of the most popular brands in the world is Coca-Cola. You know that every time you open up a coke, the promise is that it is going to taste the same no matter where you are. Similarly, we must fulfill the promises we make. If we say we are going to provide student services and experiential learning, we better do that. This way the brand will be extremely powerful.”


Q: Faculty, students, and alumni have expressed criticism that the administration is focusing too much on rebranding, instead of improving the quality of education. What is your response to this?

A: “The quality of education is the most important thing. Branding is important because you need to get the word out about the quality of education. We are not in a position to keep it a secret and so we need to brand ourselves to get more people to come and look at us. Without the quality of education and faculty and services, then the brand won’t mean as much. Branding and quality of education are integrated forever and people need to know that. My job is to tell the story and to get more people interested so they can come experience the academics.”


Q: What is the administration doing to improve the quality of education?

A: “The administration is hiring 50 new faculty members [within departments] across every college. We hired 17 new success coaches to help freshmen get acclimated to the University. We are investing in our facilities as best as we can.”