President Steps Down; Students Deserve Answers


Buchtelite file photo

By Brooklyn Dennison, Editor-in-Chief

Over the past two months, President Matthew Wilson has made a number of decisions that directly affect and concern students at The University of Akron. Although he says he cares about students, his claims are not consistent with his actions.

On Feb. 15, students received a message from President Wilson through Zipmail that said he had been selected as a semifinalist for the presidency at the University of Central Florida. He cited family as one of the reasons he applied for the position. “Having lived in the Orlando area previously, my family and I have always had the mindset of retiring somewhere in the area,” he said in the message.

Students were unsettled by that message from President Wilson, but it was not substantial enough to cause panic until Wilson was selected as one of the four finalists for the position on Feb. 23. One student, Chi Zhang, when asked about his feelings toward President Wilson’s actions, said the president should not have told the student body about being selected as a finalist of UCF without a final decision because it caused anxiety.

The anxiety was relieved on March 9 when it was announced that President Wilson was not selected as president at UCF. However, tension remained within the student body. Many students felt President Wilson had lost his interest in UA.

This was only exacerbated when Board of Trustees chair, Roland Bauer, announced that Wilson planned to step down as president and rejoin the School of Law this summer. Again, Wilson cited personal and family considerations as the main reason for his decision.

In an interview with Wilson, he said another contributing factor in stepping down was that he felt he had accomplished his mission of making UA a better place by improving experiences for students and making sure the University had a solid foundation.

Regardless of his reasons to step down, a growing number of students felt that they could no longer trust President Wilson. First, he applied to another university, then, soon after he failed to get the position, he decided to step down. Regardless of his reasons, Wilson’s sequence of actions does not translate well to the student body.

Students deserved a better explanation, if not from President Wilson himself, then from the administration. The month leading up to the announcement that Wilson was stepping down, students were sent on a roller coaster. First, they were upset that the University may be losing Wilson, then they were relieved, then they were upset again after they learned he was stepping down. They were forced to speculate what was happening at the University because the information they received about the issue was slim. The speculations turned into rumors, which only increased the negative feelings among students. Some of these rumors included that Wilson was fired or Wilson lost interest in the students.

Nevertheless, President Wilson says he cares about students. In an interview with him, he said, “with respect to the students that are out there, I hope they know how much I truly care about them and their success.”

In his letter to the campus he published after he decided to step down, he noted several times about being able to improve the UA community. However, it is worth investigating whether President Wilson has done anything to assist students that wasn’t just lip service or for good press. If Wilson truly cared about students, he would have talked with them directly throughout his process of stepping down instead of sending letters to them when he made a decision. After he stepped down he could have hosted a seminar with students, allowing them to ask questions. Wilson has failed to provide the students with proper closure since his decision to step down.

Students were and are worried about the state of the University. In a survey, which The Buchtelite sent out after Wilson decided to step down, about 42 percent of students do not feel the University is stable. There is a reason they feel this way. What will become of initiatives President Wilson has implemented after he leaves? Why has the University been under the leadership of two different presidents in four years and will be looking for a third when, according to Inside Higher Ed, the average tenure of a university president is six and a half years?

In a recent interview, Wilson disagreed that there is anything to worry about. He said that students should not feel let down or discouraged by his decision to step down because they have the full and complete support of UA and the future of initiatives that he played a big role in implementing remains bright. However, the validity in his claims is questionable. Instead of explaining why students shouldn’t feel disappointed or exploring possibilities for the future of UA, he gave an empty, meaningless answer. He gave lip service.

Which part of UA do students have the full and complete support of? Is it the administration? The administration has not been a reliable place for students to get support from because students rarely ever hear directly from the administration. Instead, they rely on hearsay or on the press to get information about what is happening at the University. How about the faculty and staff? Are students supposed to rely on them for support? That is well above their pay grade and faculty and staff are probably just as frustrated as the students are.

And what about the future of new initiatives, such as Five-Star Fridays? We will not know if they truly are successful until they have been tested, however, there is still plenty of concern. Hopefully, the administration has a plan to recover from initiatives that could potentially fail. Hopefully, the interim president is willing to clean up any potential mess left behind by initiatives that could possibly fail.

It should be understood that President Wilson has the right to step down as president. He has valid reasons to leave, such as family concerns. However, it seems completely insincere on his end to claim that he cares about students while eschewing a direct address to them about what will happen when he steps down. He could easily address students’ concerns by, again, hosting a seminar, publishing a letter that addresses some of the negative rumors, or at least telling students that they can reach out to him directly to ask him questions. There are many ways in which the president could reach out to students so as to reassure them, but he has not utilized any of them.

On April 12, it was announced that Wilson was named a finalist for the presidency of Utah Valley University. However, he did not receive the position. On April 20, UVU published on their website that they have selected Dr. Astrid S. Tuminez to be the seventh president.

Only time will tell what decision Wilson will make next and whether or not it will be in the interest of UA’s students.