Robert Barrett, Jr.
The Buchtelite’s first special edition of the 2017-2018 featured an interview with President Matthew Wilson titled “State of the University: Incredibly Optimistic.” In the brief time since that article, The University of Akron has experienced several major changes such as the position of president and a shortening of the class week from five to four days.
The state of the University has come a long way since when, then president Luis Proenza, said the state of the University was “strong,” in 2013 and since Wilson said he believed the state of the University to be “incredibly optimistic,” in August 2018. The interview with Wilson at the beginning of this academic year allowed Wilson to discuss his goals and vision for the University. Wilson focused on his initiative called “Stabilize – Invest – Grow,” or SIG.
As Wilson’s time as UA’s president comes to a close, many will look back at this initiative and what degree of success it achieved, if any.
In late March 2018, Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the University’s financial outlook to stable from negative as well as affirmed UA’s debt rating as A1. Certainly, this shows success in the stabilizing aspect of Wilson’s tripartite initiative. Jacob Callahan, a fourth-year student at UA, said, “I wasn’t quite sure what this report meant, but it seems like good news, a step in the right direction.”
Wilson did not speak directly about the “Invest” aspect of SIG, but there is evidence to suggest the University is receiving more investments. The Board of Trustees Vice President of Development Kim Cole said, in February 2018, the University has seen an increase of 57 percent in donations for the first half of the fiscal year; the second half of the year statistics are not yet available.
The Board also said that 47 percent of this donations were from new donors and the $16.2 million in the first half of the fiscal year which did not include the gift of $20 million from the estate of Jean Hower Taber.
In addition to the above investments, UA also completed a $21 million renovation of the C. Blake McDowell Law Center, home of the University’s School of Law. At the ribbon cutting ceremony Wilson said, “with the support of our alumni and the legal community, the University has built something that will impact legal education in the area for decades to come.”
The final aspect of SIG is one that meets the most scrutiny, “Grow.” The other aspects of Wilson’s initiative can cite instances where they have been manifested. The same cannot be said for the final aspect. According to the University’s own institutional research, the five-year trend in enrollment is still on the decline.
Wilson, who is stepping down as president on May 1, 2018, will have only been president of the University for a year and six months. Because of this, the SIG initiative cannot be judged in terms of sustained success. As Brooklyn Dennison, editor-in-chief of The Buchtelite, points out in her editorial, according to Inside Higher Ed, the average tenure of a university president is six and a half years.
This short tenure is of some concern to students who desire longevity at the president position. But, for the short term, it seems as though President Wilson has accomplished two out of his three main goals. Questions may still linger about Wilson and his loyalty to the University, his value of the academic aspects, and not just financial aspects, of UA.
In his interview at the beginning of the year, Wilson said he wanted his plan to be more than just a financial initiative; he wanted it to be an instrument used to enhance the University. Wilson said he believes only focusing on finances strays too far off the path of what academic institutions should be for students. Not much can be said to this sentiment with regards to students who are undergoing the turmoil of changing presidents once again.
UA will lean on Dr. John Green, who has been named interim president while the Board conducts their national search for a new, permanent president. Wilson has said he will be part of the transition team to help Green into his role.