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To the Members of the University Community: 1999-2000 Academic Year

  • Date: 05/10/2000
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • In the spirit, Dear Colleagues . . .

    . . . of shared leadership, I offer you this academic year-end status report. It is intended to follow up on those concerns you expressed to me during my first weeks on campus and to look forward in the context of the eight institutional strategies we have created together in the past months.

    We are nearing the completion of our senior administrative team, with Dr. Terry Hickey assuming the post of senior vice president and provost on May 1 and Dr. Tom Gaylord now entering his fourth month as our chief information officer. I am delighted to report that Dr. Marlesa A. Roney has accepted our offer to serve as vice president for student affairs. Interviews for the vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School will be completed next week, and an announcement is expected shortly thereafter. Both of these appointments will be formally submitted to the Board of Trustees at its next meeting on June 14, 2000.

    At the dean level, searches are progressing very well for the College of Fine and Applied Arts and the College of Education. In each case, the search committee is meeting with a short list of qualified finalists. The search for a dean of the College of Engineering also is underway.

    Permanent appointments of well-qualified individuals to senior management positions alone will not create the kind of leadership we need to advance the obvious promise of The University of Akron. Each of us must become engaged intellectually and emotionally in pursuing shared goals, and each of us must understand how her or his actions contribute to our success. That process of responsible and active participation in the life and future of our University is shared leadership, one of our institutional strategies.

    Throughout this past year, numerous groups and individuals have been taking part in envisioning our future, improving our services, and lending their perspectives to institutional decision making. There are many opportunities for each of us to become involved, such as the strategic thinking work groups and Faculty Senate. And there are many role models, including those colleagues who were honored at the recent Shared Leadership Breakfast. For us to succeed, shared leadership must be more than a concept; shared leadership must be our way of collectively and passionately moving the University forward. Beyond being one of our eight strategies, shared leadership is fundamental to our efforts to accomplish our other strategies.

    The strategies that have evolved to focus our collective efforts and energies are these:

    • New Landscape for Learning
    • Enrollment Management
    • Revenue Diversification and Enhancement
    • Differentiation/Synergy and Leverage
    • Telling the Story
    • Shared Leadership
    • Community Engagement
    • Positioning and Partnering

    Each of these interdependent strategies is intended to move us toward our goal -- our strategic intent -- of becoming recognized as the public research university for northern Ohio, and in assuming a prominence comparable to that long enjoyed by Ohio State in the central part of the state and to the more recent positioning of the University of Cincinnati in southern Ohio. Implicit in that statement of strategic intent is the need for us to meet new and ambitious standards in everything we do.

    For instance, aggressively increasing our faculty salaries in relation to comparable universities is a top priority, one that requires significant additional revenues. For the upcoming fiscal year, the University has allocated nearly $5.5 million to increased compensation, even though our enrollment declined slightly from Fall 1998 to Fall 1999. Tuition and fee increases provided those funds. However, raising faculty salaries to levels befitting a public research university cannot and should not be accomplished solely through tuition increases.

    Back in the early 1980s, with the support of then-Governor James Rhodes, the Ohio Board of Regents affirmed the societal value of public higher education and intended that no Ohio student would ever pay more than 30 percent of the cost. Yet, because the effort was not sustained, promises made were not promises kept. In the ensuing years, funding shortfalls and other disincentives have pushed the student share of a public college education in Ohio to more than 50 percent, even though the national average is at 20 percent. Ohio college students are not getting a fair bargain. Rather, they are paying more than they bargained for.

    We will continue to lobby Ohio's lawmakers and inform the public of the need to live up to the promise of making higher education more affordable through increased state funding. At the same time, we are instituting an enrollment management program to retain current students and attract new students.

    Increasing our enrollment by 194 students would generate enough revenue to fund an additional 1 percent increase in salaries. Since 93 percent of our current revenue is enrollment driven, coming from student tuition and fees and state appropriations, our most immediate sources for additional revenue are either increased enrollment or increased tuition and fees.

    Also, of course, we are seeking additional funding in gifts, grants, and contracts from a broader base - including state and federal agencies, as well as from private sources. By enhancing and diversifying our revenue streams, we can address our objectives more forcefully and quickly, while providing some protection against the vagaries of state funding and occasional fluctuations in enrollment.

    To create an environment in which we can be successful in attracting new funding sources and new students, we all need to become more active in what our vice president of public affairs and development, John LaGuardia, calls "friend raising." That is, we must take steps to make The University of Akron a part of the lives and consciousness of our constituents. We must make the University "real" to them - by more fully engaging the community, building upon our rich history of active involvement in the broad range of civic affairs in the area; and by telling our story in a memorable and understandable manner, over and over again.

    To that end, we are describing our University not in sterile and complex terms of departments and colleges. Instead, we are describing the University in terms of four overlapping clusters of excellence - those things that we do to extend our learning into the community (Community Service and Community Outreach); those things that we do to define the economic well-being of our region (Business and Industry); those things that we do to define the social and cultural landscape of northern Ohio (Arts and Humanities); and those things that we do to advance innovation (Science and Engineering). This descriptive approach is not intended to exclude or downplay any unit or activity of the University. Rather, the intent of describing the University in terms of clusters of excellence is to emphasize the interrelationship of the University's activities and, more importantly, our connection to the daily lives of our constituents.

    While we are presenting ourselves to the external world in simple and broad terms, we must focus our internal vision on those areas in which we have the potential of achieving the greatest return on investment -- through synergy and leverage resulting in enhanced reputation or increased revenues or opportunities. We must make decisions based upon the best-available hard data and thoughtfully projected outcomes. We must seize opportunities and partnerships that help us strengthen our position and reputation as northern Ohio's public research university and, indeed, as northern Ohio's leading public university.

    Our status as a public research university and our pride as a community must be reflected in our physical facilities and appearance of the campus, especially if we are to succeed in attracting significant numbers of new students to the University. That is why we are investing $200 million to implement our Campus Development Guide Plan, "A New Landscape for Learning."

    Already, we are seeing signs of the transformation: a section of Carroll Street has been closed; Simmons Hall has been razed; a new Polymer Engineering Annex is under construction; ground will be broken soon on the Arts and Sciences Building and the East Campus Parking Deck; and our physical facilities crew is putting forth great effort to make the campus look its very best.

    But the responsibility for demonstrating our very best - in how our campus looks, in how we make our students and visitors feel valued, and in all we say and do - belongs to every one of us. We all must be engaged and excited about where we are going as a university and how we will get there, and we must be committed to shared leadership - not just as a concept but as the only way that we can create significant opportunities for our university.

    There is no limit to what we can accomplish if we share values and ambitious goals and focus our energies on achieving them . . . if we exchange timely and accurate information freely throughout the University . . . if we value diversity and remain open to new knowledge . .

    if we each accept personal responsibility and accountability for constantly improving the University . . . and if we don't care about who gets the credit.

    I hope you will continue to share your thoughts and suggestions, and I look forward to working with you during the coming academic year.

    With every good wish,


    Luis M. Proenza


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