The institution now known as The University of Akron was founded as Buchtel College in 1870 by the Ohio Universalist Convention, which was strongly influenced by the efforts, energy and financial support of Akronites, particularly industrialist John R. Buchtel. From the outset, the college and the surrounding community were closely tied, with the college addressing the needs of the region as well as those of the Universalist Church and local entrepreneurs assisting the fledgling institution time and again. By 1907, Buchtel College's emphasis on local rather than denominational interests led it to become a private, non-denominational school.
The college's strong ties to the community and its challenging financial situation prompted Buchtel College trustees to transfer the institution and its assets to the city of Akron in 1913. For the next 50 years, the municipal University of Akron, assisted by city tax funds, brought college education within the reach of many more young people. During those years, enrollment swelled from 198 to about 10,000.
At the campus center, a statue of founder John R. Buchtel looks out over the city.
The University’s growth paralleled the remarkable expansion of Akron. People were drawn to the city, already a major manufacturing center, by the promise of jobs. Companies such as Goodyear, Firestone and Goodrich were headquartered in Akron, so it was only natural that the world’s first courses in rubber chemistry would be offered at the University, beginning in 1909. With the formation of the Rubber Technical Institute in 1942, University researchers and students were well-prepared to contribute to the development of synthetic rubber to aid the Allied war efforts.
A long era of expansion followed World War II. Overseeing much of this growth was the University’s 10th president, Dr. Norman P. Auburn. Under Auburn’s leadership, the institution made the transition in 1967 from a municipal to a state university.
In the years to follow, as tire production jobs left the Akron area, the University’s pioneering research was instrumental in helping the once-undisputed Rubber Capital of the United States evolve into the polymer center of the world.
In 1988, the University established the world’s first College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering - now the largest academic program of its kind in the world.
Led today by its 15th president, Dr. Luis M. Proenza, The University of Akron recently completed the $300 million first phase of its New Landscape for Learning campus enhancement program. During the five-year project, nine new buildings were constructed, 14 major renovations were completed and 30 acres of green space were added to the 218-acre campus. The new facilities include two classroom buildings, an Honors Complex, Student Union, Student Recreation and Wellness Center, and Athletics Field House.
The University’s revitalization is being extended into a 50-block area immediately surrounding campus through its leadership in the University Park Alliance (website). The alliance was established through a $2 million grant from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and is comprised of partners that include the city of Akron, Summa Health System, Akron Beacon Journal, Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, the Greater Akron Chamber, Akron Public Schools and the University Park Development Corporation.
New University degrees and certificates are offered in such areas as computer engineering, intellectual property law, e-commerce, international business and corrosion engineering. Research into biomaterials, nanotechnology and other emerging sciences offers hope for astounding medical and technological breakthroughs – and innovative activities in the arts and in community service continue to define and enhance the quality of life for those in the region and beyond.
As it moves into the 21st century, The University of Akron is poised to become the public research university for Northern Ohio, comparable to what The Ohio State University has long been for Central Ohio and to what the University of Cincinnati has more recently become for Southern Ohio.