'My First 100 Days'


President Scarborough spoke to the Akron Roundtable on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, at The University of Akron's Quaker Station. The title of his talk was, "My First 100 Days."

Hello, everyone.

It’s a delight to be with you today.

I want to begin by thanking the Akron Roundtable for inviting me to speak. It’s an honor to be here.

And I want to thank all of you for coming, particularly the members of our board, representatives of city and county government; and our community’s business and civic leaders.

Forgive me for not recognizing you individually.

If I did that, it would take much of our time together, and I’d miss someone, so please accept this blanket acknowledgement and my sincere thanks for being here.

I do want to make one exception, however, and that is to thank Jon Pavloff for that kind introduction.

Because thanks to Jon’s introduction and the Roundtable’s distributed biographies, I don’t have to cover that material.

And for that, I am truly grateful.

Because contrary to the Hollywood characterization of native Texans as being brash and boastful, most of us were not reared to be that way.

I can remember my dad saying to me, “If you’ve got it, people will know. You don’t have to talk about it.”

In fact, he had some pretty colorful expressions for people who thought too highly of themselves.

He used to say about such a person: “He’s all hat, no cattle.”

Or: “She thinks the sun comes up each day just to hear her crow.”

Or my personal favorite, “I wish I could buy that guy for what he’s really worth, [and] sell him for what he thinks he’s worth. That would be a big profit!”

But I do understand that on an occasion like this, people are interested in one’s background.

So let me share with you what is most important about my background:

I am the grandson of a pharmacist who made a life for himself…by graduating from a public university.

I’m the son of an 8th grade English teacher who achieved her dream of becoming an educator…by graduating from a public university.

and just like many of you in this room today, I am the graduate of a public university.

I am a big believer that public higher education matters.

It changes lives for the better, and it is the key to making what we call the American Dream an American reality.

Public higher education is the key to our country because what makes our country special is that anybody can become anything – if you study, work hard, and do the right things.

That’s the American Dream, and that should always be the American ideal, and the American way of life. Anybody can become anything if they do the right things.

Public universities became the instrument by which the American Dream is achieved, beginning in the late 1800s and continuing to this day.

And with each passing generation, public higher education has become even more important.

Very early in my career, I decided to make higher education my life’s work, because I saw the difference public universities made in the lives of families, much like my own.

But, my journey to a career in higher education is what many would call “nontraditional.”

I didn’t know what to study in college, so my dad gave me some direction.

He said I should major in accounting because he wanted to make sure I got a job after graduation, and I did.

After graduation, I went to work for one of the Big 8 accounting firms.

And while I was there, one of the partners volunteered me to teach at the local Catholic college.

When I got inside the classroom, that’s when I discovered what I wanted to do with my life.

I absolutely loved being in the college classroom. I loved working with college students.

I loved taking something highly complex and breaking it down for them in ways they could understand and apply effectively.

I decided I wanted to work in higher education, but I didn’t have the academic credentials to do so at that time.

So I had to find a very creative path to a long-term career in higher education.

I left public accounting and took a job at the University of Texas System, and eventually became the chief business officer at one of their 16 universities.

Along the way, I added an MBA and a Ph.D. in strategic management.

And when I got the academic credentials I needed, I began to teach two classes per quarter while working during the day as a university administrator.

My career in higher education has been an amazing journey:

  • From chief business officer to state treasurer,
  • From state treasurer to chief operating officer;
  • From COO to CEO of an academic medical center;
  • From CEO in healthcare to provost at The University of Toledo.

And now, from provost to president of The University of Akron. What an incredible journey!

The wonderful thing about this journey is that I’ve gotten the chance to experience higher education in almost every way imaginable:

  • As an undergraduate student and student body president.
  • As a graduate student and doctoral candidate.
  • As an adjunct faculty member and associate professor.
  • As a researcher and author, and of course, as an administrator in many different parts of a university.

And I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.

The only role I never really fully experienced is that of student-athlete. But I did try.

In fact, I tried out for the varsity tennis team at Trinity University in San Antonio.

After one day of practice, I asked the coach, “Hey, what do you think?” He paused, and then he said, “I think you ought to focus on your studies!”

That was probably good advice! I did, and the rest was history.


A jewel of a university

On May 8 of this year, the trustees of The University of Akron gave me the chance of a lifetime – to become the 16th president of The University of Akron.

And over the past five weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to study this university closely.

You have a jewel of a university in this city—one with a great history and a great future.

You know the story, but it’s a great story:

Buchtel College, the forerunner of The University of Akron, was founded in 1870, the same year that Dr. B.F. Goodrich brought rubber manufacturing to Akron.1

In 1899, graduates from Buchtel College were staffing his rubber laboratories.2

Ten years later, the first college courses in rubber chemistry in the U.S. were being taught at Buchtel College.3

In the 20s and 30s, hourly workers flocked to Akron to work in the tire factories.

And the Municipal University of Akron supplied the Big Four – Goodrich, Goodyear, Firestone and General – with chemists, accountants, engineers and managers.

Graduates also became lawyers, nurses, teachers and other professionals.

And these people worked for organizations that flourished along side the great rubber companies.

During World War II, Akron’s rubber industry and its university became the epicenter of the nation’s efforts to create synthetic rubber, which was highly important to the war effort.4

In fact, according to some historians, this project was second only to the Manhattan Project in terms of its strategic importance to winning the war. 567

After the war, factory workers saw many of their sons return home and enroll in college under the new G.I. Bill.

And these students were often the first generation in their families to attend a college.

As you know, the 70s and 80s were tough. Tire factories began to close, but the region’s polymer industry arose from the ashes of the shuttered tire factories.

That rise could not have happened without the research being done at Akron’s university.

Today, The University of Akron continues to explore new avenues of research in biomedical and advanced materials—all to give Akron a stronger footing and a brighter future in today’s global economy.

And this university continues to produce the professionals who rear their families in this community.

People who work hard and save what they can to give their children a shot a college education and the Great American Dream.


My first 100 days

This is my sixth week on the job. During the first 100 days, I’m trying to accomplish five things.

First, I’m getting to know my direct reports and key stakeholders.

I need to make sure the university has the right people in the right seats, and that they practice great teamwork.

Second, I am familiarizing myself with the university’s existing strategic plan, organizational culture, and market position.

The university has a strategic plan called Vision 2020. It’s a good strategic plan.

It focuses the university on accomplishing five important outcomes:

  • Academic and inclusive excellence
  • Globally relevant and distinctive programs
  • Interdisciplinary clusters of innovation
  • Connectivity for economic vitality
  • Campus and community enhancement

I also am getting to know the university’s culture, which is important for any president to understand.

I think you know this, but the academic culture is different from most business cultures.

The academic culture is created and sustained by people who are scientists and scholars.

They are what author Richard Florida calls the “creative class” of modern society.8

He describes them as

…people who love the challenge of their work…

...the flexibility of their work…

...the stability of their jobs…and the respect of their peers—more than anything else.9

They are motivated primarily by the success of their students, their academic accomplishments, and their program’s reputation.

The academic culture most resembles that of a large law firm or advertising agency.

Highly intelligent and creative professionals who form a type of partnership with the common goal of advancing their fields and while their students.

As you know, building and sustaining effective partnerships takes a lot of time, lots of dialogue and, oftentimes, compromise.

That’s the academic culture.

All presidents have to learn how to work within the academic culture in order to get things done.

It’s not easy. You never achieve 100% consensus.

But you have to learn how to get things done while respecting the scientists and scholars who constitute the academic core of the university.

The third thing I am trying to accomplish during the first 100 days is to get a good read on the university’s financial condition.

These are tough times for public universities all across the country, but particularly in the Midwest and Northeast of the United States.

  • Per-student state appropriations are declining.
  • Federal research funding is declining.
  • The number of students graduating from high school is declining.
  • The number of competitors is increasing.
  • Student debt is increasing.
  • The default rate on student loans is increasing.
  • Financial aid eligibility is getting stricter.
  • Public universities are more highly leveraged.
  • Cash flows are insufficient to maintain facilities and equipment.
  • Fixed costs are high.
  • Trustees are concerned.

But other than that, everything is great!

In July of this year, both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s issued negative outlooks for public higher education.10

In particular, Moody’s predicted that regional public universities like Akron, Kent State, Cleveland State and Youngstown State will struggle to achieve and sustain financial stability.

Last month, however, both Moody’s and Fitch described our university’s financial outlook as stable.11

They did so because we made it clear that The University of Akron will find ways to move forward despite demographic declines and financial challenges.

We said we would become more strategically focused by maximizing our strengths.

We said we would become more efficient.

We said we would leverage existing and emerging technologies to improve academic quality and increase productivity.

We said we would grow markets in places and programs that we have not recently emphasized.

We said we would focus research in areas that make a difference to our regional economy.

And we said we understood that we must stop doing some things that we can no longer afford...not because we want to, but because we have to.

We told Moody’s and Fitch that we would be a disciplined organization, with disciplined people engaged in disciplined thought and actions.

All this in pursuit of the noble missions of public higher education: teaching, research and service to this community.

The good news is that we have a lot of strengths at The University of Akron on which to build.

  • a beautifully rebuilt main campus
  • proximity to a very nice downtown area and business district
  • five satellite locations
  • proximity to Cleveland
  • strong programs in polymer science, engineering, applied political science, intellectual property law, and several others
  • a national championship soccer program
  • 92% of engineering graduates who have good jobs within six months of graduation
  • Graduates in Education and Nursing with licensure passage rates far above the national averages
  • And graduates, on average, who have lower student loan debt than their counterparts at all other Ohio public universities
  • A recent study by Affordable Colleges Online says that The University of Akron has the best return on investment of any public university in Northeast Ohio.12

These are all great strengths upon which to build.

The fourth thing I needed to accomplish in the first 100 days was to assess and tweak the management structure and to communicate performance expectations. That has been accomplished.

As you leave today, on that table to my left, you will find a handout. It lists the leadership and management principles to which we are holding ourselves accountable.

This is a document I have distributed to management teams for over 25 years.

The purpose of the document is to do three things:

  • First, to articulate management principles that work.
  • Second, to articulate principles that make teamwork effective and going to work both productive and fun.
  • Third, to clearly communicate performance expectations against which leaders and managers will be evaluated.

As you will see, this document contains many, many bullet points. But the national media focused on just one. It was under the header: Big Mistakes or Problems.

The bullet point reads: It is a mistake if one “Fails to pick up trash.”

A national reporter called me and asked, “Do you really expect the people who report to you to pick up trash when they see it?”

I responded, “Yes, and I expect the same thing from myself.”

30 years ago, one of my mentors told me how he selected leaders for his church.

He said we watched and noticed which of his members stopped to pick up litter in the church’s parking lot, sidewalks, and hallways.

He said it was his most reliable indicator of effective leadership.

Over the years, I have come to understand the wisdom of that practice.

A person who is too important to pick up trash is probably too important to help a student who is struggling to understand an important concept.

A person who is too important to pick up trash is probably too important to help a colleague who is struggling to overcome an important research challenge.

A person who is too important to do the little things is probably too important to do the big things well.

Give me a group of people who are humble enough, committed enough, and care enough to pick up a trash when they see it, and I’ll show you a group of people who are capable of accomplishing anything.

The fifth and final thing I am trying to do during these first 100 days is to define and communicate what it means for The University of Akron to succeed and win.

This needs to be clear to everyone.

The old saying goes, “What gets measured gets done.”

And a new leader needs to identify the metrics that matter most and what needs to be done to improve performance.

Winning at The University of Akron means:

…students who are graduating and accomplishing their dreams….

…employers who are happy with our graduates…

…research that invigorates economic development and enhances the quality of life for people in this region…

…sports teams that are competitive, and student-athletes who represent us proudly as they learn and practice the power of teamwork.


The power of teamwork

I tell everyone: Teamwork – both inside and outside the university –is the key to accomplishing all these things.

When I think of teamwork, I think of the rowing teams in the Summer Olympics.

Long slender boats slicing through the water as oars rise and fall in almost perfect unison.

That’s my vision of teamwork:

Trustees and administrators working in unison.

Administrators and faculty collaborating as one.

Faculty, staff and students in the rhythmic pursuit of winning outcomes for themselves and the community.

Community, industry and university leaders rowing in sync toward the finish lines of academic quality, economic development, and economic sustainability.

I believe all this is possible if we practice great teamwork.


'I believe that we can win'

My time is about up, but I do want to make one final point.

On my first day on the job on July 1st, someone told me that our students and alumni were gathering at a local watering hole to watch Team USA play in the World Cup.

Former Zip soccer star, DeAndre Yedlin, was part of that team, which was very exciting.

I thought it would be great to go there, hang out with students, and watch the game.

When we got there--it was packed. You could barely squeeze in.

I was a little out of place--it was 90 degrees, and I was in my suit and tie. Needless to say, it was hot!

It was getting near the end of the game, and I was moving toward the door when all of a sudden, you could hear a few students starting to chant something.

In a steady rhythmic form, it got louder and louder.

I have to tell you: it was exhilarating to feel the energy and conviction with which these young people were chanting:

“I believe that we will win.”

I believe that we will win.

I believe that we will win.

To win, you have to believe you will win.

If we do the right things right for this university…

If we elevate our teamwork…

If we forge the right strategies…

If we commit ourselves unreservedly and unselfishly to the achievement of our goals…

People inside and outside our university will begin to chant:

I believe that we will win.

You will hear it

…on our playing fields,

…in our classrooms and labs…

… in boardrooms and community centers…

…in downtown offices and in the homes of alumni, donors and parents of students…

I believe that we will win.

Public higher education is too important, too important to the future of our children, to0 important for our country for there to be any other outcome.

I believe that we will win.

And with your help and support, at The University of Akron, we will win.

Thank you.

1 Ong, Ambassador John Doyle. “From Hevea to Eternity.” University of Akron. John S. Knight Center, Akron, Ohio. 4 May, 2009. Keynote Address.

2 Ong, Ibid.

3 “100 People and Innovations That Shaped the Rubber Industry.” 23 Oct., 2009. ACS Rubber Division. http://www.uakron.edu/polymer/news-events/news-detail.dot?newsId=3bf7b9c8-e525-422b-80e2-5a31df0e07fd

4 U.S. Synthetic Rubber Program. ACS Chemistry for Life. http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/syntheticrubber.html

5 Hempstead, Colin; Worthington, William. “Encyclopedia of 20th Century Technology. “Synthetic Rubber.” P. 779. http://books.google.com/books?id=2ZCNAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA779#v=onepage&q&f=false

6 Bowles, Mark D. “Chains of Opportunity: The University of Akron and the Emergence of the Polymer Age 1909-2007. P. 48. http://books.google.com/books?id=kYv--GsFlqAC&pg=PA48#v=onepage&q&f=false

7 Rubber Matters. Chemical Heritage Foundation. http://www.chemheritage.org/research/policy-center/oral-history-program/projects/rubber-matters/

8 Florida, Richard. “The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life.” Basic Books. 2002. New York, NY.

9 Florida, Ibid p.8.

10 Troop, Don. “Moody’s Issues Negative Outlook for Higher Education.” 14 July, 2014. The Botton Line blog. The Chronicle of Higher Education. http://chronicle.com/blogs/bottomline/moodys-issues-negative-outlook-for-higher-education/

11 McGaw, Timothy. “New President Boosts University of Akron’s Financial Mood.” 27 July, 2014. Crain’s Cleveland Business. http://www.crainscleveland.com/article/20140727/SUB1/307279978/new-president-boosts-university-of-akrons-financial-mood#

12 UA=Great Return on Investment Says New Survey. 31 July, 2013. http://www.uakron.edu/im/online-newsroom/news_details.dot?newsId=8d5b28c3-bd05-4422-9873-ff0c30068a70