Month One Observations08/16/2016
Interim President Matthew J. Wilson
Dear UA family members:
With the start of the academic year right around the corner, I want to share with you with several updates and news items. Instead of including everything in one extended e-mail though, I will opt for a series of messages over the course of the next few weeks. That will give you time to send me your thoughts and feedback, making these communications more of a dialogue.
Month One Observations
During my first month as interim president, I have been impressed by the passion, commitment, skill, and talent on our campus among faculty, staff, and administrators. Because you care so deeply, many have already approached me with requests for resources that you feel will enable even greater success and better service to our students. The passion for excellence and success of The University of Akron is ever-present, and the dedication to our students is undeniable.
In addition, I have also found that our students have much to offer including inspiring energy, a passion for learning, dreams of excellence, and innovative ideas. At the same time, they truly need us to provide them with knowledge, training, unique opportunities, and constant assistance. A good number of students also require our direction, guidance, or support as they struggle to find themselves.
This coming year, please join me in redoubling our efforts and sharpening our focus on current and future students. Excellent teaching, quality services, and a personal outreach will help with student satisfaction and retention. Genuine care and a personal touch will go a long way in ensuring that The University of Akron is a special place. We all need to strive to facilitate a personalized experience for all of our students.
As we endeavor to come together and move forward, I have observed a distinct sense of hope and excitement within our university family and local community. The outpouring of support and offers of assistance from our university family has been incredible. Not only have I fielded several hundred messages of support and offers of assistance, but also people constantly stop me both on and off campus to express positivity. Thank you! It is my goal to collectively build upon these sentiments.
In my new capacity as interim president, the last month has been incredibly busy yet undeniably energizing. I set what some called an ambitious schedule to meet with and listen to students, faculty, staff, campus leaders, alumni, policy makers, governmental officials, business leaders, the press, and others. I have been able to speak publicly in a variety of settings, including an extended Q&A session at an event earlier this month. My efforts to listen, learn, engage, tackle issues, help repair relationships, and recover from our challenges will continue indefinitely. I greatly appreciate your continuous input.
In sum, I am very encouraged about the future of The University of Akron and our ability to build upon its storied legacy. At the same time, the financial challenges facing us due to the anticipated 10-percent decline in enrollment, together with several legacy issues, will hamper us in the short term from honoring many requests for resources. I implore your patience in this regard, and encourage you to find creative ways to innovate within the budgetary means provided this year. I also extend an invitation to join with me in recruiting new students and retaining existing students.
The Challenge Ahead
As I mentioned in my previous message, I anticipate that extra effort and collective sacrifice will be needed given the challenges in our immediate path. Casting aside fault, we will likely have to forego some good things for the greater good. The Board of Trustees has indicated a willingness to tap into our reserves to help us get through the current academic year. However, this may not be enough as we look to move forward. Discussions have already commenced in various quarters about means of increasing revenue and decreasing expenses. We will keep you updated about these and other discussions.
Keep The Suggestions Coming
In response to my invitation to engage several weeks ago, you collectively submitted nearly 200 ideas and recommendations about improving, enhancing, and solving challenges. Thank you! I personally have reviewed all of the recommendations submitted to date. Also, the tiger team established back in June has reviewed, discussed, and proffered suggestions for immediate actions related to recruiting, revenue generation, expense savings, communications, and faculty governance. The tiger team has completed its tasks and will forward its recommendations to formal bodies like University Council, Faculty Senate, etc. who will continue the processes of implementation as part of their charge for shared governance, transparency and accountability. I would like to see us take prompt action on as many of the recommendations as possible. It is my intention to periodically report back on our progress. In addition, I plan on tasking the colleges, administrative divisions, faculty, and others to consider and possibly implement many of the other proposals that you have brought forward. Please stay tuned for more details and let’s continue this important discussion.
Stronger recruiting and advertising
In addition to the constant personal outreach, we will also strengthen our recruiting and admissions team. This topic is worthy of a communication of its own later. For now, I will say that among other things, we need a UA presence in all local high schools several times each month to help us overcome the sudden enrollment drop. We are also working on enhancing our image in the press. In recent weeks, we have seen very positive articles written in local media outlets. Our three student athletes in the Olympics have been constantly discussed on television, on the radio, and in print. At a remarkably affordable price, we were able to produce a commercial and obtain close to 40 spots on the NBC networks paying tribute to both our student athletes and the excellent education at UA. We will soon release a new advertising campaign focusing on the successful stories of our students and faculty. This image enhancing campaign will focus on our local market and Northeast media.
Moving forward, I hope that we can quickly have more discussions about internationalizing our campus, attracting more non-traditional students, exploring a limited evening program, improving student retention, enhancing diversity, and furthering research among other things.
Thank you, and I look forward to working together to ensure a successful academic year.
Matthew J. Wilson
Matthew J. Wilson