Akron City Council members are jumping into a battle over the University of Akron’s decision to eliminate an office that served minority students.
Council members announced during a meeting Monday night that they want to meet with UA President Luis Proenza and the Board of Trustees to discuss the closing of the Office of Multicultural Development.
“We are requesting — no, we are demanding — to meet with the president of the University of Akron to discuss these issues,” said Councilman Mike Williams.
Councilwoman Margo Sommerville suggested council members also meet with the university’s board.
Williams and several other council members made their comments after nearly a dozen current and former UA students, staff and community members spoke during council’s public comment period, urging council to intervene. The well-mannered crowd, who clapped after each speaker, filled the council chambers.
“At this point, the university is not going to service students like myself,” said Patrick Jackson, a UA graduate who is black. .
Mark Smith, a UA undergraduate student, said he was on the verge of dropping out when the multicultural office helped him with paying for a class and the cost of printing materials for a lab he was taking. He said he stayed in school.
“Often, it’s the small things,” he said.
Colleen Curry, who has worked for UA as a retention specialist, said the multicultural office helped improve the retention of minority students from 7 percent to 63 percent, nearly as high as the 67 percent of the general population. She said going to college can be a “sloppy process,” especially for students who are the first in their families to attend.
Ophelia Averitt, president of the Akron chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), asked council for help on this issue.
“These are our future,” she said of the students. “We have to do something about this.”
The decision to replace the office with a Center for Student Success and Multicultural Center sparked a protest by UA students last week.
Williams said he and other council members met with a group of UA students on Friday and were very disturbed to hear about their frustration with the university’s apparent unwillingness to discuss the basis for the decision to close the office or what the plan is for the center that will replace it. He said this shift, along with changes to admission standards, could “spell disaster for minority and disadvantaged students.”
“It is very clear to us that this is an assault on an institution that has proven itself at the University of Akron,” he said.
Councilman Ken Jones said the university claims it made this change to address retention and graduation rates, but the multicultural office had already been successful in addressing these issues.
“I concur that the university owes the students a plan,” he said. “They owe the students an explanation. The students are paying. ...”
The audience laughed and clapped for Jones’ parting comment.
Council President Garry Moneypenny said he isn’t sure how much influence council can have on what is a university issue, but promised to try.
“All we can do is reach out and ask for some type of meeting,” he said after the council meeting. “We will see if there is anything we are able to help them with.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.