TOLEDO: Maria Stachowiak was accustomed to arriving at work to find 10 or 15 emails from her boss, Scott Scarborough.
To her sorrow, that will end on Tuesday when he becomes president of one of the community’s most important institutions, the University of Akron.
“He truly wants to make things better,” said Stachowiak, who has been Scarborough’s administrative assistant at the University of Toledo. In her 23 years at UT, “He’s the first person who’s been able to get things done.”
Scarborough, 51, will step into the shoes of Luis Proenza, who has chosen to leave the presidency after more than 15 years, take a two-year sabbatical and then return to teaching.
For weeks, “Scott,” as he is known at Toledo, has been spending two days a week or so in Akron, sizing up the job and laying the groundwork for his first 100 days — his benchmark to a successful start to his administration, he believes.
He is calm and cool, serious without being ponderous, a listener more than a talker, with bright blue eyes and a slight Southern accent.
He also is driven.
Within hours of being named UA president, a vice president at UT asked him if he had written his strategic plan yet. Cam Cruickshank was only half-joking.
Within a couple of months of taking on UT’s No. 2 job of provost, Scarborough had developed a master plan to redesign UT with portal colleges for nontraditional students and to expand and rebrand the honors college for the best and brightest.
Some of those ideas likely came to him late at night. He keeps his computer plugged in next to his bed in case a stray idea or two or 20 come to him.
Scarborough was born in Baytown, Texas, near Houston on the Gulf Coast.
He scored success at an early age: He was elected governor of the American Legion Boys State and head of the Student Association at the University of Texas, where he abandoned his early goal to play professional baseball to study accounting at his father’s behest.
After stints at two national accounting firms, he held administrative jobs at the University of Texas before joining the Texas Treasury Safekeeping Trust.
He got an MBA and doctorate in strategic management along the way, then it was on to DePaul University, the largest Catholic college nationwide, in Chicago and then to Toledo in 2007.
He was casting about for his next job when his wife, Tammy, spotted the ad for the UA presidency and urged him to apply.
He bested his chief rival for the job, ex-football coach and UA administrator Jim Tressel, when UA faculty endorsed him because of his doctorate, string of professional certifications — he is a certified public accountant, for example — and years of experience in higher education administration.
But Scarborough offers more than a strong resume, according to those who know him.
UT President Lloyd Jacobs said Scarborough “always made things better — significantly better,” and that extends to picking up trash on campus.
“Even his detractors respect him,” Jacobs said.
Winning over faculty
Scarborough’s detractors came out in force when he was named provost, UT’s chief academic officer, two years ago. Jacobs wanted to shake up the “inbred” world of higher education with a fresh voice who hadn’t come up the academic ranks, but faculty balked.
“We’re going to have … an individual with exceptionally little background in academic and affairs,” complained Michael Dowd, an economics professor and head of the Faculty Senate, in an Inside Higher Ed story.
Scarborough did get the job — Jacobs was determined that he was the right candidate — and immediately sought to defuse the tension by inviting about 20 of the most contentious faculty members to his home in suburban Ottawa Hills for a book club.
David Tucker, a UT communications professor, came away surprised that Scarborough “actually thinks about issues.”
Brian Anse Patrick, a communications professor who specializes in propaganda and has written a book on zombies, crashed the book club to find out what was going on.
He said he found real conversations occurring between the administration and the unhappy faculty.
He found Scarborough willing to talk about everyday stuff, like gardening, particularly “real stuff to eat, like radishes and yellow squash,” not “exotic Peruvian purple cucumbers,” Patrick said approvingly.
“I think it’s important to know people on a personal level if you’re going to be working on difficult issues,” Scarborough said. “There isn’t any question about higher education that I haven’t been asked at the book club.”
He also gets high marks for the way he dealt with the American Association of University Professors.
Don Wedding, an associate professor of management, said he spent a couple of years trying to get UT to settle a faculty member’s claim for a $1,000 overpayment of health insurance. Finally in exasperation, Wedding, the grievance chair for the AAUP, turned to Scarborough. He solved the problem in less than 24 hours, Wedding said.
Scarborough “was the only provost over the past 15 years who was willing to work with me … on a win-win basis,” said Wedding.
Still, Scarborough’s career hasn’t been all smooth sailing.
Last year, he had to require compliance with a grindingly unpleasant UT initiative about faculty workloads.
The policy, in the union contract but not implemented as well as it could have been, required many faculty to teach more credit hours and also upped class sizes and cut some research. Faculty resisted.
“There are certain debates that will never have a solution,” Scarborough responded in a January 2013 story in the UT student newspaper, the Daily Collegian. “But at some point you have to balance the budget.”
DePaul faculty complained in 2009 that Scarborough tended to override academics in favor of finances, according to comments by Anne Clark Bartlett, head of the English department and former head of the Faculty Senate, in Inside Higher Ed in 2009.
And Scarborough was suspended from the No. 3 job of chief financial officer at DePaul University in 2007 and resigned days later.
The university did not provide any reason for the suspension other than it was not for financial impropriety and that he did not receive severance. Scarborough landed on his feet four months later at UT.
But there, his hefty $389,000 base pay plus scheduled bonuses came under fire last year from faculty.
“I don’t mind teaching more if I have to,” Amy Thompson, an associate professor of health education, was quoted as saying in the UT student newspaper last year. “But let’s all take the load, not just the faculty.”
At UA, he will have to deal with familiar issues — the twin problems of declining enrollment and financial problems.
UA trustees already have supplied him with a laundry list of 30 priorities, which Scarborough wrote down in a notebook, that begins with the proposed arena for UA basketball.
“They want metrics,” Scarborough concluded. “They want quantitative evidence.”
His early days will focus on assembling a management team. He has been assessing Proenza’s 13 direct reports in interviews and meetings and by tapping Proenza for his views.
Scarborough predicts that half of them won’t be there in a year, perhaps moving to another job at UA or leaving entirely.
Meanwhile, about 10 former colleagues have volunteered to come to Akron. Scarborough has put them on ice for now.
“My first priority is to the people [at UA],” he said.
UA trustee chairman Dick Pogue also pointed out that Scarborough will need to work beyond the campus to establish himself with benefactors, well-wishers and others in the community.
These are early days, but, “I think he’s turning out to be more than we realized at the beginning,” said Pogue, the trustee chairman. He said he is impressed by how quickly Scarborough returns a call and how quickly he thinks.
As Scarborough wrestles with budgets and personnel and fundraising, he will be living something of a transient life, at least for the first few weeks.
He and his wife, their daughter and her parents, who live with them, will be staying at a hotel while UA refurbishes the four-bedroom colonial on Burning Tree Drive in West Akron that UA provides for the president.
The Scarboroughs have visited the home once and stayed for only an hour because the Proenzas have cats and a dog. Scott Scarborough’s allergies kicked in, and the couple exited.
So UA will have to redo the house, in part because of Scarborough’s allergies and also because the university hasn’t made any major repairs to the home since UA purchased it for the Proenzas in 1999, according to UA spokeswoman Eileen Korey.
She said Ted Curtis, vice president of capital planning and facilities management, gave trustees an estimate of the extent of the renovations in executive session in June.
The list has not been made public, but includes new carpets, drapes, furnace, duct work and more, Korey said.
“Ample” donations are available to pay for the work, she said.
That is only part of the cost of luring Scarborough to Akron, though.
Salary and bonus
He will be one of the best-paid public college presidents in Ohio with a base salary of $450,000 plus up to $160,000 in yearly bonuses.
He will get $1,500 a month for a car and a highly unusual benefit — the right to send his children to any public university in Ohio for both undergraduate and graduate school on UA’s dime.
Scarborough said trustees offered the educational benefit and that he and Tammy were happy to accept it for their daughter, now 6. Scarborough’s son from a previous marriage is in Texas and at 26 has aged out of the benefit.
If he repeats his pattern at UT, he will begin many days with 7 a.m. breakfasts with staff. His office will be sparse, decorated only with photos of his family and books. Furniture will be clean and modern. Paperwork will be kept to a minimum.
He will give out copies of his favorite management book, From Good to Great by Jim Collins. He will make time for golf when he can; he just returned from a golf trip with 20 buddies to Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, colleagues at Toledo have wished him well as his departure date to Akron nears.
“Good luck, but not too much luck,” said Karen Hoblet, an assistant professor of nursing and president-elect of the Faculty Senate, with a laugh.
“Stay away from our students in Northwest Ohio.”
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3033.