Carol Biliczky

Scott Scarborough brought his message to the University of Akron on Wednesday — that higher education is a force for social good.

“It changes people’s lives in ways that few things can,” the No. 2 official at the University of Toledo told about 190 UA faculty, staff and students at a presidential forum. Universities make the American dream possible, he said.

Scarborough, 51, is the second of three finalists to come to campus in their quest to replace President Luis Proenza when he steps down in July to return to teaching.

Like UA did with University of Maryland Eastern Shore Provost Ron Nykiel on Monday, Akron put Scarborough through rounds of interviews with faculty, deans and others, as well as the public forum open to the wider campus community.

Steven Weeks, a biology professor who heads the Akron chapter of the American Association of University Professors, led the question-and-answer session with an issue near and dear to the hearts of his colleagues — that Scarborough upped faculty workloads at UT.

Scarborough responded in language that was eerily familiar to the UA audience — that UT was grappling with a budget shortfall and had to “right-size” the university, that it pursued other cost savings before turning to faculty.

The policy — it requires faculty to teach up to 12 credit hours per semester, less for those pursuing research — led to $5 million in cost savings, Scarborough said.

While the workload changes made a sizeable dent in a budget shortfall of more than $30 million, Scarborough said he would approach the process differently if he had to do it again.

He said he would communicate the issues more clearly in the beginning to reduce “people’s worst fears.” The level of anxiety was much lower at the end of the process than it was at the beginning, he said.

Both UA, with about 27,000 students, and UT, with 23,000, are urban, tax-supported universities.

Scarborough also expressed the worry that the federal government may be trying to solve its own financial problems on the backs of universities by developing metrics that would push money to the best performing colleges and universities and squeeze research funds to all.

That may require universities to “shore up” their own funding of research, become more strategic in what kind of research they pursue or form consortiums with other institutions, he said.

Like Nykiel before him, Scarborough said he had experience in all aspects of university administration. He said that any success he has had has been due to building teams composed of people with complementary skills.

His presentation brought compliments from members of the audience.

“I think he is a highly qualified candidate,” said Michelle Ellis, executive director of financial aid. “He’s in tune with what’s going on in federal aid programs.”

A faculty member, who declined to provide his name, said that Scarborough was “exceptional” in his off-the-cuff remarks but less so in his prepared remarks.

“He was very polished,” said Mary Verstraete, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, who questioned Scarborough about Honors Colleges for exceptional students.

“Support the new president, whoever that is,” Scarborough said in his closing remarks. “Be strong where he is weak. I certainly hope to see you all again.”

UA will conclude its open forums at 1:30 p.m. today with UA Executive Vice President Jim Tressel in the Student Union Theatre.

As were the forums for the first two candidates, the forum will be available for viewing at http://www.uakron.edu/bot/visit.dot#t.

As interest is unusually high in the former Ohio State coach’s bid to be president, UA has made arrangements with Cleveland television stations WKYC and WJW to provide pool coverage for today’s event.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com or330-996-3729.