University of Akron President Matthew Wilson, just two weeks after he fell out of the running to be president of the University of Central Florida, is stepping down to rejoin the UA law school’s faculty.

Wilson, who came to UA in 2014 to be law school dean, surprised the campus and community Thursday morning with a letter explaining his decision. The move is effective July 31.

Wilson said in an interview Thursday afternoon that he — along with “the collective efforts of everyone on campus” — has stabilized the university’s finances and launched initiatives aimed at growing the school since he was “plucked out of the law school.”

UA trustees named him to the top job in July 2016, following the tumultuous two-year tenure of Scott Scarborough, who resigned amid calls for his ouster.

Now, Wilson said, “it would be a great point to make a shift.”

Wilson, 47, said after he steps down, he’ll spend time “reflecting on what might be the next step, whether it’s at the law school or eventually some other opportunity.”

He likely would have more flexibility to pursue outside jobs as a faculty member.

Wilson echoed in the interview what he said in his email to the UA community: “This decision came after much thought and consideration and is based on a host of personal and family considerations.”

Wilson said in the interview, “I’m not actively seeking out jobs,” though he didn’t answer repeated questions about whether he had any applications pending.

“If something were to come along that would be a lifetime opportunity ... I’d certainly listen to it. ... I don’t know what the future holds.”

Wilson said in the interview that during his tenure, “A lot of the hefty lifting has been done. A lot of the new creative initiatives have been put in place.”

Wilson has spearheaded the launch of various efforts aimed at boosting enrollment. Also under Wilson, UA closed last fiscal year’s budget gap.

UA’s budget crunch continues, but expenses are being held down and the projected deficit for this fiscal year has shrunk considerably.

“It has truly been magical,” Wilson said in the interview, to “have $42 million of budgetary swing.”

He was referring to UA closing a $30 million budget gap and adding $12 million to its reserves last year.

Scarborough, who inherited financial challenges due largely to a debt-financed building boom and enrollment declines, was criticized for the way in which he cut costs, among other actions.

Wilson said in his email that his tenure as president “has been very demanding” as he worked to “overcome challenges, generate new opportunities” at the school while he and his wife, Noriko, helped their youngest son, James, 16, successfully battle an aggressive form of pediatric cancer.

Wilson often spoke at gatherings of high school students and traveled to meet with alumni.

News that Wilson was seeking the top job at UCF caught many by surprise, and even upset some community members, because of his short tenure.

UCF revealed in mid-February that its trustees chose Wilson as one of eight semifinalists. He advanced to the round of four finalists interviewed March 9. That day, however, UCF Provost Dale Whittaker was named president-elect.

Moment of opportunity

In his letter to the campus community, echoing what he said last month, Wilson said the UCF job interested him “due to our roots in the Orlando area and the opportunities associated with this once-in-a-lifetime chance at the largest university in the country.”

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan issued a statement Thursday urging UA to “invest in a national search to recruit the best possible candidate, one that can strategically align the university’s priorities to focus on [its] core strengths and fiscal stability.”

Horrigan’s statement did not reflect on the lack of a national search when UA trustees appointed Wilson to the top job.

Horrigan thanked Wilson and said UA is a very important stakeholder in the economic, academic and social well-being of this community and the region — and this is a critical time in its history.”

Wilson “saw the importance of engaging and listening” to students, Horrigan said. “I applaud him for his efforts and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Wilson was named interim president in July 2016. Trustees removed the interim tag in October 2016.

Wilson said in his email Thursday he will voluntarily reduce the salary amount to which he is entitled.

His presidential contract calls for him to receive 65 percent of his current annual base pay of $450,000, or $292,500. However, Wilson said he wants to be paid $240,500. That’s 65 percent of the $370,000 he received when he was first named president.

He will be the highest paid faculty member at the law school, other than the dean. Wilson will join Scarborough as well as Luis Proenza as former presidents serving on the faculty.

Bill Rich, chairman of the UA Faculty Senate, which makes recommendations involving academic policy, also called for a national search.

He said the university’s ongoing search for a chief academic officer should be suspended amid the search for a new president.

Rich also praised Wilson, saying he “worked extremely hard for the university. He certainly helped to change the public image of the university for the better,” and “obviously, the honeymoon was over, particularly with his pursuit of the presidency at Central Florida.”

Transition time

UA Board of Trustees Chairman Roland Bauer said in a prepared statement that the four-month notice “will allow for a smooth transition.” He said board members will soon meet with key campus interests to get input on the appointment of an interim president.

“The board very much appreciates the time, energy and leadership President Wilson has provided to the University, as we have made significant progress on many different fronts to address the challenges we faced,” Bauer said.

Corey Cargill, 22, who is studying graphic design at UA, said Wilson’s efforts to engage students — with such events as basketball challenges — “gave him a positive brand with students.”

Cargill said, “it seems like we’re on the right track” financially. Students, Cargill said, “don’t want to see him go.”

Undergraduate student government member Abi Uwadiae, 20, an accounting major, said Wilson “made himself very available to students. I would be in the rec center and he would be there, too. ... He knows students names.”

She said that now, “I just worry about all the stuff he’s implemented on campus, how these will carry on,” including the Five-Star Fridays, four-day class schedule that is to begin this fall.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or byard@thebeaconjournal.com.