Some top business leaders in Summit County are urging the community to give the University of Akron time to fix its financial and enrollment problems.
UA President Scott Scarborough and the board of trustees continue to face criticism over rebranding the school as “Ohio’s Polytechnic University” and unveiling $40 million worth of cuts this year.
But seven top business leaders — including those from Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and FirstEnergy Corp. — signed a full-page advertisement in Sunday’s Akron Beacon Journal showing their support for the school.
The ad, titled “Come Together For Akron and Our University,” is an open letter to the community.
“The time has come for our community to work together with the university to ensure it is positioned for greater success, growth and positive economic impact on our community,” the four-paragraph letter states.
The ad, which also features a campus photo, is signed by FirstMerit President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Greig; FirstEnergy President and CEO Charles Jones; GOJO Industries President and CEO Joseph Kanfer; Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Chairman, CEO and President Richard Kramer; Summa Health President and CEO Dr. Thomas Malone; Akron General Health System President and Dr. Thomas Stover; and Welty Building Co. President and CEO Donzell Taylor.
Those leaders represent most of the major private employers in Summit County.
It’s unclear how their support extends beyond the ad, which says it was paid for by the “Friends of The University of Akron.” The newspaper declined to say how much the ad cost.
Malone, on behalf of the health system, “is supportive of the ad because it is symbolic of the need to begin a more focused and meaningful dialogue with the greater Akron community about the importance of a thriving and strong university,” Summa spokesman Rob Whitehouse said in an email.
“We know as well as anyone that change can be difficult, but that with change comes great opportunity to make our organizations stronger assets for the people we serve,” Whitehouse said.
Scarborough and the trustees — none of whom are named in the ad — continue to face criticism over a variety of controversial decisions, which include the rebranding, cutbacks and spending nearly $1 million to renovate the presidential mansion.
Critics have launched online video parodies, started social media campaigns against the leadership and circulated petitions seeking Scarborough’s removal. There also have been protests at trustee meetings and the Faculty Senate is considering whether to take a no-confidence vote.
Besides the new Beacon Journal ad, the most visible outside support the administration and board has received is an endorsement from NBA star and Akron native LeBron James.
The ad comes at the same time that a separate group of community leaders who are upset with the UA administration and trustees are launching their own publicity campaign.
“The community is very, very concerned,” said Jane Bond, a former UA trustee, retired Summit County Common Pleas judge and one of the group leaders. “Some people are really angry. Some are just confused and they don’t understand why some things have been done.”
The group wants the trustees to communicate more with the community about its decisions, she said, adding that her group also plans to publish ads in the Beacon Journal.
“The goal here is not necessarily to oust President Scarborough,” Bond said. “The goal is to communicate with the board of trustees.”
She also said she didn’t want the disagreement to turn into an “us-against-them” situation.
“We’re just trying to get them to listen and respond,” she said.
Board Chairman Jonathan Pavloff, speaking after the president’s recent speech before the Akron Press Club, said the board wants Scarborough to be out in the public discussing the university and not board members.
“Our job is to hold President Scarborough accountable,” he said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.