The University of Akron is looking at a major academic reorganization aimed at attracting, keeping and graduating students in polymers, cybersecurity, computing and other science/technical fields.
Among the four proposals being discussed is the creation of a College of Polymer and Chemical Sciences, a combination of UA’s world-recognized polymer science and polymer engineering college and chemistry and chemical engineering programs.
The goal “is to create and establish distinctive areas of the university and attract, retain and graduate more students,” UA spokesman Wayne Hill said Friday.
Interim UA President John Green, in a letter to the campus community Thursday, highlighted UA’s 7 percent enrollment decline from the previous fall semester. Green said in the letter that internal discussions about the reorganization proposals were to take place Friday.
“It is important for us to continually re-evaluate how we present ourselves to prospective students and how we best serve them once they are here,” Green said.
UA reported this month that enrollment for the fall semester fell to 20,554 — the seventh consecutive annual decline.
Green noted in his letter that the university's enrollment is down 31 percent since fall 2011, when it totaled 29,832.
UA, in part because of the enrollment declines, has been dealing with budget gaps for three years. Hill said the reorganization effort is not focused on cutting costs.
Green, who spoke at each of the sessions Friday, was not available for comment.
The other proposals being reviewed are:
• A new School of Computing and Data Sciences, which would be a combination of computer-related programs now in two colleges.
• A new College of Engineering and Technology — a blending of mechanical, civil, chemical, electrical and biomedical engineering departments with the physics department and some units from the College of Applied Science and Technology, which offers two- and four-year degrees.
• Integrating all College of Applied Science and Technology programs into other colleges. Engineering technology offerings in this college would be in a new College of Engineering and Technology.
Polymer science history
The College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering — with roots in the early days of Akron's rubber industry — was created in 1988 by combining the polymer science department, which had been part of the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences, with the polymer engineering department, which was part of the College of Engineering.
Also in 1988, UA broke ground on the 12-story glass-covered building housing the college — the first in the nation to be devoted exclusively to polymer education and research.
Currently, the college enrolls only graduate students, totaling about 290.
A new College of Polymer and Chemical Sciences would lead to the creation of “new, distinctive programs” to attract “high-quality students, especially at the undergraduate and master’s degree level,” the proposal says.
Green authored the proposals with input from members of his cabinet, including Provost Rex Ramsier, Hill said.
Hill said Green told faculty members Friday he wants their evaluations of the proposals and any alternative plans to be submitted by Oct. 22. The Academic Policies Committee of the Faculty Senate, the university’s legislative body, would then review the evaluations and give its own input.
Green plans to provide a report on all the evaluations at the Dec. 5 board of trustees meeting.
Trustees have said they want the information by December so they can move forward with reshaping the university.
In August, they moved toward eliminating 80 degrees — or nearly 20 percent of what the university now offers. The programs are to be phased out over a three- to five-year period.
The programs account for less than 5 percent of overall student enrollment, according to university officials.
The Faculty Senate has criticized the process leading up to the decision to cut the degree programs, saying while while the senate provided input, it was not part of the final decision-making process.
Faculty Senate Chair Linda Saliga criticized the academic reorganization process Friday, saying it should have begun sooner. University administrators, she said, "are cutting it kind of close to really have any useful discussion" before Oct. 22.
Friday’s reorganization discussions took place a little more than a week before the start of a strategic planning process. Green has said earlier that the university has not had a good strategic plan for years.
Ultimately, Green wants to have the plan — which would be updated on a regular basis — in place for the new UA president. Preparations for the presidential search are underway.
In May, trustees named Green, a nationally recognized political scientist and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at UA, interim president.
He succeeded Matthew Wilson, who decided to step down and return to the law school faculty.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard @thebeaconjournal.com.