University of Akron faculty members and administrators — who have been at odds over how best to shore up the university — will work together to attack three concerns: undergraduate student recruitment, retention and graduation rates.

On Thursday, Faculty Senate members approved a resolution to form a committee to identify ways to attract more students, as well as improve retention and graduation rates.

”It’s a less top-down approach,” said Pamela Schulze, a faculty member and head of the UA faculty union who introduced the resolution.

“Everyone cares about the university. We all want to do what’s best for our students,” she said in an interview following Thursday's Faculty Senate meeting. “So let's get together and figure out the best way to move forward.”

With a university-wide committee — one that pulls in faculty members, administrators, staff members and students, “you get buy-in" from those who will carry out the initiatives, said Schulze, president of the bargaining unit chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

Her resolution comes amid faculty members’ concern over a proposed partial academic reorganization aimed at attracting more students as the university of roughly 20,500 students faces financial and enrollment problems.

UA has said it plans to reduce general fund expenditures by $15 million in the upcoming budget. Financial troubles stem partly from declining enrollment, as well as a debt-financed building boom on campus in earlier years.

On March 6, UA’s interim president, John Green, released plans to reorganize parts of the university, including the creation of a combined College of Polymer, Chemical and Biological Sciences.

The proposal also called for creating three new colleges and moving and integrating College of Applied Science and Technology (CAST) offerings into other colleges. CAST boasts two- and four-year career-focused degree programs, as well as certificate programs.

On March 12, Green, after hearing faculty members’ concerns about the reorganization proposals, decided to delay the plan to see if the objectives could be met without creating new colleges and rearranging programs.

In an emailed letter titled "Pause in reorganization," he outlined key goals he hopes to achieve by the start of the fall semester to move UA forward.

He said in the letter that many of the comments he had heard from faculty members "indicate there is support for achieving the objectives contained in the reorganization proposals without attempting to reorganize portions of the institution at this time.”

He said “we will need to revisit the reorganization proposals” if the university is unable to achieve the goals for the start of the coming academic year.

The new committee — approved Thursday by the Faculty Senate — is intended to dovetail with efforts to achieve those goals, Schulze said. It will draw from three-year action plans developed by university departments last fall.

The committee will submit recommendations to the Faculty Senate for consideration at its September meeting, the first meeting of the fall semester.

Schulze said Thursday that Green’s reorganization plan failed to “address the immediate concerns of the university … It doesn’t in and of itself recruit students. It doesn’t retain them and graduate them at greater rates.”

The committee, she said, will address the issues of recruitment, retention and graduation  “even in the very, very short term, [asking] where do we put not just our money, but our energy, our effort, our collective thoughts.”

It won’t all be about new ideas, she said. For example, she said, the committee might suggest more support be given to an existing successful retention effort.

The resolution calls for UA's Office of Academic Affairs, Faculty Senate, Undergraduate Student Government, University Council, the elected representative of department chairs and the faculty union to appoint an equal number of representatives to the committee.

According to Green’s March 12 letter, goals include:

• Proposing new and enhanced undergraduate degree programs in areas of demonstrated strength and distinctiveness (including polymer, corrosion, biomimicry, cybersecurity) with the goal of offering them in fall 2020.

• Better aligning curriculum in chemistry and chemical engineering with polymers and biology.

• Increasing graduate and undergraduate faculty participation in delivering current and new curriculum across college and department boundaries.

• Facilitating easier, seamless movement of students within related degree areas, such as engineering technology and engineering, across college and department boundaries.

• Significantly decreasing general fund subsidy of research activities.

 

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