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University of Akron Interim President Addresses Pain of Degree Cuts, Looks to Future

A photo of the University of Akron.
Interim President John Green said he envisions no lay-offs and promises help for students concerned about extending their time at the school.

The University of Akron announced it will cut 80 of its degrees in an effort to shift focus to more popular programs. The person heading up the transition is Interim President John Green.

The university will phase out about 19 percent of its degrees and tracks, leading some to question what will happen to current professors and faculty. But Green said those faculty will be repurposed to other University of Akron programs.

“We do not envision any lay-offs,” he said.  “So the idea there is to be able to support a much more focused set of academic programs and along with that comes a series of investments.”

One of the biggest investments, which Green said would cost nearly $6 million, is the university’s plan to hire 32 new faculty members. He said the resources available once the university phases out the programs should equal $6 million.

“On any given day, the investments and freed-up resources may not exactly balance, but over the three to five year period, we think they will,” he said.

Programs gone, but not classes
Some of the programs to be phased out include niche topics like fashion and art history. Using the art history program as an example, Green said the skills of those professors will still be utilized, just in other programs.

“We’re not going to stop teaching art history,” he said. “(For) our other degrees in art, many of which are enormously popular, the students need that historical context for the art that they are going to learn how to produce.”

He said students will learn some of those skills, just not in a stand alone program. But Green contends some other areas of study might not be so lucky.

“We may arrive at a situation where we have faculty who have not done anything wrong – they’re excellent faculty members – but they’re in an area where we’re not going to offer any degrees or related degrees,” he said.

photo of John Green
Green said the situation is "uncomfortable" for him.

Faculty transitions possible
“The question becomes: what can we do with those folks? The answer is: we’ll find something,” he added.

Green suggested the university could make training available to faculty caught in that situation.

That possibility is one of many problems that the interim president will have to navigate while leading the change. Most of all, he said the situation is “uncomfortable” for him.

“Many of the faculty and the staff that will be affected by the phased-out programs are good friends of mine and I share their pain, I really do. This is not a happy day for many of them,” he said.

It is also uncomfortable to many University of Akron students currently enrolled in the programs to be phased out. While these students will be allowed to finish their degrees, some wonder if one of those degrees will maintain its value once the university ends the programs.

“For one thing, the university will still be here,” Green said.

Green said the university will work with students and their concerns, adding some might switch their programs to a closely related field. For instance, a student majoring in physics could switch to mechanical engineering, chemistry or biology.

He said that part of the plan should be less challenging for the University.

Small percentage of students affected
“The number of students involved is actually relatively small,” Green said. “We think – all tolled – we’re talking about less than a thousand students out of a campus with about 22,000.”

Changing degrees and programs also brings up another major concern for students: adding semesters or even years onto their college education. Green said the university will try hard not to lengthen that time.

“We may have to have some special substitution of courses, and that’s something you can do on an individual basis” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to help students get through here expeditiously.”

Last week, two University of Akron faculty organizations criticized the decision to phase out the programs. The Akron chapter of the American Association of University Professors claims it was not consultedabout the final decision. In addition, the Faculty Senate said it did not approve the changes.

Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.