Students, faculty and staff at the University of Akron (UA) are warming up to their new president. Gary Miller was sworn in as the school's 18th president on Oct. 1. Miller brought with him a background in biological sciences. He previously served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay since 2014.
He has a track record in university administration, and as the new president of UA, he’s going to need it to address a number of challenges including budget deficits, cuts to both academic and athletic programs and flagging enrollment.
Although the university has struggled in the last few years, Miller said he's seen many of these problems occur within colleges across the country.
A great platform
Miller said he's encouraged by the supportive community, faculty and the university's history of urban research. "I think we have a great platform to work through these challenges," Miller said.
As the fourth president the university has seen in five years, Miller said he wanted to come to Akron. He said the school had built a reputation among what he calls the "Urban Research University Movement." Miller hopes his experience as provost at Wichita State University will help tackle the challenges facing the University of Akron.
Miller said the university lacks a rational and well-developed plan to move forward, but that faculty and staff are commited to outlining what that plan looks like. He hopes to unveil that plan early next summer. Miller wants to take a different approach than past administration. No rebrandings and no major reorganizations. That means strategizing how to use the assets the university has currently. Miller said there is room for improvement, but it doesn't mean they need to start all over.
Like other colleges, UA is struggling to maintain enrollment levels. Miller called enrollment a "team sport" and encouraged everyone to get involved. He commended the university's student support services.
"Enrollment will never be, in higher education, as vigorous as it was 10-15 years ago," Miller said. "But we do want as many students as we can get because we believe the Akron experience is worth it."
He added that means providing opportunities who may not have them elsewhere. Partnering with local school disctricts and technical schools to ensure postsecondary higher education opportunities are available to students. The University of Akron has seen a tenuous relationship between faculty and the president in recent years and Miller hopes to change that.
He wants his administration to be as transparent as possible. This includes regular meetings with faculty. Just two months in, Miller said he's proud of the participation he's seeing in the planning process. He said changes in leadership within the provost office have garnered support from the university deans.
Regaining a reputation
Miller hopes Akron will regain its reputation among urban research universities like Louisville, Virginia Commonwealth and UNC Charlotte within the next five to six years. Miller said these universities are anchored by their communities through educational opportunituies, economic development and social support. He said bringing Akron back to that level is one of his goals.
Discovering Northeast Ohio
Miller and his wife are new to Ohio, and he said since moving, the city has been welcoming as they search for a new house. He enjoys dining downtown and walking along the canals and chatting with members of the community.
"I have no plan to leave," Miller said. "We'll work as hard at it as we can."