KSU in talks to collaborate with neighbor universities

Marissa Barnhart

Possible collaboration has been the talk of recent conversation among the presidents of Kent State, the University of Akron and Youngstown State University.

In July, Kent State President Beverly Warren invited Scott Scarborough, president of the University of Akron, and Jim Tressel, president of Youngstown State University, to her house for dinner. Warren said the three of them have a common interest in to one another because they are all new presidents.

“And, we have a desire,” Warren said. “I think each of us is driven by a desire to collaborate.”

An article published by The Columbus Dispatch on Nov. 6 stated the three universities were planning to consolidate services, but Eileen Korey, associate vice president and chief communication office at the University of Akron, said this is not the case.

Korey said the three universities are in no way merging, but are collaborating on academic programs and research programs — what would be called “shared services.”

“(Scarborough) told the (Dispatch) reporter that this was an unusual opportunity, that there are three new university presidents coming on at the same time, and there was a lot of opportunity to do this and opportunity to think outside of the box,” Korey said of the interview with Scarborough, who is currently out of town. “There’s nothing to come out at this time, but it’s promising.”

Kent State and Akron are specifically looking into a shared Ph.D nursing program, and Cleveland State University President Ronald Berkman has invited Warren, Scarborough and Tressel to his house to brainstorm ideas, Warren said in an Nov. 14 interview with Portage Pulse on TV2.

Warren also told Portage Pulse that she and Kent State cabinet members will be meeting with cabinet members at Northeast Ohio Medical University to talk about collaboration ideas.

Youngstown State University representatives have not responded to requests for comment.

Mark Kretovics, interim director of the School of Foundations, Leadership and Administration at Kent State, said the idea of universities collaborating has been thrown around for years but is usually met with resistance because universities tend to focus on their individual identities.

Kretovics, whose research interests are business practices in higher education, said a collaboration between universities could mean reduced costs to the university, and this could lead to lower tuition  or allow the university to spend money in different ways.

“This collaboration they’re talking about is just a behind-the-scenes type of a collaboration,” Kretovics said. “This would perhaps be the tip of the iceberg, but it would just be a matter of sharing some services.”

One of the services Kretovics said the three universities could easily share is payroll. He said because everything is direct-deposited, it wouldn’t matter if it came from the University of Akron, Youngstown State or Kent State. He said they would still be three separate universities that have a service coming from the same place.

Kretovics also said university collaboration is a national conversation, and Ohio is unusual in that most Ohio universities are independent. The Ohio Board of Regents tends to be hands-off when it comes to guiding institutions. He said he hopes that if Northeast Ohio universities decide to collaborate, then more universities will consider the idea.

He also said he was pleased to know the presidents of each university were talking about working together. With the past presidents, an idea like this would never have been talked about.

The three presidents coming in at the same time helps get the conversation started because they’re each learning the strengths and weaknesses of their universities. Kretovics saidevents like Warren’s listening tour sessions are the first steps in engaging with students, faculty and community members to figure out areas the universities can work together on.

“When we start these collaborative efforts, everybody can win in something like this,” Kretovics said. “It’s one of the rare examples in education where you really will see a win-win situation.”

Starting a shared service takes time, and that starting just one service would take about a year to get up and running smoothly. But he has no doubt in Warren, Scarborough and Tressel he said.

“It will take time, but with the presidents involved, if they do go this route, it will get done and it will be done well because they’re all good folks,” Kretovics said. “I think they know what they’re doing.”

Contact Marissa Barnhart at [email protected].