AKRON—There is trouble afoot at the University of Akron's vaunted and internationally known College of Polymer Science and Engineering.
And that's trouble for one of Ohio's most important industries as well.
"My first thought is: 'Is (the polymer college) important?' And the answer is: 'Duh!'" said PolymerOhio Executive Director Bruce Fawcett. "They are a huge asset for our industry."
The most startling evidence of problems at the school came March 2, when the university announced that Polymer College Dean Eric Amis will relinquish his position in June, though he will continue to serve as a tenured faculty member.
But that's hardly the extent of the issues facing what is the university's best known and arguably most important program.
The announcement of Amis stepping down came after about a quarter of the college's top faculty has left over the past two to three years. It also came less than a week after Matthew Becker, associate dean of research, was quoted in the Akron Beacon Journal criticizing the way the university has managed the college—and just two days after Amis sat down with Crain's to discuss the matter in Akron. Crain's also talked with Becker before the announcement.
In announcing Amis' change in status, the university did not give a reason but said it "appreciates Eric's passionate work on behalf of the College" and that Provost Rex Ramsier will "work with the College to establish a transition plan, including leadership of the College after June 30th."
Whoever takes over may face the same challenges as Amis, though—chief among them how to retain top talent at a struggling institution.
Faculty at the polymer college has dropped from 40 to 30 during the past few years as senior professors have been poached by other schools or retired and have not been replaced by the cash-strapped university.
In his interview before the announcement, Amis predicted others are likely to leave, as some existing faculty members are eligible for retirement—and can work elsewhere after they do—while others may continue to be recruited by other schools.