University of Akron engineering dean steps down after numerous cuts made to graduate programs

August 23, 2018

University of Akron engineering dean steps down after numerous cuts made to graduate programs

AKRON, Ohio - The dean of the University of Akron’s college of engineering will step down Friday after numerous cuts to engineering graduate programs put him at odds with the university’s administration. 

Don Visco served as the head of the college since 2016 and made $225,000 in the role. He resigned in a letter sent to interim president John Green on Tuesday. His last day as dean will be Friday, but he will rejoin UA’s faculty as a professor of chemical engineering. 

This seems to be the first major faculty resignation due to the results of an academic review that took place over the past year.

UA trustees approved phasing out nearly 80 degrees or degree-track programs on Aug. 16, which totals almost 20 percent of the university’s offerings. The cuts were made based on enrollment, degrees granted and overlap with nearby universities like Kent State.

Read a full list of the programs to be phased out, as well as the 32 new full-time hires the university will make as a result of the review. 

Green, in a statement responding to Visco’s resignation, said he indicated to deans that they were “part of the leadership of the University and, as such, (he) needed them to be supportive of the decisions that were being made.” 

If they weren’t, he said they should consider resigning from a leadership position. 

Of the degrees and degree-tracks cut, just under 10 percent, or 7, were in the College of Engineering. All but one of the programs were graduate level, so master’s or PhD students. 

Visco disagreed with the cuts, especially the phase out of the PhD programs in electrical and biomedical engineering, he wrote to cleveland.com in an email Thursday.

Green wrote in his response that the university approved hiring four faculty members for the College of Engineering, with two full-time in the college and two joint-faculty positions who will overlap with other departments. He added that Visco wanted to hire 18 full-time positions, which would have cost $2 million in annual compensation. 

Visco did want to hire 18 new faculty, which he said would have replaced several faculty lost over the past few years. 

He added that the college’s enrollment has gone up. 

That’s true, but not for graduate-level programs, according to university numbers.

College of Engineering enrollment

 UndergraduateGraduateFall 20153,263440Fall 20163,230434Fall 20173,257371

The academic review documented that a combined average of just 12 students per year earned a degree in the six PhD and master’s degree areas to be phased out.

The majority of graduate degrees will remain intact. Four engineering doctoral degrees will be phased out, and four will continue. Two engineering master’s degrees will be phased out and eight will continue, according to Green’s response.

Visco claims the number of PhD graduates is growing, which isn’t reflected in the review. He used biomedical engineering as an example -- though nobody graduated with a doctorate in this program in 2012-13, it’s expected that seven or eight students will graduate during the next year.

In an interview with the Akron Beacon-Journal, Brian Davis, the head of UA’s biomedical engineering department, said it received more than 20 federal grants totaling more than $6.6 million over the past six years. 

Attracting funding is one part of graduate degree programs, but having PhD and master’s students doing research in specialized fields provides opportunities for undergraduate students. 

Visco wrote that over the past six years, undergraduate biomedical engineering students coauthored close to 100 journal publications or conference presentations with program faculty.

The university is battling a projected deficit of $16 million for next fiscal year and has faced financial problems since 2015. 

Officials attributed part of it to declining enrollment. 

The review that caused the cuts was routine, complying with requirements from the state. It was not a way to cut costs, officials say, though the rearrangements could lead to some savings. 

There will be no faculty reductions or dismissals.

Read Visco’s letter to interim President John Green:

Visco Resignation Letter (PDF) Visco Resignation Letter (Text)

Read Green’s response to Visco’s resignation: 

COE Dean Visco Resignation Response 8 22 2018 (1) (PDF) COE Dean Visco Resignation Response 8 22 2018 (1) (Text)

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