Mourning the Death of a University

UU entry

On April 30th I received an email from my alma mater Urbana University in Ohio announcing a “Partnership Agreement” between Urbana and Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio. I assumed it was some sort of articulation agreement concerning student transfer but as I was reading the upbeat PR piece the hammer came down:

“We welcome Urbana University into the Franklin family,” said Dr. David Decker, President, Franklin University. “The alignment of our two universities leverages the synergies of career-oriented and student focused approaches to create a foundation that positions Urbana to continue their mission to educate aspiring students.” At that moment it became clear, Franklin acquired Urbana.

I could go into the why it happened, who’s fault is it, etc. but that is a long story and possibly for another day but let me simply say this; Urbana College/University has struggled to survive at least my entire lifetime and possibly for its entire 164 history. In fact one of the things that I loved about Urbana was its stubbornness in its desire to survive; but age, lack of funds, and possibly losing its will to live finally took its toll.

The campus will survive and the students will simply get their degree from Franklin. Faculty and staff will no doubt be significantly cut and the alumni will no longer have a home.

For me and I am sure some others this is in some ways like losing a parent or a person you were very close to. Urbana was a place I transferred to in the summer of 69 after a less than spectacular start at the University of Dayton. I needed an environment of personal attention with small classes and a place where I could mature. I went through a great deal in my life from 69-75 and survived. I learned how to adapt, believe in myself, believe in others, and to be an absolute advocate of a Liberal Arts education. In many ways Urbana saved my life. When I left for a year+ in 72-73 when I could no longer financially afford college and needed to work full time, I promised myself I would try to find a way to go back and finish. In the spring of 74 I showed up at the admissions office (Bill Inskeep was the Director) and asked him if there was a way I could return even though I was flat broke. Bill looked at my file and the lack of financial resources and said, “promise me if you return you will finish and I will find a way to cover your tuition” (it certainly wasn’t for academic excellence!).

I returned that summer and he gave me a “paid internship” job in the admissions office. I adored the job and it’s the reason why I have worked in higher education and non-profit for 40 years. I made it through and graduated in the summer of 75 with a 2.93 GPA and found an admissions counselor job at Bellarmine College (now University) after being rejected by 102 other higher ed institutions. That didn’t matter, Bellarmine saw something in me that I gained at Urbana and I had a great 8 years before going into public television as a fund raiser for a struggling station.

Urbana made all that possible and I even served on its Board of Trustees in the mid to late 1980’s before I left the region to run PBS stations. Even during my time we were fighting to keep Urbana alive and somehow it survived until April 29, 2014.

Urbana, I mourn the death (or acquisition) of the institution who gave me a chance to succeed. I will miss you but you will never be forgotten. Thank You

Urbana Photo Ben and Dean

7 thoughts on “Mourning the Death of a University

  1. Dean,
    I understand where you are coming from but I have a different take on the events at UU. As you know I have been associated with UU since 1967. Fall Quarter ,1967 I started at UC (Then UC) as a commuter student. I spent three years as a commuter then worked the Summer of 1970 as a part time student maintenance worker under Chemistry ProF Jim Jonard. JJ was subbing as Maintenance Super that Summer & talked me into becoming the Maintenance Super. Several times during the next several years (1970-1978) I made purchases for UU with personal check because the U had no credit. I graduated in 1978 with a BS in Comp. Science with the help of Clara May Frederick. CMF was my academic adviser for the last several years of work. I returned to the U as a member of the UU Alumni Assoc. after a couple of years. Was appointed to the UU Bd. of Trustees in 1987 by The UU Alumni Assoc. Served on the Board until Feb., 2014 when I retired to help form the Urbana U Coucil which may become the UU liaison to Franklin U. During my time as a UU Bd. of Trustee member: The Board discussed mergers, buyouts, & bankruptcy in the 87-90 period but decided to build the Moore Math-Science building instead. Salem U in WV was bought by Taiko (sp?) of Japan in that timeframe & became Salem International. Dr. Francis Hazard came on board as President during that period improving our bank & financial status.
    He also was instrumental in changing the Board structure, i.e. the Church members were no longer a majority on the Board allowing for more local & Alumni members. Francis along with Joe Besecker started the fund raising campaign to restore Barclay-Bailey Halls. Frances was also involved as was I in the search for his replacement Dr. Robert Head. I was also involved as the Chair of the Advancement Committee of the Board of Trustees as we raised the money to build Hazard Hall, Sycamore Hall, a new Student Center, a new Athletic Field with synthetic turf, & another new Dorm, McConnell Hall. In retrospect McConnell should not have been built given the 2008-present economic climate. Did we make mistakes as a Board, I am sure we did. Not having a better independent CFO was one of the mistakes.Not making excuses but if you do any reading on the future of “Higher Ed” you will find many private independent schools with the same problems.The UU Board & the U were again at the precipice of bankruptcy this spring. But “the Will to Survive” is still there (see Frank Higgins’ book “Urbana College 1850-1975”)
    As for the death of UU I disagree. I see this as the rebirth of UU. An Urbana University that has finally gained the financial stability that I as a Board Member have hoped for since 1987. The University will be providing an education & issuing Diplomas under the Urbana University name but as a wholly owned subsidiary 9my term) of Franklin University. We don’t know the exact details yet but should know those within the next week or so. As for the UU Alumni Assoc. it lives on as long as we provide the input to keep it alive. At this point Franklin plans to keep the UU Campus as a separate & different entity from their Columbus Campus. Dr. Kirk Peterson will remain as The President of The UU Campus.
    I am a little sad but at the same time celebrating the rebirth of a financially stable Urbana University!

    Bob Harrison aka “Red Beard”
    UU (UC) Class of 1978

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  2. Dean,
    Thank you for your words. I’ve been at many colleges but Urbana is the one that captured my heart and 13 years of my life as a faculty member there. My sense of that very soon it will be Franklin University at Urbana and there can only be one president of Franklin University. The purchase of Urbana is a wonderful one for Franklin as it provides that university with a campus that is unlike what they now have in their holdings. In time, we will all be able to let our rational sides take over as we realize that it is what it is and at this point nothing short of a very generous donor could have saved Urbana to be followed by honest and financially astute leadership with thoughtful retrenching. At times presidents don’t/won’t/can’t see the financial picture. You are grieving the loss as am I and we have a right to our grief.

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    • Hi Vivian. Thank you for the wonderful comments. When I became Alumni Director at Bellarmine in 1979 I engaged with the alumna at Ursuline College which merged with Bellarmine in 68. Many felt without a home and forgotten when the school was absorbed. There was some truth that Bellarmine had not attempted to make them a part of the family. I did what I could to make them a part of the community with some success due to our President Gene Petrik and the last Ursuline College President Sister M. Angelice Seibert, O.S.U.. I hope Franklin understands they have also acquired more than land & students, they now have alumni and community supporters of Urbana who could be tangible assets.

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      • This isn’t their first rodeo and they know that they will need to tread gently. The first concern is, of course, to mainrain the student numbers. The message must be that little will change. The fact is that much will change in terms of adminstrative numbers, staff and faculty. Those numbers

        will be reduced dramatically in the categories as many will duplicate already existing administrators and services at Franklin. The top administrators at Franklin are accustomed to overseeing “campuses” and will want that to continue even though Urbana is a much larger campus if students stay. Adjunct faculty will teach a huge percentage of the credit hours, and senior faculty with larger salaries will get incentives to retire and be replaced with junior faculty. Franklin will need to learn how to run a residential college and if wise will maintain athletes and scholarships. My hope is that Kirk will not be “used” to make this transition which is going to involve long, grueling hours, some bad PR, and might prevent his moving on to a quality president’s position. He is a fine man with incredible talents and needs to be concerned about himself and his and his family’s future. He is left holding the bag after previous presidents have made bad decisions with perhaps some deception. It could well be, however, that they simply did not know how to do their jobs.

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  3. Since I care about UU, it is time now to assess what is happening there even though I have a limited perspective. The president of Franklin quickly realized that Urbana needed a president, hired an interim, and now there is a regularly- appointed president. I’ve been to four events there in the past six months and observed good things happening. Urbana will survive. It always has. There is a special niche for Urbana, and the community embraces the university. And how I wish for the seventies when I was young, my students were young, and we learned together about this big old world that has joys and problems and committed ourselves to our roles in addressing the issues. My Ph.D. is from The Ohio State University , but it really is from Urbana College.

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    • Vivian, Thanks for your comments! Hope you can attend the October 3rd Homecoming at Urbana University. I have met & talked with the new UU President Dr. George Lucas. He seems like a very personable & honorable man. I expressed my concerns about Urbana University’s future with the changing demographics including decreasing numbers of “traditional” students & increasing government pressure to hold down costs while decreasing aid for students. Also I mentioned the need to maintain the personal touch between faculty, staff, & students that attracted many of us who are now UU Alum. I suggested an Urbana “liberal arts” education needs to be “tweaked” to provide our graduates with both work skills & critical thinking ability. That they may become productive members of the rapidly changing world in which we live!
      Bob Harrison aka “Red Beard”
      UU Class of ’78

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