Education

College Lays Off Hundreds, Blows $900k On President’s Mansion

The University of Akron, a public college in Ohio, is attracting ridicule over the revelation that it has spent lavishly to renovate its president’s house while also trying to plug a $60 million budget hole.

In an emergency effort to rapidly cut its expenses by $40 million, Akron has announced that it is eliminating 215 positions at the school. Victims of the cuts include the school’s non-profit publishing company, a big chunk of its theater staff, and its baseball team.

Scrutiny over the deep, rapid cuts has led to local press discovering that one reason for the school’s big financial hole is a massive splurge last year on the university president’s house.

According to documents obtained by the Northeast Ohio Media Group, the school spent about $950,000 renovating a house for current president Scott Scarborough, who arrived at the school late last year. The house already belonged to the school, but had received no significant work in 15 years under Scarborough’s predecessor.

While several hundred thousand dollars were spent on renovations to the heating, plumbing, and other essential parts of the house, this price tag also included a host of lavish improvements.

For example, an invoice published by The Akron Beacon-Journal found over $150,000 in spending on furnishings and decorations for the house. Purchases include several thousand-dollar chairs, five thousand-dollar kitchen stools, and an $1,800 bedroom mirror.

Most notoriously, though, the purchases include a $556 decorative olive jar, which has been swiftly singled out for ridicule by those critical of Akron’s excess. The olive jar already has its own Facebook and Twitter pages, with its “comments” including statements along the lines of “Holy shit! I cost that much?”

Akron is a public college, but has tried to defend the house spending by saying it was paid for exclusively from private donations rather than public funds. But the school also assigned a substantial number of school staff to spend hundreds of hours working on the renovation, and those staff were state employees.

Akron has had to suppress a great deal of bad publicity stemming from the layoffs, even creating a special page entitled “Just the Facts” to counter claims such “The University’s academics wallow in mediocrity” and “The University’s graduation rates are awful.”

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