Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Decatur calls for halt to UT enrollment slide

The University of Toledo's interim president, acknowledging growing competition for students among area colleges, told the UT community yesterday during his state of the university address that “we must change.”

William Decatur said institutions such as Owens Community College have been successful in attracting students from the Toledo area, while UT enrollment figures have dropped steadily over the years.

To turn this trend around, he restated his mantra that retention and recruitment are everyone's job and that the school ought to focus on better promotion of learning, discovery, and engagement through urban strategies.

Mr. Decatur's remarks lasted about 45 minutes and were delivered to more than 650 people in a packed Doermann Theater in UT's University Hall.

He began by telling the audience it is time for the campus community to answer the question, “What does the University of Toledo want to be when it grows up?”

It needs to embrace its urban mission, he said, improving its services for all students, but especially reaching out to the many nontraditional students who have sought their education elsewhere in recent years.

Owens has more than doubled its enrollment in the last 10 years, while UT has lost almost 6,000 students during that time. Programs offered in the Toledo area by Bowling Green State University and private universities complicate matters, Mr. Decatur said.

“Have we changed very much in response?” he asked. “I don't believe we have, at least not enough.”

For example, UT alienated some of adult learners when it closed its off-campus classrooms in Maumee, Sylvania, and North Toledo last year. After his speech, Mr. Decatur said plans are under way to restore some off-campus classroom sites.

During the speech, the interim president reviewed the university's history, its troubles during the 17-month administration of President Vik Kapoor, who resigned in June, and accomplishments since then.

UT lost more than 100 faculty and 100 staff members during the Kapoor administration and failed to replace them because of a hiring freeze. Faculty morale plummeted due to a perceived lack of communication.

Mr. Decatur said UT has started to turn things around by hiring faculty and staff and engaging in a collaborative and open relationship with the campus community.

Initiatives to meet the needs of a new generation of technologically savvy students will not be easy, particularly because of increasing costs and minimal increases in state funding, but Mr. Decatur said he is optimistic.

“Why?” heasked. “Because we are in the change business.”

Some listening to Mr. Decatur's speech called his remarks an appropriate mix of optimism and honesty.

“I'm glad that he's recognized some of the weaknesses the university faces,” said Birdel Jackson III, a UT alumni association board member from Atlanta. Mr. Jackson was in town for an alumni association board meeting.

Harvey Wolff, president of UT's faculty union, said the speech touched on all the important issues facing the university.

“He's talking optimistically and pointing us in the right direction,” he said. “It's nice to hear that he's talking about including a lot of faculty in plans for the future.”

The speech likely was the only state of the university address Mr. Decatur will deliver. He has not applied for the permanent position of president, a vacancy the university hopes to fill this spring.

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