Dr. Harris said that his challenge to the next speakers was to suggest ways to break down some of these perceived walls around academia. “If we can, we’re going to find that the capacity to change in this part of the state is enormous. You have talent; it’s a matter of releasing that talent and creating an open pathway to economic success. Many universities have a lot of people who are in the middle of that process, none of them with the right incentives to be successful. You have to develop new models and more effective incentives to break down barriers and do this.”
The world is actually not flat but rather spiky, said Dr. Proenza, who began his presentation with a nighttime satellite view of the United States, and the state of Ohio. “We see none of the traditional geographical boundaries we cling to even though they are no longer functional. We see that Ohio, especially northeast Ohio, is not composed of separate entities. Our population is neatly distributed in a bull’s head pattern, with horns along Lake Erie and the center of gravity at Akron. Economies today are agglomerated into major regions like this. Some extend over great geographical distances, such as from Boston to Philadelphia to Washington. We need to overcome some of those old geographical and political biases we once had.”
The Akron Model
Dr. Proenza said northern Ohio’s current economic climate is improving and although some challenges remain, the region is beginning to grasp and take advantage of many opportunities. The Akron Model is based on three guiding principles: relevance, connectivity, and productivity. First, universities will not survive if they do not become relevant in their communities. Second, universities cannot be isolated as ivory towers, but must be connected with other sectors of the community. And third, to prosper, they have to be more involved in innovation with community partners.
Dr. Proenza also criticized the current method of ranking universities “by their size and by how many people they exclude. This is an inefficient model, and it doesn’t help.” The Akron Model is different, he said, and is based on a desire to be a broad-based and robust platform for economic engagement. At The University of Akron, he said, this engagement is part of everything done in every discipline. The university tries to implement that vision through a number of initiatives.