Ohio professors not happy about University of Akron’s esports investments

The university announced an expanded esports initiative last week.

Photo via University of Akron

An esports program at the University of Akron is being expanded while a large percentage of degree programs are being cut, provoking outrage from some Ohio professors.

On Aug. 15, the University of Akron board of trustees announced that 19 percent of the university’s degree tracks would be cut to “increase resources in degree programs of greatest interest, opportunity, and benefit to students.” The 19 percent amounts to 80 degree tracks for the Ohio university. 

University cuts aren’t ever welcome, but Ohio professors are especially upset due to an announcement made just one day after the tracks were cut: The university will open an expanded esports varsity program, including three high-end facilities across campus—more than initially promised when the program was announced in December.

Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) president John T. McNay, who represents the group of 6,000 Ohio professors, expressed displeasure with the decision to cut degree programs and expand esports investment.

“It is as though you are saying: Well, we are bored with education so let’s play games instead,” he wrote, according to Akron Beacon Journal. American Association of University Professor’s Akron branch president Pamela Schulze told WOSU Radio that the university union should have been involved in the decision-making process. “If we’re going to divert resources from academic programs into esports, that’s a strategic decision about the future of the university,” she said. “And it was made by ‘not faculty.'”

The university noted that enrollment and “growth opportunities” were important in the decision to cut certain programs, according to Akron Beacon Journal. University of Akron president Matthew J. Wilson said in December that the varisty esports program would help attract top students “while providing an innovative pathway for students to flourish academically, socially, and professionally.”

The program structure is expected to mimic traditional sports, with competition in games like Rocket League, League of Legends, and Hearthstone.

“Students involved in the esports program will also receive academic oversight—similar to students in traditional UA athletic programs—to enhance the success of their overall collegiate experience,” vice provost for strategic initiatives Sarah M.R. Cravens said in December. “Participation in this program will strengthen students’ abilities to collaborate and take on leadership roles. In a multitude of fields and programs, esports will also be an outstanding resource for experiential learning opportunities and the development of job skills.”

Programs cut last week include art history, French, math and physics, and geography. Master’s degrees in Spanish, history, physics, and sociology were also part of the cuts. Current students in these programs will be allowed to finish. No full-time staff or faculty cuts are currently planned.