The Origins of AURCO, 1993-1995
Robert A. Cohen
Ohio State University—Mansfield
On November 12, 2008, AURCO celebrated its fifteenth anniversary. Since the initial organizational meeting in 1993, AURCO has offered fourteen annual conferences, and this issue of the AURCO Journal marks its fifteenth volume. AURCO has touched all 23 regional campuses in Ohio and AURCO conferences have been held at all eight of the university systems with regional campuses. Over 160 regional campus faculty members have had works published in the AURCO Journal.
This historical account of the founding of AURCO is based on examinations of several issues of the AURCO Journal, printed and electronic newsletters, agendas from the AURCO Conferences, and seven interviews with six people who played a significant role in AURCO’s development. Interviews were conducted with three of the founding members of AURCO: Martin Kich of Wright State University Lake, Gordon Aubrecht of the Ohio State University Marion, and Arthur Molitierno, retired from Wright State University Lake. Interviews were also conducted with three others who played a role in AURCO’s early history: Lee Fox-Cardamone of Kent State University Stark, Robert Howell of University of Cincinnati Raymond Walters College, and Dan Evans who served as dean at both Wright State University Lake and Ohio University Southern.
The Creation of AURCO
In July of 1992, the Ohio Board of Regents released the report of a task force that was charged with devising a strategy to maintain a high degree of quality among Ohio’s institutions of higher education, while dealing at the same time with reduced funding from the state. The overall recommendation of the task force was a more systematic approach to planning and coordination, with the Board of Regents playing a more significant role. Among the many proposals designed to improve efficiencies and eliminate duplication, was one recommendation to create a comprehensive community college system out of the two year colleges and campuses in the state. The Managing for the Future Task force proposed that the state:
"Convert all technical colleges and university regional or branch campuses into comprehensive community colleges. Where this action would result in more than one campus serving a geographical region, the campuses should be consolidated into a multi-campus district with one governing board. All community college districts should be supported with at least a one mil tax levy to secure local financial support. Consolidate university regional or branch campuses and technical colleges in the seven locations in the state where they are co-located, creating comprehensive community colleges with their own governing boards. The seven locations are Canton, Lima, Mansfield, Marion, Newark, St. Clairsville, and Zanesville (Managing for the Future, 1992, p. 51)."
People on the regional campuses thought that this spelled the end of their existence as branches of a four-year university. Dr. Martin Kich, an English professor at Wright State Lake Campus, attended the 1992 annual conference of the Ohio Association of Two Year Colleges and saw that those in community colleges were quite excited about the task force’s proposals. They were looking forward to expanding their course offerings after the implementation of the task force report (M. Kich, personal interview, October 5, 2007). Dr. Kich saw the threat to Wright State Lake as well as other regional campuses and began talking with colleagues to decide how to respond. After talking with Arthur Molitierno, a colleague from the English Department, they decided to call a meeting of interested regional campus faculty from throughout the state. In an effort to make this effort look like something other than a project of the English Department, they enlisted Humphrey Gill of the Psychology Department who agreed to add his name to the invitation that would be sent to each of the campuses. Finally, they obtained permission from the dean at Wright State Lake to hold the meeting there.
Invitations went out to the 26 regional campuses that existed at that time, typically addressed to the faculty chairs, and requesting that at least one faculty member attend as a representative of their campus. When the meeting was held on November 12, 1993, it attracted 20 participants from 16 of Ohio’s regional campuses:
Dale Schnetzer, Bowling Green State University Firelands
John Roncone, Kent State University East Liverpool
Robert Sines, Kent State University Trumbull
Robin Lashey, Kent State University Tuscarawas
Robert Baer, Miami University Hamilton
Allegra DeLaurentiis, Miami University Middletown
Marty Stevens, Miami University Middletown
Gordon Aubrecht, The Ohio State University Marion
F. Lee St. John, The Ohio State University Newark
Jon J. Arnold, Ohio University Zanesville
Karin Billions, University of Akron Wayne College
Cliff Larrabee, University of Cincinnati Clermont College
Linda Long, University of Cincinnati Clermont College
Dick Long, University of Cincinnati Clermont College
Patti Ellison, University of Cincinnati Raymond Walters College
Ken Koehler, University of Cincinnati Raymond Walters College
Humphrey Gill, Wright State University Lake
Martin Kich, Wright State University Lake
Arthur A. Molitierno, Wright State University Lake
Before the meeting ended, the attendees decided to create a formal association they would call the Organization for University Regional Campuses of Ohio. It would not be until 1995 that the name was changed to Association for University Regional Campuses of Ohio because the organizers discovered that the OURCO acronym was already in use (G. Aubrecht, personal interview, October 9, 2007). The initial meeting in November of 1993 yielded four outcomes. First, a decision was made to create a permanent organization to represent regional campus interests. Second, a slate of officers was elected. Third, a committee was formed to draft a set of bylaws with plans to meet in Marion in January of 1994. Finally, plans were made for future meetings including a second general organizational meeting scheduled for the spring of 1994 at The Ohio State University Marion and a two-day conference that would be open to all regional campus faculty members throughout the state.
The conversation at that first meeting was dominated by concerns about the Managing for the Future Task Force (First OURCO Organizational Meeting, 1994). One of the concerns was the fact that the Task Force did not have any representatives from university regional campuses, but did have a community college president (Initial concerns, 1994). There was also great concern about the linkage of performance toward service expectations with the allocation of instructional subsidy. Those in attendance felt that it was unfair to hold regional campus programs to the same standards as those on central campuses because the regional campuses faced a continual challenge of a limited student population base. These concerns strengthened the attendees’ drive to create a mechanism to give voice to the concerns of regional campus faculty.
"Faculty whose primary end is to serve students in the classroom usually do not have the time or resources for considering such administrative and fiscal concerns. Yet clearly such concerns affect the quality of the institutions which faculty serve. For practical purposes it is thus obligatory for the regional campuses to form an organization to promote a public forum for the presentation of ideas related to the educational purposes of regional campuses and how they may continue to flourish and contribute to Ohio’s higher educational structure. Such an organization can coherently address the particular differences (regional campuses as opposed to community college, for example) which give regional campuses their identity through mission and structure. Additionally, regional campuses need to advance the distinctions which complement the campuses to which they are affiliated. The above and other concerns may be seen as the impetus for forming OURCO, Organization for University Regional Campuses of Ohio (Initial concerns, 1994)."
Those in attendance elected a slate of officers for a one and a half year term that would end in July 1995. Subsequent terms were set at two years. Marty Stevens of Miami University Middletown was chosen as President. The Vice President was also designated as President-Elect and this spot was filled by Karin Billions of the University of Akron Wayne College. Arthur Molitierno of Wright State Lake became the Secretary/Treasurer (First items, 1994).
A Governance and Bylaws Committee was formed to write a mission statement and develop governing principles and rules. John Arnold of Ohio University Zanesville and Humphrey Gill of Wright State Lake were named to this committee. A third member was to be designated later, and this slot was filled by Arthur Molitierno (G. Aubrecht, personal interview, October 9, 2007). The Bylaws committee was scheduled to meet on January 14, 1994 with its recommendations presented to the general organizational meeting scheduled for February 18, 1994 (First items, 1994).
The campuses were encouraged to send multiple participants to the second organizational meeting, but it was determined that only two representatives of each campus would be designated to vote (First items, 1994). Martin Kich was appointed chair of the committee that would hold a two-day conference at a yet-to-be-determined date. A tentative agenda for the conference was drafted with a theme of “Educating for the Future.” Several panels were planned, including one to discuss the impact of the Managing for the Future Task Force Report; a panel dealing with regional campus issues such as retention, faculty excellence, and cohesion with the broader university community; and a panel highlighting regional campus achievements. In addition, planners scheduled a networking session by discipline (Proposed conference agenda, 1994).
John Arnold and Humphrey Gill met on January 14, 1994 to draft a set of bylaws for what was still called OURCO. Their draft document was then mailed to the participants from the November 1993 meeting and other campus representatives so they could offer their feedback prior to the business meeting that had been scheduled for February 18, 1994 (Proposed OURCO bylaws, 1994). The members at that meeting approved the bylaws, and established an ad hoc committee to organize the first conference, which was now scheduled for the spring of 1995 (Membership approves bylaws, 1994). A request was made for anyone to review the bylaws and make corrections or suggestions. The bylaws for the newly named association, AURCO, would be subsequently re-approved by all in attendance at the first conference on April 22, 1995. The bylaws stipulated provisions for election of officers, establishment of committees, and holding of meetings, and spelled out the intended purposes of AURCO:
A. To pursue a pro-active educational and political direction, stressing the relevant independent educational vision and purpose of regional campuses while at the same time stressing the vital importance of remaining an integral part of their universities.
B. To encourage communication through varied channels among regional campus faculty.
C. To take note of, study, and provide guidance in meeting the special needs of students attending regional campuses.
D. To deepen the commitment of faculty to the educational and cultural well-being of their respective regional campus communities and make the communities aware of the rich resources provided by Ohio’s regional campuses (Membership approves bylaws, 1994, p.2).
The First AURCO Conference
The First AURCO Conference took place on April 22, 1995, at Kent State Stark, nearly one and a half years after it was announced at the first organizational meeting. Martin Kich of Wright State Lake served as the conference program chair. One month prior, a newsletter went out with the conference agenda, directions, maps, and a registration form. The registration fee was twenty-five dollars (Ohio’s regional campuses, 1995). Attendees were welcomed by Myron S. Henry, Provost of Kent State University, and a keynote address was presented by Howard L. Gauthier of the Ohio Board of Regents.
The 88 paid attendees represented all eight university systems, and 21 regional campuses (only Ohio University Southern and Ohio University Lancaster were not represented). Also present that day were eleven regional campus deans who met separately that afternoon as part of the previously mentioned regional campus deans group OARC (Ohio Association of Regional Campuses). Affiliation of the presenters that day also demonstrated the reach of AURCO throughout all the campus systems. The Fall 1995 issue of the AURCO Journal made it a point to publish the institutional affiliations of all 53 conference presenters (see Table 1). This provided visual evidence that the conference brought together Ohio’s regional campuses.
The Fall 1995 issue of the Journal contained the text for sixteen conference presentations, including the welcome and the keynote address. The remaining presentations were published the following year. The entire Spring 1996 issue of the AURCO Journal was devoted to 23 presentations from the 1995 AURCO Conference (Molitierno & Kich, 1996). The 1996 issue inaugurated the format for the next several years. It became exclusively a vehicle for reprinting the conference presentations at the previous year’s AURCO conferences. A separate newsletter was created to disseminate information about AURCO business and events.
The first AURCO conference was considered a success. Dr. Martin Kich was surprised how well it came off, being the first conference and the first time he had ever organized a program. The crowd was larger than expected. It represented the different systems and individual campuses, and the participation by the regional campus deans was a “plus” (M. Kich, personal interview, October 5, 2007).
The Threat To Regional Campuses Diminishes
By 1996, it was becoming clear that the recommendations of the Managing for the Future Task Force were not going to be adopted and that the threat to regional campuses had subsided. AURCO played no direct role in affecting the adoption or non-adoption of the proposals, but the founding members of AURCO encouraged people to show up at hearings that were held around the state. For example, about eight people from Wright State Lake attended a hearing in Lima.
The initial hearings were held in large cities where urban community colleges were supported. But as the hearings moved to more rural areas such as Lima, it became clear that there was a strong preference for the status quo. Dr. John Riedl, who at that time was dean of The Ohio State University Mansfield, agreed with this assessment. He was personally responsible for having one of the hearings held in Mansfield, where the testimony was all in favor of the status quo. He recalled that students testified that they simply would not have attended college if it were Mansfield Community College instead of The Ohio State University (J. Riedl, personal communication, January 8, 2008).
Dr. Kich pointed out that the 23 regional campuses had at least 23 state representatives eager to preserve any institution in their home district. Adding neighboring state representatives within the campuses’ service areas created a bloc of support from nearly one-third of the Ohio General Assembly (M. Kich, personal interview, October 5, 2007). The Report of the Managing for the Future Task Force faded into higher education history.