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Records show secrecy but little analysis in merger of Augusta universities

Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 5:33 PM
Last updated Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 7:41 AM
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The move to merge eight colleges and universities, including Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities, was highly scripted and heavy on secrecy but short on analysis, at least in records turned over by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.

In response to an Open Records request from The Augusta Chronicle, the system turned over its plan for a confidential and tightly planned disclosure designed to keep the move secret until just a few days before it was to be voted on. The system also supplied reams of data on enrollment, student transfers and course offerings that it said it relied on to make the decisions, with little evidence of how it was analyzed. In one of the few rankings supplied, Augusta State is exactly middle of the pack – 17th of the 35 USG institutions – in terms of first-time freshman retention from fall 2010, according to the records.

The consolidation idea was broached by Chancellor Hank Huckaby in September. When the Regents met in Augusta in October, rumors that the Augusta schools would be combined were already flying, although Huckaby said at the time that the committee to study the issue and the criteria had not been established yet. On the records supplied to The Chronicle, the only date is Nov. 17.

THE MOST DEFINITIVE timeline, is seen in how the system chose to inform others of the decision, and it was heavily staged. On the “Chancellor To Do List” dated Dec. 30, is a script for Huckaby to follow during a call to the “Impacted Presidents.” It includes lines such as “I believe this is a good move for your campus. (Explain campus leadership situation).” That is followed by “Please keep this confidential!”

Next on the “To Do List” is a call to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which is the accrediting body for most of the system’s schools, and a call to Speaker of the House David Ralston, whom Huckaby is told to “remind of confidentiality.”

The following Tuesday, Jan. 3, Huckaby was to call Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams. The next two days were a tightly scheduled series of meetings with the affected schools and communities, attended by Huckaby; Regents Chairman Benjamin J. Tarbutton III, of Sandersville, who represents Augusta on the board; and system personnel involved in the decision. In its instructions to the presidents, the system tells them only to invite those the board specifies on a list because “it is a private meeting. A formal announcement will be made on Friday,” Jan. 6, just prior to the Regents approving the merger Jan. 10. The system also gave Tarbutton talking points for the community meetings. “We will work closely with you and with your campus leadership to implement this consolidation,” the script reads. “It will be complicated at times, but we will be transparent.”

After the Regents voted Jan. 10 to approve the mergers, Huckaby sent out the same letter to the eight presidents affected, saying, “Thank you for agreeing to lead this important effort.” It closes by again thanking them for their leadership and adding, “I understand the enormity of the task at hand, but have faith in your ability to carry it out successfully. I sincerely appreciate your support.”

HOW THE SYSTEM identified the eight schools is unclear from the records provided, with a few exceptions. On a sheet titled, “Data Review,” the system listed 14 categories, from “Mission” to “Existing Partnerships.” Data in some categories were provided only for the eight affected schools and in many cases the system personnel just pulled existing records or printed data from the schools’ Web sites. Spokesman John Millsaps said those involved in the analysis relied on those records.

In the case of North Georgia College and State University and Gainesville State College, which are merged under this plan, someone put check marks next to their first-time freshman retention rates, where North Georgia ranked seventh and Gainesville ranked 22nd. Check marks also were placed next to three courses the schools have in common, bachelor of science degree programs in early childhood education, biology and psychology.

In the rest of the data, such as enrollments and student transfers, Augusta State appears to fare no worse than its peers among regional universities. For instance, in the fall 2011 semester enrollment report, Augusta State suffered the biggest drop among regional universities at minus-2.6 percent but Armstrong Atlantic State University, which was not targeted for merger, was a close second at minus-2.5 percent.

IN ITS FORMAL presentation to the board seeking the mergers, the system noted opportunities in Augusta such as creating “a 21st century research institution that provides high quality and comprehensive undergraduate programs and top-tier health education and research that meets regional and statewide needs.” It also acknowledges “challenges,” such as “significant differences exist in institutional mission, organization, and governance,” as well as “branding and identity issues.”

Why the system decided to have the schools face those challenges, however, is still unclear from its own records.

ADMINISTRATION SALARY COMPARISON

Consolidation committees have yet to be appointed to merge Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities, but a presentation from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents notes there is little overlap between the two schools. One likely duplication is in administration. Here is a salary comparison of the two:

UNIVERSITY                         TOTAL               ADMINISTRATION

Augusta State                          $35,264,504               $4,975,774 (14.1%)

Georgia Health Sciences       $322,393,240             $25,306,401 (7.8%)

– Compiled by Sandy Hodson

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broad street narrow mind
348
Points
broad street narrow mind 01/21/12 - 07:04 pm
0
0
enormity?
Unpublished

enormity?

Conservative Man
5577
Points
Conservative Man 01/21/12 - 08:49 pm
0
0
Anytime politicians and the

Anytime politicians and the "men behind the curtain" do ANYTHING quickly and without due diligence, I'm suspect......

GeezeLouise
0
Points
GeezeLouise 01/21/12 - 09:37 pm
0
0
same here conservative man.
Unpublished

same here conservative man. If it's such a great thing, why all the secrecy and doing it so quickly?

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 01/21/12 - 09:57 pm
0
0
If you have nothing to hide,

If you have nothing to hide, hide nothing.

If you act suspiciously, you give us a reason to be suspicious.

If you read from a script, then you're putting on an act.

Billyds999
17
Points
Billyds999 01/22/12 - 02:31 am
0
0
In my humble uninformed

In my humble uninformed opinion, I think I would have merged ASU & Augusta Tech instead...

galaxygrl
1270
Points
galaxygrl 01/22/12 - 10:52 am
0
0
The will lead them through

The will lead them through the change with "transparency". Didn't see any of that before, why would they start now?

madgerman
236
Points
madgerman 01/22/12 - 10:53 am
0
0
Without knowing the details
Unpublished

Without knowing the details about the mission and responsibilities of Administration for both schools, the figures provided are meaningless. To me it would appear that Admin cost would be directly attributable to the number of students involved. If Admin is to run the school, records, grounds keeping, security, , what in the world is GHU spending 5 times as much as ASU on? Does GHU have 5 times as many students as ASU? I doubt it. On the surface it appears, from the figures provided, that someone wants a pay increase for the bloated GHU and the way to do it is to consolidate the Admin and use the savings for pay raises for management.

allhans
24011
Points
allhans 01/22/12 - 12:15 pm
0
0
ASU is getting the short end

ASU is getting the short end of the stick?

nothin2show4it
120
Points
nothin2show4it 01/22/12 - 02:46 pm
0
0
It's all about power; not
Unpublished

It's all about power; not about saving money. That is the reason for secrecy.

Who was the last person to talk about transparency? Did he do it?

uga1988
63
Points
uga1988 01/22/12 - 04:44 pm
0
0
This article sure gives the

This article sure gives the "what" but lacks in the "why". Dig deeper, Tom Corwin. There is obvious underhandedness at play here, but little forthcoming from the Board of Regents, Augusta State, or GHSU. As big an issue as this is I also find it a bit disingenuous to put a teaser on the front page and then an "almost" article on the back page. If the article was not ready for front page, as news of this caliber certainly should be, it should have been held until the full story could run.

DoggieMom
244
Points
DoggieMom 01/22/12 - 09:28 pm
0
0
So far, anything connected

So far, anything connected with Dr. Azziz is done under secrecy, and without expert analysis, or employee input or awareness.
GHSU would have higher administrative costs than ASU, as most faculty are physicians, not just professors.
However, every physician is tracked on "patients seen, professional billing, and insurance payment", and this excel spreadsheet is included in every semi-annual review.
These financial records are used to renew contracts, or not. In other words, higher pay is only if that employee pulls in payments to cover their salary, benefits, and overhead costs (the 'funny money', charging doctors for staff & nursing salaries).
Presently, there is high pressure to produce income, not teach while producing that income (see patients, don't spend too much time 'wasted' teach medical students & residents).
Morale is at an all-time low, and these "blind decisions" are going to be the downfall of the once strong MCG.
Even the AC has listings for physicians in the want ads!!

rmwardsr
525
Points
rmwardsr 01/23/12 - 09:51 am
0
0
Okay, this is the deal:

Okay, this is the deal: Bloodworth is the fall man for Azziz. Azziz is the hit man for Michael Adams. Say What???!!! That's the angle no one else has thought of. Why would GHSU/MCG set up a campus in Athen, the home of UGA, and definitely not a big medical town, and there not be an ulterior motive? So Adams calls Azziz with this plan to merge ASU with GHSU/MCG and they in turn contact the wheels that turn the Board of Regents, and it soon becomes apparent that there isn't enough room for everyone in this merger, and since Bloodworth does not have a medical background, guess who goes to the chopping block? Of course they offer to let him stay on and teach, sounds good anyway.That would be like the CEO of a major manufacturing company stepping down, but going back to a production line to keep a job. There are no benefits to Bloodworth to teach part time. So, everyone has missed the mark here. Michael Adams is the one that is behind the whole thing, because he wants the bigger piece of GHSU. And one more thing, everyone is putting the blame on Azziz for the morale problem, but isn't he just carrying on the tradition of his predecessor, Mr. Snell??Think about it.....

GuesS_wHU
3
Points
GuesS_wHU 01/23/12 - 10:54 am
0
0
@rmwardsr, Mr.Snell was MCG

@rmwardsr, Mr.Snell was MCG Health Inc's CEO. MCG Health Inc is the corporation that runs the hospital and clinical operations. He typically didn't have anything to do with how the school, MCG/GHSU/Campus, was run. MCG Health Inc has not been the same since Mr.Snell was run off. Dr.Rahn, Azziz's predecessor was far more to blame for problems then Mr. Snell.

I'd blame the 'Reduction in force' efforts, fiscal irresponsibility( name change, email migration), integration for the sake of integration and now a merger with ASU. Did I miss anything?

Here may be another reason, a page out of the Fred Russell playbook, http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/metro/2010-05-02/salaries-mcg-administ...

Conservative Man
5577
Points
Conservative Man 01/23/12 - 10:59 am
0
0
Seems like more of the

Seems like more of the "planning for us, rather than planning with us" syndrome. There's been a lot of that going around among the "ruling elite" lately..

kiwiinamerica
950
Points
kiwiinamerica 01/23/12 - 11:48 am
0
0
Right about now, folks,
Unpublished

Right about now, folks, "change fatigue" has well and truly set in. First there was all the hassle with the GHSU name change; new email address, new signs, new leader, new mojo etc. Now we have to turn around and do the whole thing again due to the ASU merger. In addition, we now have a whole new identity and mission as well as all the other day-to-day details which must be altered and overturned, not to mention potential job losses.

It's way too much in such a short space of time. This sort of never ending change and continual state of upheaval totally undermines faculty and staff morale and in the long run, is destructive to the institution. MCG/GHSU is crying out for stability, not this ongoing turmoil. We're heartily sick of this daily routine by which new details, new plans and new proposals are continually leaked to the public amidst a general atmosphere of confusion.

Enough! This circus needs to end.........NOW.

Chillen
17
Points
Chillen 01/23/12 - 11:27 am
0
0
So, this whole thing was

So, this whole thing was "highly scripted and heavy on secrecy but short on analysis"

Typical of government. Especially the "short on analysis part".

I am sick of the incompetence.

corgimom
34165
Points
corgimom 01/23/12 - 01:04 pm
0
0
Do you remember when your

Do you remember when your mother told you, "If you have to sneak around to do something, you shouldn't be doing it, you are doing something wrong"???

Bizkit
33022
Points
Bizkit 01/23/12 - 01:23 pm
0
0
You know you are being duped

You know you are being duped when they say this consolidation is suppose to save money (yet no analysis of any savings) and then you read an article how Azziz wants the state to invest in education (so really GHS wants the money to expand and cost tax payers more money than any savings). I think they assume the locals are dumb as dirt, but they should realize the number of highly educated individuals who can see through the smoke and mirrors.

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