The incoming president of the Medical College of Georgia said Monday that he will look into an investigation by The Augusta Chronicle that found a major increase in administration and salaries at the school over the past five years.
Dr. Ricardo Azziz, who will take over July 1, said during a visit to campus that his arrival signals a "fresh start," and he left open the door to working again with the MCG Foundation, which his predecessor replaced.
"I do think that the decision of the (University System of Georgia) Board of Regents, the chancellor and the governor to appoint an external candidate with a strong experience in health care administration and clinical and translational research sends a strong signal that they felt it was time for a new emphasis and a fresh start," Azziz said.
He has asked MCG staff to plan his schedule for his first six weeks so he can meet individually with as many people as possible, both inside and outside the school.
"I think it's very important to listen before you make a judgment," Azziz said. "I also think it is important to make a judgment in a timely fashion so you can't listen forever."
Though he has not heard directly from faculty and staff, Azziz said he understands many are "frustrated" with the administrative salaries. The Chronicle found that administrative salaries rose by 53 percent from fiscal year 2005 to the current fiscal year, double the rate of overall salary increase at MCG. The number of vice deans and vice presidents increased from 13 to 25, and some saw their salaries go up 90 percent or more in a time when the school has seen its state funding decrease by 22 percent, with many employees being asked to take furloughs.
"I can understand the community's concern, particularly the students and faculty," Azziz said. "There's been a lot of budgetary restrictions; it is a very difficult time for the nation. And I can empathize with their concern."
But, though he was not questioning The Chronicle 's analysis, Azziz wants to look at things in a broader context.
"I'm going to try to do my own review of the data," he said. "I'm going to try to understand trends in salaries.
Some of the growth might be a result of MCG's ambition to be seen as a national leader in many areas, Azziz said.
"It may well be that this increase in costs was justified in order for us to actually move to the next level of growth and to actually serve and begin to function as a mature university," he said.
Though he did not directly say he would open up talks with the MCG Foundation, "everything at this point is on the table," he said. Former MCG President Daniel W. Rahn severed ties with the MCG Foundation over past squabbles and formed a new one, but Azziz said the conflict has hurt the school's philanthropic support.
"I pride myself on being a bridge-builder," he said. "I think that there are often honest differences of opinion that can be resolved. At the same time, my responsibility will be to begin to grow the university in a forward manner. I will spend relatively little time looking backward. And will ask all of us to look forward to the future because the future of MCG is truly Augusta's future and it is actually part of the regents' future."