Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz shares his thoughts on the plan to narrow and enhance the stretch of Laney-Walker Boulevard that runs through the campus and the search for a new name for the merged university.
Q: So this is sort of a compromise between wanting to make the area safer to cross and leaving the road open?
A: It is a compromise and we recognize it. I think it is important to understand a little bit of the history of this. Before, (former MCG) President (Dan) Rahn and his staff had submitted a grant to the Georgia Department of Transportation in 2008 to basically enhance the road, to narrow the road at that particular point. That grant was accepted in 2009.
The idea really of a road narrowing is one that has been here for a while. The students had petitioned us for greater safety. We thought we would actually proceed or try to create a pedestrian mall in the middle of Laney-Walker to unify our campus and create a safety passage. That prompted a significant outcry from the community and really at that point we felt that, after talking to many, many leaders in the community, that really it was best at this point not to proceed with road closure and to proceed with the original plan called for in the GDOT grant.
Q: Does any of this have to be approved by the Augusta Commission?
A: I do not believe so. This is a project of the state. This project that we currently have and are moving forward with is a project that is quite old now, that’s been on the books for now almost three years.
Q: I know you’ve had a chance to brief some of the commissioners on the plan. What has been the reaction?
A: I think the commissioners I have spoken to and the legislators I have spoken to, as well as the leaders in the community that I have spoken to, in general really express a gratitude for being able to find a compromise that is acceptable to the university as well as to the community. They have been supportive of maintaining the road access open while enhancing safety. They are as concerned as I am about student safety, but they are also concerned about access. And this project, the way it is now being proposed, really is able to maintain both.
Q: Part of the original idea, when you went to the Augusta Commission in December 2010, was to do a pedestrian mall to honor the Rev. C.T. Walker and Lucy Craft Laney. Will there still be a memorial to them in this section of road?
A: I think it is important to say that it is my intent to do that. I think it is important to honor our community leaders in that regard. We have deliberately not tied it to this project because we feel that would be disingenuous. It is something we are moving forward with on our own to create that kind of memorial on our campus right off Laney-Walker Boulevard. I really feel a little constrained in having to state that because really I don’t want individuals to get confused between our intentions of celebrating those individuals versus our intention of enhancing the safety of the street.
Q: The other big news is you’re keeping the campaign to pick a new name open. Do people just not believe you that you haven’t already picked one?
A: (Laughs) Some individuals still think that we have already chosen the name. But the reality is we just have not. In fact, I have not checked any of the data. I have not received any recommendations from my work group. They are doing a lot of work, a lot of background work. We’re taking the identification of a name for the new university very, very seriously. We more than almost any other university have experienced the impact of a name. When we were called the Medical College of Georgia, we were viewed only as an overgrown medical school by many individuals who did not know us. So we know that a name makes a big difference. And frankly, we want to get the name right. I haven’t the foggiest idea of what it will be at all.
Q: I know you have ruled it out but I kind of liked the James Brown Downtown College of Good Knowledge.
A: (Laughs) I liked Froghollah University until actually after I looked at it and I realized it was gibberish based on Frog Hollow. We have our own tastes.