Georgia Regents University has 'long way to go,' ASU interim president says

Augusta State Interim President Shirley Strum Kenny will lead the school until consolidation with Georgia Health Sciences University takes effect in early 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: Community Newsmaker is a monthly series that sheds light on topical issues through the eyes of local newsmakers. Today, Augusta State University Interim President Shirley Strum Kenny talks about what it will take to make Georgia Regents University a successful research university.


Shirley Strum Kenny became Augusta State University’s interim president July 1 after William Bloodworth stepped down to return to teaching.

She will lead the school until consolidation with Georgia Health Sciences University takes effect in early 2013 and Ricardo Azziz becomes president of the merged Georgia Regents University.

Kenny worked as president of Queens College, City University of New York from 1985 until 1994 and at State University of New York at Stony Brook from 1994 until her retirement in 2009.

She is known for leading a national initiative to address the state of undergraduate education at major research universities. Kenny was chairwoman of the 1998 Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, which she says created “the bible” on the subject.

While at Stony Brook, Kenny oversaw a building and beautification initiative, a record growth in enrollment and faculty, and the maturity from Division III athletics to Division I, among other initiatives.



Kenny said converting a university into an R1 research institution is a long, complicated process but one that is possible for GRU.

The Association of American Universities, the leading membership organization for research universities, accepts schools as R1 based on the amount of research grant money, particularly federal money, the school brings in, as well as the breadth of graduate programs in all fields, Kenny said.

The consolidated university must also develop a balance of instruction and research among its faculty. Kenny said that will require lessening the course load on professors.

“The faculty at ASU teach four courses a semester, which is a huge load,” Kenny said.

Kenny said the goal for research-grant raising is still not set because leaders of consolidation must determine which fields will have the most focus. However, for the school to be successful, she said, it must concentrate on all areas from arts to medicine.

“We really have a long way to go,” Kenny said. “If you look at where we are now, the medical complex is much further along because that has not been the mission of ASU.”

The road to R1 could take as long as 20 years and millions of dollars.

At Stony Brook, which joined the Association of American Universities in 2001, Kenny said, it took $1 million to cover a new lab, graduate assistants and salary of a new scientist.

The humanities and arts are usually less expensive because researchers in those areas often just require time and travel to research sites.



In her limited time at ASU, Kenny said, her focus has been the undergraduate experience.

Kenny would like to develop a pipeline program that would guarantee students a place in the medical program if they make certain grades in their undergraduate studies. She also has plans to link arts and science majors with the business world so students can begin to take courses that will lead to MBAs.

Kenny said she would like to establish an honors college, expand undergraduate research and strengthen dual enrollment programs so high school students can earn college credit.

“We’ve got to have a great undergraduate program, or it doesn’t work,” she said.



To combat ASU’s traditionally poor graduation and success rates, Kenny said she will develop student-centered initiatives.

“Some (changes) are really just understanding that what happens to the student is what we’re all about, and making sure that student gets right through,” Kenny said. “I talk about the student as the red thread through the fabric of our university. We vow to make sure that everything we do makes that road straight and forward and allows those students to graduate as soon as possible.”

Kenny said making changes to schedule design and offering the right number of course sections are logistical adjustments that will help students finish on time.

The four- and six-year graduation rate could also improve by addressing withdrawal issues and making sure students are taking enough courses each semester, she said.

“So you’re removing the obstacles and you’re providing incentives and excitement about the curriculum that make it a very attractive place for people to come, and then making sure that they can move along as quickly as possible,” Kenny said.

The remediation program must also be revised, she said.

Typically, research universities do not have a large population of remedial students, so Kenny said GRU must look at ways to meet the needs of this community.

She said personal intervention is the best route for remediation. In one of her early teaching positions, at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C., instructors spent 30 minutes with each student once a week for reviews, and Kenny said she has tried to sell that approach her entire career.

“If you’re going to have remediation, it can’t be a matter of flunking them and having them try again,” Kenny said. “It really has to be looking at their individual problems.”



Kenny said that the consolidated university must have the financial support of the state and must receive sufficient funding.

At Stony Brook, a campus of about 27,000 students, the school worked with an annual budget of $2 billion. For fiscal year 2013, ASU has a $52 million operating budget. GHS Health System has a $646 million budget while the university works with $647 million budget, which is constantly changing.

Growth at GRU could include a larger athletic program to strengthen community involvement and school spirit.

“You can’t become a research (university) only on health sciences research,” Kenny said. “It has to be across the board. One of the things it’s going to take is money. If the state wants this, they’ve got to invest in it. There is no way you can do it on the very tight budget on which ASU is running. And I will say the budget is so tight it was a real shock to me when I came here.”



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