Merged Augusta universities will focus on expansion, education excellence, presidents say

Whether they are faculty members, staffers or students of the soon-to-be-consolidated Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities, they share concerns about the unknown.

 

Jasmine Ballard, an ASU junior, is worried about how the merger will change her public relations degree program. Bill Sealey, a five-year employee of ASU’s physical plant, is wondering whether there will be layoffs when two plants become one. And Jack C. Yu, a GHSU professor and the chief of plastic surgery, is simply curious about what’s to come.

“There’s just a lot of confusion among the students,” Ballard said. “I want to know the name that’s going to be on my diploma; I want to know how these changes are going to affect my degree program.”

The presidents of ASU and GHSU met with the public Wednesday to field questions about the merger. Little new information was introduced at either forum on each campus since the meetings held in May, but the sessions were a chance for discussion.

“I know some of you get tired of hearing, ‘Well, we don’t really know,’ but if we don’t know it’s because you’re going to be part of the process,” GHSU President Ricardo Azziz said.

About 100 people attended the lunchtime forum held at ASU, and a group of roughly 30 sat in on the meeting at the GHSU campus later in the afternoon. It was the last set of forums ASU President William Bloodworth will attend before he returns to teaching June 30.

A name has still not been chosen for the new university, but the presidents announced that the Consolidation Working Group will submit a list of six possible names for public comment by mid-June.

A joint strategic plan detailing the overarching vision for the new university will be circulated for feedback in August.

As consolidation progresses, the new university will adopt ASU’s current physical address of 2500 Walton Way and maintain its beloved Jaguars mascot, said Gretchen Caughman, GHSU’s provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs.

Until the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools completes the accreditation of the new university in early 2013, the consolidation committees will be completing plans for the locations for departments and the
organizational charts for faculty.

Several people at the forums expressed concern about whether the culture celebrated at ASU will remain undisturbed. Michael Bishku, an ASU professor of history and the president of the school’s American Association of University Professors chapter, said the faculty wants to continue the same level of input it has in institutional changes.

Azziz said that will continue to a point. He said that he believes in a democratic system but that certain decisions should be left to the people with the knowledge to move the consolidation forward.

“Information without guidance, transparency without education is completely worthless,” Azziz said. “That’s why you need to have a mix of individuals … I also believe in leadership. I do not believe you have leadership that allocates responsibility to others. At the end of the day, the buck
stops here.”

Azziz and Bloodworth said growth will be a high priority for the university. The leaders hope to build more residence halls and dining areas for the institution to be residential for students from across the country rather than a commuter school. That means not allowing the medical focus to overshadow liberal arts, or vice versa; there has to be a perfect blend to create a shared culture.

“My feeling is we have great potential to be the great American university we should be, not just an overgrown medical school,” Azziz said.

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