Regents didn't see results of name survey

 ATLANTA — Members of the Board of Regents have no recollection of seeing marketing survey results before they voted last week on the name of a consolidated university in Augusta.


Regents contacted Tuesday said they didn’t get the data compiled by Kennesaw State University that compared public perceptions of proposed names. At last week’s meeting, the board voted 17-1 to name the school Georgia Regents University after being told of the survey but hearing no details.

“We were not provided with all the data; however, we were briefed on a summary of what the data was,” Regent Dean Alford said.

He stressed that the survey was only one factor in the decision, but he also said a reporter’s inquiry would prompt him to seek more information.

Copies of survey results released by Georgia Health Sciences University show that the proposed name University of Augusta received a more favorable response when the survey asked whether the name suggested qualities such as excellence, integrity, national and innovative. The name Georgia Regents University elicited mostly neutral reaction, offering, in effect, a blank canvas.

The regents have said they are building on the strength of the combined schools but intend to propel it to national prominence without a name suggesting it was just a community or regional school.

The president of the combined institution, Dr. Ricardo Azziz, describes it as a “new, comprehensive university” and says the name Georgia Regents University recognizes that it is the first research university established by the Board of Regents.

Azziz posted a blog entry Monday saying the University of Augusta name proposal “carried the risk that the new university would be viewed only as a local and parochial concern and not the statewide entity that it needs to, and will, become.”

Of three names proposed to the board, the only vote was on the one with the staff recommendation. University System spokesman John Millsaps declined Tuesday to say who on the staff made the actual recommendation.

“There’s no person that is the recommender, so I don’t know that there is somebody you can talk to,” he said. “... In the end, it was the regents’ call.”

Regent Dink NeSmith, the only vote against Georgia Regents University, said Tuesday that his objection was based on comments from Augusta residents because he hadn’t seen the survey data.

“I know many Augustans are upset, but the naming decisions rest with the Board of Regents,” he said.

NeSmith said that during the three weeks between when the regents were given a list of three names to consider and their vote last week, Azziz met with individual members to discuss the final name. He said Azziz had a favorite.

“He was leaning toward the Georgia Regents name,” NeSmith said, “based on its national and international potential.”

Regent Larry Walker also said that he hadn’t seen the survey results and that its revelation could be enough to prompt the board to revisit its decision.

“I would not promote reconsideration, but I would not say I’m against it,” he said.

Most of the regents did not return phone messages seeking comment. One asked not to be quoted and suggested that Millsaps or Chairman Ben Tarbutton speak for the board. Millsaps said several regents had called him about the media inquiry.

The regents were vocal about their support for Azziz and their commitment to investing heavily in the school.

“The way I finally came down was trying to back up the man we put in charge there in Augusta,” Walker said.

NeSmith agreed.

“When Dr. Ricardo Azziz was hired, he was challenged, by the regents and the governor, to be a change agent,” he said. “The goal is to move the Medical College of Georgia into a top-tier, medical-research university. Dr. Azziz embraced that mission, and change is rarely easy.”

Did the board feel sandbagged by not seeing the survey?

“I have no reason to believe I’ve been misled,” Alford said.

Though the survey showed a generally positive reaction to the name University of Augusta, it also showed that people have definite views of “Augusta” that might not be in sync with the image the board is hoping for as a center of cutting-edge medical research.

In open-ended responses, many volunteered impressions of “Deep South,” “quaint Southern city,” “sleepy backwater” and golf.
Staff Writer Steve Crawford contributed to this article.