During two public forums about the merging of Georgia Health Sciences and Augusta State universities, audience members at ASU told GHSU President Ricardo Azziz he made a mistake in the naming of the consolidated university.
“I’m interested in knowing what kind of leader you can be,” said Augusta resident David Steele at the ASU campus forum. “Are you going to be a strong, thick-skinned change agent and also admit a mistake?”
Azziz defended the selection of Georgia Regents University as the name for the new consolidated university to an audience of about 400 at ASU and another 500 at GHSU. With the Oct. 1 deadline approaching to submit a final name to the accrediting agency, he said the name is final and there is no time to reconsider.
“I would hope the community can move beyond the name,” Azziz said. “The community is not just Augusta. It is the whole state of Georgia.”
“We don’t trust you!” said ASU health and physical education major Chris Nabholz in response.
After several people at ASU expressed disgust for the chosen name and its acronym GRU, Azziz explained how the name came to be. He began the afternoon forum at GHSU, which was less confrontational, with a similar explanation.
A Consolidation Working Group gathered about 1,200 names accumulated from the community and narrowed them down to 25. From there, they cut the list to three. After some testing, the group was left with: University of Augusta, Georgia Arts and Sciences University and Georgia Regents University.
Azziz said the University System of Georgia Board of Regents selected GRU, and he believes the decision is not a mistake.
“At the end of the day the Regents made their own decision,” he told the crowd at the ASU forum.
That selection was made even after a $45,000 survey conducted by Kennesaw State University found University of Augusta was the top-vote getter among 1,400 people polled nationally and statewide.
The working group recommended names that were either positive or neutral, with the idea that the perception of a neutral name can be changed, Azziz said.
“To think that the Regents made the decision because the president suggested one thing or another is to not understand the process of the Regents and to undervalue what they’re contributing,” he said at GHSU.
Azziz added there was a “tremendous amount of one-sided coverage of this” among the media.
Susan Schepens, who attended the ASU forum, said leaders should
never disregard the results of data and surveys they conduct. She questioned how the community can trust Azziz moving forward if people were already misled about the brandability of GRU.
“The people here are questioning whether or not there’s trust in the air,” Schepens said.
GHSU medical student Harrison Grace asked Azziz about problems with national name recognition for the medical school.
“Our students need to have value and that means we’re going to have to invest in our name. We’re going to have to spend time and resources of our university to market this nationally, so we’re doing that,” Azziz responded. “The value won’t be immediately after you graduate, by the way. It’ll be 10 to 20 years from now.”
Toward the end of the forum at GHSU, medical student Aaron Winn told Azziz he “didn’t understand why we didn’t shoot higher” for a name with national recognition.
ASU assistant professor of history Michael Searles questioned how a name like GRU could be branded to be nationally recognized, like consolidation leaders have said they wanted, when many don’t recognize the word Regents.
Azziz said it will be a 10 to 20 year process, one the community should get behind.
Also at the GHSU forum, Azziz said the university will grow medical and nonscience research in a “strategic manner” but that both were important.
Azziz said the medical college, under his tenure as president, will not move to Athens, Ga., where the University of Georgia has expanded its medical campus.
After leaving the one-hour forum, ASU alumni Catherine Rutland said she felt disheartened. She felt insulted that the overwhelming consensus from the community against the name is being ignored.
“Everything just blew off (Azziz) and nothing seemed to get into his head,” Rutland said. “It’s like we don’t even matter. I think people are very passionate about how they feel about this, and we shouldn’t give up.”