A senior Georgia Regents University official took responsibility Thursday for a controversial publication that used altered photos of Augusta State University athletes.
“I accept full responsibility for the approval of the Georgia Regents University Augusta view book in question, independent of Dr. (Ricardo) Azziz and other senior administrators,” said a statement from Vice Provost Roman Cibirka.
GRU halted distribution of the 12-page “view books” Thursday morning after it was revealed that photos touting “Jaguar Athletics” had been altered to erase Augusta State logos and emblems from team uniforms.
“They have stopped distributing them and they are working to produce a revised version that will correct the errors,” GRU spokeswoman Christen Carter said.
Carter wasn’t sure how many of the 5,000 view books already had been handed out to high school guidance counselors, or how many of the revised publications would be printed.
Carter said officials were “making every effort” to determine who had received the view books so they could be sent revised versions that correct the photos and “provide additional context about the consolidation.”
Carter said new GRU logos, which include the name Augusta, will replace those used in the original version.
The view books are marketing publications intended to help recruit potential undergraduates to GRU, and many have been delivered to high schools around Georgia this week.
Carter confirmed they were produced with assistance from an outside agency by the university’s Division of Enrollment Management, which is headed by Cibirka.
Cibirka did not respond to requests for an interview about the decision to alter the photos, which include women’s softball athletes and team photos of championship men’s basketball and golf teams.
In his statement, released at 5 p.m. Thursday, Cibirka said: “The decision to remove the athletic identifier in photos was based on input from informal focus groups of potential students and others. This turned out to be an error in judgment and for that I apologize to the Augusta community, the athletes, their families, university supporters and the institution.”
News of the photos Wednesday quickly generated controversy and brought critical responses from community members, Augusta State alumni and former athletes.
Henrik Norlander, a PGA Tour rookie and a key member of Augusta State’s two NCAA national championship teams in 2010 and 2011, vented his anger Thursday after seeing a photo in the view book of the golf team that had Augusta State emblems digitally removed.
“It’s sad, pathetic and a slap in the face for the people of Augusta,” Norlander said. “I don’t understand what their problem is. We won as Augusta State. We didn’t win as Georgia Regents. I just don’t get it at all.”
David Brond, GRU’s senior vice president of communications and marketing, said Tuesday that his office didn’t have a hand in the production of the view books, but he refused to name Cibirka as the responsible party.
He originally said the photo alterations were done to avoid confusing potential students with names of the previous institutions – Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities – that merged in January to form GRU.
Brond sent an e-mail to faculty and staffers Wednesday evening, calling the alterations an “error in judgment” that did not reflect the university leadership’s views on the importance of Jaguar athletic accomplishments or their athletes.
Former Augusta State golf coach Josh Gregory called the decision to remove logos more than poor judgment. He said it was “a complete embarrassment.”
“It’s a complete disrespect to the city of Augusta and all the alumni,” said Gregory, now golf coach at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “Forget athletics. Some people just don’t honor tradition. I think it’s wrong, and a lot of people think it’s wrong.”
Gregory, sports information director Joey Warren and others came together to create the “A” logo on Augusta State caps and shirts during his second season. Gregory said he’s proud of the work they did coming up with an identifiable brand that soon became popular, especially after the team won back-to-back Division I national championships.
“In my opinion, we were the university of Augusta,” he said. “We represented Augusta. We worked hard to create that identity in Augusta.”