Azziz says Augusta State, Georgia Health Sciences University merger will benefit both schools

The goal of merging Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities is to create a well-rounded, higher learning institution and not to build an overgrown medical school, GHSU President Ricardo Azziz said Thursday.

Although ASU students and faculty have expressed concerns about losing the intimacy of a liberal arts school, both universities’ leaders said the merger will create more opportunities for students.

“This is a unique opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime and truly once-in-a-century opportunity,” Azziz said. “Our universities are complementary. They are not competitive.”

ASU and GHSU presidents held four town hall meetings Thursday to answer questions about the consolidation of the schools and quell rumors. The audience neared 300 people at both morning meetings, although it appeared faculty outnumbered students.

At ASU, questions from the audience were about how the merger would affect tuition, the shared governance ASU faculty has with administration, the treatment of nontraditional students and other areas of concern.

The presidents couldn’t give complete answers to some questions, such as whether ASU’s nursing program would be combined with the one at GHSU, or whether fees would increase once the schools join.

“At the end of the day, there won’t be an us and them,” Azziz said. “It will be a we, and we will work this together. Remember, it’s about growth.”

Ruthie Jatho, 62, an ASU student working on her nursing degree, asked whether the merger would affect ASU’s accommodation of nontraditional students. Both presidents said they don’t want to see admission standards change to affect any students but, rather, to increase opportunity.

As far as jobs, some physical plant workers were concerned the consolidation would create a surplus of workers and lead to layoffs. ASU President William A. Bloodworth Jr. said the merger will increase the need for laborers because of additional students.

“This is going to be a job-creating machine,” he said.

At GHSU, Samuel Herberg, a Ph.D. student and vice president of the Student Government Association, asked what the school’s name will be on his future diploma.

“Nobody knows the answer,” Bloodworth said, “Everybody has an opinion.”

By becoming a comprehensive research university, however, that name “will mean a lot more than it does today,” Azziz said. “The reality is we will have to come up with a name that honors tradition but is future-oriented.”

In response to a question from Dr. Robert Nesbit, a professor emeritus of surgery at GHSU, Azziz said, “My guess is (the name) won’t have ‘health’ in it.”

With only 600 employees at ASU compared with 10,000 at GHSU, Bloodworth said his institution will not bring a large amount of funding to the partnership but will bring its unique collaboration between administrators and faculty members.

“We have a strong sense of collegiality, a sense of family,” he said.

GHSU welcomes those new colleagues, said Dr. Mike Brands, a professor of physiology who recently published a paper with an ASU collaborator and is eager to work more with Augusta State’s mathematics and computer science faculty.

The idea is to make something more out of bringing the two together, said Azziz, who will lead the combined schools.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do it right,” he said. “To do it right for Augusta, to do it right for Georgia, to do it right for our students.”

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