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Augusta State University president was told of merger late in process, had concerns

Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 5:05 PM
Last updated Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012 9:12 PM
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An e-mail Augusta State Univer­sity President William Bloodworth wrote to a University System of Georgia Board of Regents member shows he was not told about the merger with Georgia Health Sciences University until late December and was deeply concerned about the consequences.

Augusta State University President William Bloodworth said University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby informed him of the merger Dec. 22  ZACH BOYDEN HOLMES/FILE
ZACH BOYDEN HOLMES/FILE
Augusta State University President William Bloodworth said University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby informed him of the merger Dec. 22

“Had I been brought in earlier, I think I could have made things work out better than they’re now likely to work out,” Bloodworth wrote Dec. 26. “I wouldn’t have had to face my wife’s tears. I wouldn’t be dreading next week.”

Bloodworth said University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby informed him of the merger Dec. 22 and that he couldn’t get the issue off his mind, according to the e-mail to Regents Vice Chairman William H. “Dink” NeSmith Jr.

Bloodworth worried that the consolidation would be “devastating news” to the ASU community and said its members should play a role in the plans.

“Faculty and staff at ASU must be given some chance to be a part of the deal – given a chance, that is, to see it as a consolidation, not a takeover,” he wrote.

On Jan. 10, the Board of Regents voted to consolidate ASU with GHSU to create a comprehensive research university. It is one of four mergers across the state. The board had no communication with the public before the vote, and the plan was kept confidential.

Although his initial reaction to the merger was one of worry, Bloodworth said his feelings changed after he spoke with GHSU President Ricardo Azziz and got more details from the University System.

Like most of his students and faculty, Bloodworth said his gut reaction was a result of the many unknowns.

“I was worried because I didn’t see everything,” Bloodworth said in an interview Wednesday. “Looking at it now, it’s an act of courage done on behalf of all the people in the state.”

His biggest fear was that the merger would increase admission standards and close the door for low-income families or students with poorer academic records. ASU has traditionally offered a somewhat open admissions policy, with few requirements beyond a high school diploma or GED.

Bloodworth said Huckaby assured him that the admissions policy would not change and that students would have the same access.

“I think my role as we begin to consolidate is to be an advocate for an institution that’s committed to serving students,” Bloodworth said.

Even though Bloodworth said in his e-mail to NeSmith that he wished he had been brought into the process sooner, ASU president said in hindsight that he understands it was the only feasible way for the University System to plan four mergers.

Bloodworth also wrote that he hoped Huckaby would tell the public that Azziz and Blood­worth were planning the consolidation together, because “presenting it as a two-party effort will take some of the sting out of it.”

Bloodworth asked NeSmith to give his support for Azziz being the president of the joined institution, which would help in the accreditation process.

In August, Bloodworth announced plans to step down as president at the end of this academic year. He said he’s aware of rumors floating around that the state pressured him into retirement so Azziz could lead the new institution.

It was a coincidence, Bloodworth said, stressing he had no knowledge of the consolidation when he made his announcement.

When he leaves the presidency, Bloodworth will return to the classroom as an English and American studies professor with tenure.

He said he’ll continue to be a part of the merging process and is excited for what’s ahead.

“This is historic. … We really do have a chance to do something that is quite new and quite different in American higher education.”