After months of discussion and thousands of suggestions, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents approved the new name for the consolidated Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities Tuesday afternoon.
The name was one of three finalists, which included University of Augusta and Georgia Arts & Sciences University.
While acknowledging widespread opposition to the choice in Augusta, board chairman Benjamin J. Tarbutton III urged people in Augusta to get behind GHSU President Ricardo Azziz and the new name.
“It’s time to move forward and begin the next steps in the process,” he said.
The only board member to vote against the name was Vice Chairman William NeSmith Jr., who represents the 10th Congressional District, which until recently included part of Augusta.
“To a person, I haven’t found anyone supportive in the 10th Congressional District that supports Georgia Regents University,” NeSmith said. “It is widely unpopular to the people that I’ve talked to.”
Regent Tommy Hopkins, who sits on one of the boards overseeing the university’s clinical system, said he was lobbied heavily to vote for University of Augusta.
“This university is more and bigger than Augusta,” he said. To continue the expected growth, “this university needs to be marketed as more than Augusta. We need a name that donors from throughout Georgia can support and not feel they are abandoning their local colleges and universities.”
The three finalists emerged out of thousands of suggestions that went to work teams and committees, who then put out three successive “waves” of pared down lists that were subjected to statewide and national testing, said Azziz, who will oversee the consolidated university.
“This list is not one that the president came up with,” he said. But the Regents name, which was “relatively neutral” in national testing, will allow the university to continue pursuing national and international ambitions, Azziz said.
“For the university to grow and for the city of Augusta to grow along with the university, we must have our sights set on the larger state, nation and the globe,” he said.
While acknowledging student discontent with the new name, “at the end of the day, regardless of the name, we’re going to be providing a better service to those students, better education, better training and better value,” Azziz said. “And that’s what matters.”
Regents is also appropriate because “this is the first comprehensive research university in Georgia that is actually created under the guidance of the Regents,” he said.
Azziz acknowledged that there would still be a lot of work ahead to get people behind the new name.
“We’re going to have to obviously do a lot of outreach to our alumni, to our students, to our faculty, to the community and to the national community, to the statewide communities,” he said. “This doesn’t create more or less of a problem for us in our communication. We still have do a lot of work, and we will continue to do so.”
The name was approved despite a letter from Regent University in Virginia, which has trademarked the Regent name. The school enrolls 60 percent of its students online, many from Georgia. In a statement Tuesday evening, the school said it was “disappointed that Georgia’s Board of Regents chose a name that so closely resembles our school’s name, a name in which we have invested over many years. The Board’s choice will surely lead to confusion for students seeking higher educational choices. Regent University will review our options at this time and take appropriate action as warranted.”
The Georgia university system’s legal staff looked at the issue and decided it would not be a problem, said Shelley C. Nickel, the associate vice chancellor for planning and implementation.
“(Regents) is a general enough term that we don’t think we’re in any danger of it being a problem,” she said.
The new university must now apply to get an .edu domain name and finish a lengthy application process to have the merger approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. That application is expected to be completed by October, before the accrediting body’s Commission on Colleges meets in December. Final approval would likely come in January, and the name would officially take effect then.
It is the second name change for GHSU in the past two years. The old name, Medical College of Georgia, was retained only for the school of medicine, and the other schools became colleges within GHSU. Officials held off on making any major sign changes, however, when consolidation became a possibility last year.
Azziz said the school had spent about $280,000 of the $2.9 million budgeted for the name change, mainly on temporary signs and things such as letterhead and business cards. Consolidation committees could tackle other details this week, such as choosing a logo, school colors, a university seal and even what date should go on the seal, said David L. Brond, the senior vice president for communication and marketing.
Consolidation committees had already decided to keep ASU’s Jaguar mascot for the new university.
The merged university will have nearly 10,000 students and more than 1,000 full-time faculty, according to the consolidation Web site.