Augusta State officials downplay name controversy at annual fall convocation

 At the kickoff of its fall semester, Augusta State University’s interim president and other college officials made a point to look ahead to its impending merger and move away from the controversy surrounding the selection of the consolidated university’s name.

Interim President Shirley Strum Kenny said at the school’s convocation Tuesday that there is much work to be done and the university must focus not only on what it aspires to be in the next two decades but also on what it can improve in the immediate future.

“It is vital that ASU shape the future in both areas because the consolidation simply will not work unless ASU prospers and grows, building on its strengths and charting – and heading for – what lies ahead,” Kenny told an enthusiastic crowd gathered in Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre.

The new name selected for the merged Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities – Georgia Regents University – has drawn heavy criticism. David Alalof, a co-chairman of Augusta State foundation’s annual fundraising campaign, downplayed the controversy at the convocation.

“I’ll tell you what’s in a name,” Alalof said. “We are and we will always be the Jaguar Nation.”

The event also served as a kickoff for the annual “A Day for ASU” campaign, which assists the university by providing money for such things as scholarships, faculty development and some academic support programs, said Augusta State spokeswoman Danielle Harris.

The goal for this year is $555,000, about $10,000 more than last year. Raising that much money is tricky in the current economy, especially coming on the heels of another fundraising effort to create an endowment for recently retired ASU President William A. Bloodworth Jr., Alalof said.

Some observers have worried that the widely criticized new name might hamper such fundraising.

Alalof dismissed that idea.

“I’ve already reached out to 50 or 60 folks who have been instrumental in the past,” he said. “I have gotten no indication that anyone will withhold donations because of the name.”

Not all benefactors, however, feel the same about that, said J. Fleming Norvell, a longtime Augusta State supporter and the man instrumental in raising about $1 million for the university’s golf program.

Norvell said he and other ASU supporters aren’t excited about writing checks for an institution that seems to have little connection to the history and traditions of Augusta.

“I think with the loss of the name you are going to lose the support of a lot of people who have given in the past,” Norvell said.

He said that he thinks the name controversy isn’t over and that something can still be done to change it.

Norvell said the local community was “lulled asleep” with assurances from GHSU President Ricardo Azziz that Augusta would be included in the new school’s name when, in his opinion, there was no real intention to do so.

“The new doctor in town has bulldozed his way into acceptance for something that nobody wants,” Norvell said. “He will be gone in three years, and we will be left with this thing nobody likes.”

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