They came with hand-drawn signs, T-shirts and a message for Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz.
In the latest show of outrage over the choice of Georgia Regents University as the name for the consolidated Augusta State University and GHSU, ASU students used the first day of the fall semester Monday to protest the selection.
“We all have a mutual hatred of the name,” said ASU graduate student Jake Mace, who skipped history class to make it to the noon event. “Since we were Augusta College, then Augusta State, with this merger you’d think they’d continue that natural progression and include Augusta in the name. Without Augusta in the name, it’s a loss of identity, really.”
At the height of the rally, about 300 students, faculty and community residents gathered on the grassy steps of ASU’s outdoor amphitheater. Many who spoke said they were not just upset with the sound of the name, but more so with the selection process.
Speakers said Azziz lied about having no influence on The University System of Georgia Board of Regents’ selection of the name. They also questioned how GHSU could spend $45,000 on a survey to test 14 final names, then ignore the results when GRU tested less favorably than University of Augusta among 1,400 pollsters.
“(Azziz) wasn’t listening to the constituency,” said ASU political science senior Fady Tawadrous. “He’s our leader, but he disregarded every opinion, and he disrespected Augusta. He kind of just sold us out.”
The protest, organized by radio personality Austin Rhodes and 2010 ASU alumnus Chris Blanco, was a call to the Board of Regents and Azziz to change the new institution’s name to something the community can get behind. Many believe it would be a travesty if the new school’s name did not include the word Augusta, while others are just unhappy with Regents, a word no one seems to understand.
English senior Jerod Gay wrote a protest song when he couldn’t fall asleep Sunday night and performed it for the crowd.
He wanted something with a “the people won’t stand for this” feel, and the cheers from the audience backed that up.
To start the event, Rhodes approached the microphone in front of the students, who were holding signs that read: “Georgia Rejects,” “Azziz is a hipster” and GRU with a red line through it.
He told the crowd that Monday was a good day for change. Earlier, Augusta National Golf Club announced it had admitted the first two female members in its 80-year history.
The timing is perfect, Rhodes said, for Azziz to make a change and admit a mistake as well.
He went on to question Augusta’s political leaders, wondering how no one could step up and intervene when the overwhelming majority of the community was asking for help.
“Some of the elected officials have no backbone, and shame on them,” Rhodes said. “Mayor Deke Copenhaver, shame on you.”
As the protest was ending, Michelle Brittingham, who is working toward a master’s degree in business administration, climbed the amphitheater steps to gather signatures for a petition on a name change. She said she was disappointed more students did not attend to make a statement but said many were caught up with the first day of school.
ASU theater sophomore Michael Fortino said it was important for him to attend because he felt the school will lose its identity if Augusta is not in the new institution’s name.
He got involved with ASU’s theater department at age 8, and said being accepted into the program as a student was a dream fulfilled.
“I owe Augusta State so much for that, so I can’t just stand by and let them change the name to GRU,” Fortino said. “I love this school so much, and it breaks my heart to see it falling apart.”
Augusta Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles also spoke to the crowd and left them with a question many seemed to be asking.
“My problem with GRU is not that I want Augusta to definitely be in the name, but let’s face it,” Bowles said, “what the hell is a GRU?”