Johnson confirmed that Tuesday will be his last at First Bank of Georgia, where he is a vice president and community development officer.
Johnson will be the director of community affairs in the Office of Government Relations and Community Affairs for what will eventually be called Georgia Regents University, a name he acknowledged is not sitting well with the Augusta community.
“I’m not sure if you can get folks on board with that, but I think what you do is you go forward and you try to of course bring money in so that we can expand the school so that people can see the progress that will be made,” Johnson said.
He will serve as a local liaison not only to Augusta leaders but also to Albany, Savannah and later Rome, where GHSU has satellite campuses, he said.
“What we’ll be trying to do is keep the community informed on the things that are going on in the campus in any way that we can integrate some of the things we’re doing on the campus with the community,” Johnson said.
The position has been in the works for more than a year and is not a reaction to the controversy over the name, said David Hefner, the executive vice president for clinical affairs. Rather, it is a way to better converse with the diverse communities where the university operates, he said.
“They are all idiosyncratic, as you would expect. They all have their own cultures and history,” Hefner said. “How do we work most effectively with that?”
The new position is a way to “partner with everyone to our mutual benefit,” GHSU Provost Gretchen Caughman said. “It’s essential that we all be on the same page and rowing in the same direction.”
Caughman and Hefner held town-hall meetings Tuesday to explain some growth initiatives, such as a new $100 million cancer research building, plans to reduce labor and supply costs, and a potential 3 percent to 5 percent cut in state appropriations.
The university system’s Board of Regents voted to include $45 million in bonds for the new cancer research building in its funding request for fiscal year 2014, which still must make it into Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget request and then be approved by the Georgia Legislature. It would allow the university to consolidate cancer services and research spread out across campus into a single location, tentatively across 15th Street where the school’s Alumni Center is, Hefner said.
“You’d have a comprehensive view of cancer where you could co-locate” the research and services, he said. That investment “should quell concerns about this campus being moved anywhere else.”
The 167,000-square foot Cancer Research Center opened in 2006 but has “a flexible floor plan” that is “adaptable to almost any kind of research,” Caughman said. The university is quickly running out of research space and when those labs come open they “will be clamored for,” she said.
The university and its clinical system have been told to prepare for a 3 percent and perhaps as much as 5 percent cut in state appropriations, which would be about $4 million to $6 million cut, Caughman said. The university plans to try to manage that and other future cuts through attrition, she said.
“We are going to take a hard look at every vacancy because it is a whole lot easier to look at a vacancy than a live person,” Caughman said.
The university is in the midst of a three-year plan to “reduce and recycle” $100 million in costs, including $41 million in labor, Hefner said. That included laying off about 100 people last year, but there are no current plans for layoffs, he said.
“Not if we can manage it through attrition,” Hefner said.
The plan not only reduces costs but also allows the university “to reinvest in ourselves and our growth areas in the ways that we have to in order to flourish and thrive,” Caughman said.