Azziz fields questions about faculty morale, name at university merger forums

Without a raise in years and with the added strain of consolidating Georgia Health Sciences and Augusta State universities, the faculty and staff are suffering, a GHSU faculty member said Friday.

“Morale is at an all-time low at this institution,” said Dr. Rhea-Beth Markowitz, the director of grant development for the GHSU Cancer Center. “The consolidation may be great, but it is killing us.”

GHSU President Ricardo Azziz and ASU Interim President Shirley Strum Kenny held two forums Friday, one at each institution, now a monthly practice to address concerns about the consolidation. Audience members at both meetings raised questions about morale and continued objections to the chosen name of the new institution, Georgia Regents University.

At GHSU, Azziz acknowledged that the lack of raises is a serious problem.

“It’s something we are going to have to face,” he said.

The university had planned to try to address it this year before it was notified of an additional $10 million cut, Azziz said.

Any across-the-board raises would have to be funded by the Legislature and approved by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, he said.

Instead, it might be handled “unit by unit” to address individual situations and morale, Azziz said. Kenny urged faculty and staff members to contact legislators to ask them to provide more resources for the consolidated university.

Azziz also fielded the now most controversial question and gave a familiar answer: The name Georgia Regents University, picked by the Board of Regents for the new institution, will not change.

“They’ve been very clear they are not going to revisit that,” Azziz said.

Brian Killips, an Evans High School teacher and ASU alumnus, asked Azziz to apologize for pushing the GRU name on the University System Board of Regents. Killips said the community is upset not only with the unfavorable name but also with the process, which included ignoring the results of a $45,000 national survey that ranked GRU less favorably than other possible names.

“The entire city and state is upset,” Killips said. “As a result, unfortunately, you’ve become a pariah in the city. … This was not a good idea.”

Other members in the ASU audience were just as straightforward with Azziz and voiced their outrage at the president.

“The name Regents is repulsive to me,” said ASU Alumni Association member Catherine Rutland. “It is not American. We don’t like rulers; we don’t like people who don’t listen to the will of the people. It’s like beating your head against that brick wall head of yours that nothing gets into.”

Azziz acknowledged that some people are upset because Augusta does not appear in the name but said the city names were removed in all four university consolidations the regents approved this year.

“In those (other) three situations they were creating a regional university,” Azziz said. He said it was part of the university president’s job to take the heat for the decision.

“We are going to be blamed for pretty much anything that happens,” Azziz said. “My job is to take blows and keep moving and try to keep our vision (on track).”

Asked directly whether he lobbied for the name, Azziz said it was part of his job to brief his bosses on the pros and cons of the three names submitted.

“If I was asked, I would give them my recommendation,” he said, but there was also an “extraordinarily heavy” campaign from people in Augusta for another name with Augusta in it.

Apart from showing distaste for the GRU name, students at ASU had questions about how the new campus will function. Kenny said she would like to have a smoking policy finalized before she ends her interim presidency in January and would like to create more programs focused on improving student achievement.

Kenny also said she would do what she can to prevent students’ from having to pay a proposed additional fee to have ASU instead of GRU printed on their diplomas.

In response to a question about what role the faculty would have in shared governance, Azziz said that instructors will have a stronger role in academic issues but that budget issues are “more complex.”

In all the topics discussed, Kenny and Azziz urged students, faculty and residents to embrace the consolidation. Azziz said even the GRU name will bring more recognition and strength to the new school, which only one speaker fully agreed with.

“I think it’s going to be forwarding for us,” said Claude Harris Jr., an ASU psychology student. “Change is often uncomfortable, and it takes time to get used to it. … The fact is it’s still in Augusta, which makes it more great. It’s not leaving. I’m with it.”

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