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Officials say much still needs to be done in universities' consolidation

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth installment of a 10-part series on the top stories of 2012.

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Catherine Rutland, a member of the Augusta State University Alumni Association, asked a question during a forum on the consolidation.  SARA CALDWELL/FILE
SARA CALDWELL/FILE
Catherine Rutland, a member of the Augusta State University Alumni Association, asked a question during a forum on the consolidation.

A year ago, officials could not have foreseen the “hundreds and thousands” of extra hours that scores of people would devote to the consolidation of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities, they said. Although it attracted controversy, particularly over the new name of Georgia Regents University, some of that might have been unavoidable, they said.

GHSU Provost Gretchen Caughman and Carol Rychly, ASU’s vice president for academic affairs, reflected on a yearlong process that began in January when the University System of Georgia Board of Regents surprised many Georgians by moving to consolidate eight schools into four. Much of the work of meshing the two Augusta universities into a new institution has been done by more than 50 work groups, made up equally of ASU and GHSU representatives, who are still doing their regular day jobs, Caughman said,

“None of this was done with any real extra manpower,” she said. “There were so many people that really and truly put in hundreds and thousands of hours more to get us to this place. None of us saw that coming, say, a year ago.”

That work gave the universities a chance to look at “what we do and in a way that allowed us to figure out ways to do it better,” Rychly said. “(One) thing we did extraordinarily well was we started in the right place, and that is we started looking at what would be the mission and the vision and the values for the new university.”

The work team brought together people who had worked a few miles apart on the different campuses but rarely had a chance to interact before, Caughman said.

“To the extent that they could take the time to really understand each other, to come to a place together through conversation, through understanding and really reaching out, I think that was an incredibly positive experience,” she said.

Not everyone could do that, however, probably contributing to “the angst that is still out there, the concerns that still exist in terms of what is this really going to do to each individual,” Caughman said.

The name for the new university generated the most initial interest, from people at the universities and the public in Augusta, with more than 1,200 suggestions pouring in when university officials sought input.

The resulting name, Georgia Regents University, selected by the Board of Regents in August, sparked howls of protest even before it was selected and resulted in a campaign by Augusta business leaders that would end with “Augusta” being added to the brand name, if not the official one. Caughman said they had tried to be careful and methodical in coming up with a slate of names for the Regents to choose from.

“I’m not sure we could do anything all that differently,” she said. “It was unfortunate it turned into a situation that was very polarizing. I’m not sure that would have been avoided, no matter what had come on that slate of names. Some things I think are just bound to touch people’s nerves and hearts. I don’t know if we could have avoided it, honestly.”

The Regents are expected to give final approval Jan. 8 and appoint GHSU President Ricardo Azziz as the president of the new university. Long after that, “many of the nuts and bolts and just the actual workings of it will have to still be done,” Caughman said.

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