“This is the first day of this next great university that we have to help build,” he said.
The University System of Georgia Board of Regents gave final approval Tuesday to the merger and new name for the former Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities, one of four mergers it voted to begin last year.
That was just the start, Azziz said.
“A lot of work remains to be done,” he said.
The next big steps are finishing a needs assessment that takes into account future research and student growth along with current student, faculty and staff needs. That includes integrating the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property on Reynolds Street, which Azziz refers to as the “riverfront campus,” and what programs might be created or shifted there.
“For example, you could consider expanding the presence of arts and music on the riverfront campus, public health, bio-innovation, these kinds of things,” Azziz said. “We need to think it through, but we need to think it through in a coordinated fashion.”
Next steps include updating a master facilities plan that takes into account important new pieces, such as creating the state’s second National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center. The Board of Regents voted last year to include $45 million in bond funding for the project in its fiscal year 2014 budget request.
“That is a very important piece of not just the future of this current university but the future of cancer health care in Georgia,” Azziz said.
He plans to continue a “listening tour” by dropping in on faculty and staff meeting and holding informal chats around campus.
“I’ve found in the past that it just provides an invaluable insight into what’s going on, what’s on people’s minds and what’s really the reality on the ground,” Azziz said.
Consolidation has seen its share of controversy, particularly over the choice of the name Georgia Regents over the much more popular University of Augusta. It prompted a pending lawsuit from Regent University in Virginia that claims the name violates its trademark.
Walking across what is now referred to as the Summerville campus (the former ASU), accounting student Bryan Hatcher said he wasn’t bothered by the consolidation. He is already taking advantage of access to student services at the health sciences campus.
“I’m going to go to the gym later today,” the 21-year-old said.
Communications student and Augusta native Arthur Chapman, 21, said he understands why people wanted Augusta in the name and he fears the Georgia Regents name on his résumé will need further explanation.
“Then you have to go through the task of explaining to them that this is a great university,” he said. “And a real place.”
Azziz said he thinks things are getting better even if some are still upset.
“Not everybody will be happy, but my sense is that people are becoming increasingly excited about the idea of a great comprehensive university in Augusta, a great comprehensive university anchored around the health sciences for the state of Georgia,” he said. “I think that people are seeing the potential ahead.”