“We messed up! And because at the end of the day the buck stops at my desk … my team and I have to take full responsibility for this error,” Dr. Ricardo Azziz said in a statement, which was published a week after news of the altered photos was reported in The Augusta Chronicle.
The photos – of Augusta State men’s golf, men’s basketball and women’s softball team members – appeared in a color brochure, known as a “view book,” meant for prospective undergraduates. About 5,000 of the 12-page view books were printed and handed out to high school guidance counselors last week before university officials halted distribution. News of the alterations prompted outrage from Augusta State alumni and athletes and brought unwelcome national attention to the newly created school, which was officially formed in January from a merger by ASU and Georgia Health Sciences University.
It also prompted a series of evolving responses from Georgia Regents officials.
When first questioned about the photos, David Brond, the senior vice president of Communications and Marketing, said that the altered photos were part of an effort to avoid confusing prospective students with names of the former institutions but declined to call it a mistake.
After news reports were published, Brond issued a statement Feb. 27 calling the decision to use such photos an “error in judgment,” that did not reflect the views of Georgia Regents administration.
The following day, university officials issued a statement on behalf of Vice Provost Roman Cibirka, who claimed responsibility for the view book and apologized for the debacle.
“I accept full responsibility for the approval of the Georgia Regents University Augusta view book in question, independent of Dr. Azziz and other senior administrators,” Cibirka’s statement said.
Although the statements were circulated for Azziz’s review last week, the university president didn’t offer feedback or comments on the view book, according to internal e-mails obtained by The Chronicle through an open-records request.
In Wednesday’s statement, Azziz said the alterations “not only represented an error in judgment, but demonstrated an insensitivity to our history, to GRU’s history, rooted as it is in the long traditions and richness of our seminal universities, Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University.”
Azziz also announced a new policy that he hoped would minimize such future mistakes. He said all future university publications will be controlled by the Office of Communications and Marketing, regardless of where they originate. Brond said the view book had been produced with the help of an outside agency by the “enrollment management group,” which was headed by Cibirka.
Officials have since ordered a reprint of the book with Augusta State logos restored and other changes that explain the recent consolidation.
University officials said that Azziz was not available for an interview Wednesday and that his statement would stand as his only comment on the matter.
“After discussing the issue with several members of the GRU leadership team and university community, Dr. Azziz wanted to address students, faculty and staff directly and communicate his position on the issue,” GRU spokeswoman Christen Carter said.