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Former Augusta State president tells Azziz: 'It's not about you'

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 9:07 PM
Last updated Thursday, March 14, 2013 1:46 AM
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NOTE: Full letter embedded at end of story.

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"The University now has to heal, has to get over the sense of a hostile takeover, and there is no use pretending that sense does not exist," former Augusta State University President Shirley Strum Kenny wrote in her final letter to Dr. Ricardo Azziz, the president of Georgia Regents University.  SARA CALDWELL/FILE
SARA CALDWELL/FILE
"The University now has to heal, has to get over the sense of a hostile takeover, and there is no use pretending that sense does not exist," former Augusta State University President Shirley Strum Kenny wrote in her final letter to Dr. Ricardo Azziz, the president of Georgia Regents University.

The leader of Georgia Regents University will have to mend a lot of fences, both within the new institution and the community, if he wants to succeed, according to the woman who helmed Augusta State University for its final six months.

“At this point, GRU does not share a spirit of mutual respect and responsibility. It will never mature without it,” wrote former ASU President Shirley Strum Kenny in her final letter to Dr. Ricardo Azziz.

In the Jan. 9 letter, obtained through an open records request, Kenny provided Azziz with a wide-ranging list of observations and suggestions for “the enormous task ahead.”

Among her many points of advice for the GRU president was to engage the faculty and administration in a massive effort to “break the physical, intellectual, and emotional barriers between campuses” that once formed ASU and Georgia Health Sciences University.

“The University now has to heal, has to get over the sense of a hostile takeover, and there is no use pretending that sense does not exist,” Kenny wrote.

She said the healing will begin when the faculty and staff are encouraged to become invested in the institution’s future and believe that has an important part in creating that future.

“They have to feel this is their place. And that has by no means happened,” Kenny wrote. “It cannot happen by your telling them your perspective of the truth or even listening to their views and then opining on them. It has to happen from within. It is not about you, Ricardo, it is about them. They must feel they are important, valued contributors to a great institution.”

When reached at her home Tuesday in McLean, Va., Kenny said she would not discuss how Azziz had handled the consolidation and transition, but said there are a lot of differences in the cultures of the two former institutions, and those differences have to be respected.

“I hope that as time goes by the concerns that people felt in anticipation will be relieved,” she said. “There has to be a great deal of sensitivity to these issues.”

Kenny, who served as president at New York’s Stony Brook University for 15 years, said as of now, GRU is a research university in name only. A lot has to happen to change that.

She said if the goal is create a world-class research university comparable to the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech, the obstacles are many and the road will be long.

She said lack of state funding is chief among them.

“You can’t do this without money,” she said. “You can’t pretend that something is a research university. It either is or it isn’t.”

She said as much to Azziz in her letter.

“The notion of doing this without State financial support seems, I believe is, ludicrous. Unless the goal is to acquire a shared name, make the email and computer systems work as one, and then say this is a research university, there is a massive, enormously difficult task ahead.”

Kenny said funding and support has to be focused first on the undergraduate program because that is the foundation and the core of any great university.

“I can’t think of any more difficult conceptual task than actually blending these two institutions into one, much less evolving it into a research university,” she told Azziz in the letter.

“Attracting more and better undergraduates is an important first step in making GRU a research university.”

Kenny recommended paving the way for bright students interested in becoming doctors, dentists and researchers in medical sciences.

She said there ought to be a program that provides qualified incoming freshmen with guaranteed slots in medical school, provided they continue to meet standards through graduation.

She also said GRU should capitalize on Augusta’s military community and become an institution that recruits and attracts veterans seeking higher education.

But raising standards and attracting the best and brightest to GRU means that the university will have to be more than the school that accepts all the local students. Kenny said there can be programs for a few “disadvantaged students with strong potential,” but in the long run, GRU cannot be considered a community college.

“(There) is no way GRU can hew to the old access mission and succeed in its new goals,” she wrote.

Kenny said that stance will not be popular with everyone in the community, but it must be considered seriously.

“There are many people that will not agree with me on that, but I personally believe it will impossible to have a large number of access students and be a research institution,” she said.

Despite that unpopular notion, Kenny told Azziz he would have to gain community support to build the new university.

“There will have to be considerable fence-mending in the community,” she wrote.” The whole town really loves ASU; it was their place; and it has been dissed and discarded in their eyes. The community always really matters, not just the rich people but everybody.”

Azziz declined a request to discuss Kenny’s letter, but responded in a prepared statement by saying he placed a “high value on her counsel.”

“With prior experience at the helm of a nationally-recognized research university, I welcome her thoughts on how to create Georgia’s fourth comprehensive research university in Augusta. With the advice and suggestions of Dr. Kenny and other key individuals, we are working to continue to improve on areas such as undergraduate enrollment growth, student services, and enhanced university and community relations,” the statement said.

Former Augusta State University President Shirley Strum Kenny's final letter to Georgia Regents University...

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showboat
330
Points
showboat 03/13/13 - 10:45 pm
0
1
Make her the president and
Unpublished

Make her the president and send AZZ on his way out of of Augusta!!!

just an opinion
2478
Points
just an opinion 03/13/13 - 10:58 pm
14
0
Dr. Kenny

Sounds like she should have stuck around. I never got to hear much of what she had to say. My loss. AC '91

Fiat_Lux
15043
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/13/13 - 11:12 pm
23
1
It's quite possible

that her advice is far too little and far too late. The hostile take-over (very apt descriptor) and the transformation of ASU into something that middling local students won't be able to attend may well have made it impossible for the schools formerly known as ASU & MCG ever to have community support.

Where can many Augusta families afford to send their kids to college now that they won't be able to live at home? USC-Aiken? Technical schools?

Azziz has mainly been a tool in all this, even considering his stunningly egotistical style of relating and in being the BOR's hatchet man. I still can't believe he didn't bother to learn something about us before dropping in like a daisy cutter bomb. Talk about a neglect of due diligence. Now, Dr. Smartypants has shot himself in the foot so many times that I can't figure out why he's not confined to a wheelchair. He's totally disabled as a community leader. All he can do now is push and kick against the goads.

The members of the Board of Regents are the true villains, along with Nathan Deal. They're wealthy thugs, IMO. By analogy, they are the same kind of people who once would quietly bury toxic waste without thinking to check if it would leach into a community's ground water. Moreover, we the inhabitants had no idea we were being victimized until it was too late to prevent terrible damage. They turned ASU + MCG into a toxic workplace, also IMO, and it will take longer than Azziz's tenure and far longer than those BOR gorillas will hold their seats for the damage to be undone, if it ever can be.

The grandiose plans they cooked up to make the ASU-MCG merged school into some kind of top tier research institution is so far out there that it doesn't even track on anyone's radar. It's absurd, and even people at "the top" are starting to notice things are not going well.

As Kenny said, it takes a lot of money to make a top tier research institution, which the state will never give for anything in Augusta, school or not, no matter how Azziz and all the other frenetic hot shots spin it. Heck, the state won't even pay employees enough to attract adequate caliber support staff for the rock stars they hire. And after they see what's going on, those rock stars will, as they have, hang around exactly as long as it takes to update their resumes and accept another offer.

The BOR had no qualms about trashing Augusta's institutions and tossing out not just the history, but also the whole culture of undergrad and graduate education here. And for what? They won't pay for what they want, they didn't bother to think through how to make it happen successfully, and they potentially have destroyed two beloved schools in order to create something the people of Augusta loathe.

One has to wonder how these unelected movers and shakers think their grand plan is panning out now.

smAShT
40
Points
smAShT 03/13/13 - 11:35 pm
9
0
Wish I could write like that...

She sure identified a few turds in the toxic punch bowl that is GRU!!

DoggieMom
226
Points
DoggieMom 03/14/13 - 12:07 am
12
0
MCG-ASU Merger a complete disaster!!

I've had family members graduate from both institutions, and a merger has caused more confusion, loss of great professors, and loss of real programs than anyone can imagine.
Not only that, the morale at both institutions is at an all time low. Employees are told to "just shut up and do your job", but have no support system, their departments and benefits have been tossed into a cement mixer and expected to come out as something other than a chunk of heavy garage floor, and they are expected to "Do more with less", less administrative support, less salary, less direction, and more, and yet Dr. "Save My A" has spent millions.....did ya hear that? MILLIONS of dollars changing names repeatedly of these two historic institutions of higher education. Not to even consider the huge salary we are paying him to do what? Move Augusta backwards!!

I suggest we ship Dr. "Save My A" to Boston, and let him change the names of such insignificant "Brands" as Harvard, Cambridge, etc. and see how that community welcomes him. He's worn out his welcome here, and since he decided the "Save the A" was not necessary, then Augusta needs to decide that "Save the Azziz" also is not necessary.

Everyone knows that if you want to improve a top notch university, you have to fix it INSIDE, with staff, research, innovative programs, and be highly sought after by students, before you can slap a new name on it, and consider it "New and Improved".

As a patient, it is NOT IMPROVED. Every single clinic has huge morale problems, extreme waits, passive aggressive clinical staff that refuse to sign in patients, and less patient care for everyone. Well guess what? A new waiting room in the lab doesn't fix any of that.

Get over yourself, Dr. Azziz, and fire the board of Regents, then the new board of regents can fire Dr. Azziz.
Problem solved.
Bring back the people that WERE doing a decent job, and in the future, only hire from within to such EXAULTED positions, such as "King of all universities" having no accountability.
It's time Augusta got some intestinal fortitude, took back its own universities, and dump the jerk.
Enough already!!

Fiat_Lux
15043
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/14/13 - 01:57 am
7
0
These people, including among others,

Shirley Kenny, all got brought in to take over, deconstruct, and totally remake the public universities in Augusta in their own image. The idea, as she clearly elucidated it, is to bring on-board people from outside, specifically because they don't think or operate like people around here, and let them take over and change things to suit, well, people who aren't from here and don't care about this community.

Azziz and his merry band honestly believe this is their school and that Augusta and its populace are nothing more than an inconvenient presence that must be placated and brought around like a flock of sheep to bleat happily at what they've "accomplished for our city". Not that the people of Augusta are expected to be the actual beneficiaries of all this wonderful take-over. Oh, no. All Augustan are needed for, unless of course they have nationally ranked intellects or are promising disadvantaged (translated Afr-American), is to filled the wretchedly paid, horribly overworked staff slots and kowtow to all the brilliant, scintillating intellects that will be flocking to our fair city to be faculty or students at this awesome undergraduate feeder school and for the real MCG and the D-School.

They tear down two main focal points in our community, all the while telling us lies about how great things will be, they treat faculty and staff like utter shoe scrape, and then, finally, one of the great luminaries manages to squeeze out the belated piece of wisdom that the support of the community is essential for the success of, ta da!, THE ENTERPRISE!

Gosh, I'm so won over. Just holding my breath for my fence to get mended.

Just My Opinion
5454
Points
Just My Opinion 03/14/13 - 04:58 am
11
0
I honestly thing Dr. Kenny

I honestly thing Dr. Kenny wasted alot of ink on the letter she sent to Azziz. He is the type of person who honestly feels his "superior intellect" places him above just about everyone. People like Azziz will read letters such as this, but instead of actually considering what is being read, he is countering every point brought up. In his mind, Azziz can do no wrong and everyone else just doesn't have the intellectual capacity to understand him and what he is trying to do. I don't think Azziz is going anywhere until he gets a better offer. So his best bet is to hire someone who will help him bring these 2 institutions together in the eyes of this community, because he will never be seen as the man to do it.

Riverman1
82099
Points
Riverman1 03/14/13 - 05:25 am
6
0
Blockbuster Letter

Fiat Lux is an insider and has more knowledge of the situation than I do, but I did find Dr. Kenny’s letter as informative and accurate as it gets. It is surprising and epic. I believe she voiced what most of us feel and Azziz and the BOR can’t ignore this esteemed college president’s words.

Where I agree with her and disagree with Fiat Lux somewhat is the future of ASU. It should move past the community college description and the association with MCG can help that cause. As Dr. Kenny said guaranteeing slots in medical and dental school for those who maintain standards at ASU would immediately bring in better students.

I graduated from Creighton University and they guaranteed acceptance to their medical, dental or law school for any student successfully completing their undergrad programs. Talk about motivating students immediately. Everybody had one foot in the door of the graduate school of their choice while the school strived to prepare them.

Marginal students in Augusta can be served by the numerous programs that have sprung up locally such as Georgia Military, Troy and the internet schools. In addition, the part-time night program at ASU provides these students a way to become regular students by demonstrating their abilities. If the students of these various programs prove to be good students they would be accepted into ASU. There’s simply no getting around the fact better students create a better university.

wordwright
134
Points
wordwright 03/14/13 - 06:22 am
6
0
Access Institution

The BOR already has East Georgia State College that has campuses in Swainsboro and Statesboro lined up to become the access institution in Augusta, as well.

Too bad Dr. Kenny could not be at the helm of this takeover...er, merger. She is right on all accounts and has a brain.

Riverman1
82099
Points
Riverman1 03/14/13 - 07:44 am
7
0
Wordwright, yep. A mistake

Wordwright, yep. A mistake was not having the president of the undergrad school lead this merger. Putting the Ob-Gyn doc in charge gave a narrow perspective to combining the schools. Dr. Azziz often makes statements that display a lack of understanding and that creates an uneasiness. The college president should have been the head of the combined schools. I encourage everyone to examine the academic credentials and experience of Dr. Kenny and see what we lost.

justputtin
1384
Points
justputtin 03/14/13 - 08:22 pm
5
0
Nice letter

That's pretty brutal to have someone like Ms. Kenny take you to task. I would refer to her as a peer but that would be insulting to Ms. Kenny and we all know the czar has no worthy peers. I also fear it's too late but I applaud and support any efforts to undo and reverse this huge mess. It's time for a new leader that truly understands their role and degree of power.

Little Lamb
45230
Points
Little Lamb 03/14/13 - 08:05 am
6
0
Research

Dr. Kenny points out the great omission — namely that Dr. Azziz thinks only of medicine when mentioning research. He needs to get his head around the notion that if Grooo is to be a research university, it must have researchers in all disciplines, not merely the medical disciplines. That will take a carefully thought-out plan (albeit a plan that has to adapt to changing realities on the ground). I haven't heard Azziz mention research in chemistry, physics, economics, criminology, etc.

Little Lamb
45230
Points
Little Lamb 03/14/13 - 08:08 am
5
0
Salary

All you who are wishing Dr. Azziz would leave town are facing a problem. His salary is so high, and his perks are so great, and his capabilities are so small that he has indeed reached his level of incompetence. There is nowhere he can go to find a greener pasture. We are stuck with him for a long time.

BamaMan
2266
Points
BamaMan 03/14/13 - 09:07 am
4
0
The only words...

...I can add are stupendous letter, awesome comments. Very informed and well said!

seenitB4
85077
Points
seenitB4 03/14/13 - 09:18 am
4
0
Get Over Thyself

Great letter Ms Kenny & Fiat your posts were some of the best I have EVER seen on here...from the heart & right on target...thank you.

deestafford
25977
Points
deestafford 03/14/13 - 09:29 am
2
0
Did anyone ask the community

Did anyone stop to ask the Augusta community what type of school THEY wanted ASU to be? No. It was something decreeded on high by those "who know more than we do". I don't thing the people of Augusta were looking to become a respository for some high flauting "research" university that does not fit the primary desires and needs of the Augusta community.

One thing that did bother me about the letter was the emphasis on the only way things can be done is by bringing in outsiders. Implying that there are no locals who can think big enough.

Trying to combine two institutions with two different missions into one with a changed mission was a mistake.

Let's face it. ASU, now known as the "Summerville Campus" will always be a redheaded step child to the ''big" GRU.

concercitizen
340
Points
concercitizen 03/14/13 - 10:10 am
2
0
I did make the prediction

I did make the prediction that the former ASU would become known as the "Summerville Campus". The second part of my prediction is still in the works. I do not think the Georgia Board of Regents has enough money or clout to stop the lawsuit filed by Regents University in Virginia. Can anyone say "Athens"? Personally, I still think we might hear a bark in Augusta.

concercitizen
340
Points
concercitizen 03/14/13 - 10:17 am
4
0
The only way the community

The only way the community will ever support Azziz now is if he sends Masters tickets to everyone. Other than that he does not stand a chance here. Any thing he does to gain favor with the community now will be akin to the devil saying"It's okay, come on in, I turned down the thermostat a little." Yeah....right!

concercitizen
340
Points
concercitizen 03/14/13 - 10:22 am
2
0
Little Lamb- You hit the nail

Little Lamb- You hit the nail right on the head and drove it home with one blow. Azziz has truly reached his highest level of incompetence.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 03/14/13 - 10:28 am
1
2
I didn't read the letter but

I didn't read the letter but trust everyone's assessment that it was spot-on. Did it (or someone) mention the idea that GRU has to differentiate itself from UGA? What has been proposed to do that? Obviously, if you are fresh out of high school and looking for established social/party scenes, you would head for UGA. If you have been raised loving Bulldawgs, you go to UGA. If you live in the CSRA and want to go to a large University, you go to UGA. What is GRU's niche? anyone

concercitizen
340
Points
concercitizen 03/14/13 - 11:03 am
2
0
David Parker- Did you read my

David Parker- Did you read my post? I don't claim to be a crystal ball reader, but given the one string that is still dangling, namely the lawsuit of the name infringement, ther may be no need for a differentiation.

Fiat_Lux
15043
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/14/13 - 12:28 pm
5
0
@ Riverman

Re your 5:25 am: "Where I agree with her and disagree with Fiat Lux somewhat is the future of ASU. It should move past the community college description and the association with MCG can help that cause. As Dr. Kenny said guaranteeing slots in medical and dental school for those who maintain standards at ASU would immediately bring in better students."

The incredible future of both our institutions that was held out to us, that so many of us embraced with genuine hopefulness for schools that we love and have served and invested our lives in, is the exact cause of all the anger.

So many of us wanted what Azziz seemed to be offering and were stepping up to make it happen, in whatever small way some of us could do that. Then the missteps and small deceptions, the unanticipated personnel reductions and unannounced shuffling started happening. Still, most of us hung in there, giving the merger master the benefit of any doubt, rationalizing that bumps in the road always happen no matter how well prepared one is.

The name debacle was simply having the curtain thrown back completely. All that hope, promise and, above all, goodwill were gone, replaced by THE ENTERPRISE!, aka The Borg.

All they had to do was bring us on board and let the faculty, staff, the community at large and interested alumni catch the vision for OUR schools next big step, now to be taken as one great, merged institution that holds the best of Augusta. We were ready and all the talent needed for the launch was pretty much already here. It should have been an obvious, stepwise process that included at some level everyone affected by the grand revamp.

But nooooooo. This wasn't to be merge and move forward; It was a double homicide, burial and plowing over of the graves. The replacement has very little to do with Augusta apart from its location.

We have been nothing but grist for what once seemed to be our own mill. We thought we were millers getting a bigger, better mill that would supply world-class flour and lots of it. But, as it turns out, it was not our mill at all, and the BOR and Azziz all along intended to tear it down and put up the next great American theme park, and we get to run the rides.

Well done, gentlemen.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 03/14/13 - 11:38 am
0
1
Misssed it citizen. Busy at

Misssed it citizen. Busy at work and I pulled up the page about 10 mins prior to submitting the comment. So you see things turning in the direction of UGA -Augusta? That is something. Why would that be the better option for the school rather than just renaming it something that isn't already taken? Is it really that pivotal that the name must be GRU or nothing?

Fiat_Lux
15043
Points
Fiat_Lux 03/14/13 - 12:13 pm
5
0
The only option now

is to have the bad cop leave the and the good cop come in and take over. We'd probably fall all over ourselves trying to be helpful if someone who had a lick of Dr. Kenny's insight replaced Azziz.

Of course, the BOR would still be in control and doing whatever the heck they want to us, which would continue as now to be on coincidentally related to what is good for Augusta.

Kudos to the AC staff and Steve Crawford for digging this letter out and sharing it with us.

PghSteelersFan
140
Points
PghSteelersFan 03/14/13 - 12:02 pm
3
0
In these posts I have seen

In these posts I have seen quite a few mentions of Dr Kenny saying 'outsiders' should be brought in. On the last page of her letter she writes about a number of people who were ASU staff. She says those mentioned are just some of the good people who work on what is now the 'Summerville Campus'.
She is cautioning Dr Azziz while bringing in 'outsiders' to not let what he already has be lost in the shuffle. I have known one of the people Dr Kenny mentioned since childhood. They have done a wonderful job there for many years. There are many other hard working people on that campus who should be recognized as essential before going 'outside'.
I would suggest to Dr Azziz that he not throw the baby out with the bath water on this one.

Darby
25003
Points
Darby 03/14/13 - 12:02 pm
4
0
When wise words fall on deaf...

ears, they make no sound...

tckr1983
360
Points
tckr1983 03/14/13 - 01:21 pm
2
0
I wasn't going to say this to your face... but...

If you were at the ASU forum... There are two Shirley Kenny's. Ricardo's yes woman/puppet the day of the ASU forum and the Shirley Kenny you're reading in this letter. This letter doesn't redeem my opinion of the woman in my eyes. Everyone knew what was going on and she could've done the right thing but didn't and stood her ground in a private e-mail to Dr. Azziz. Bravo?

Riverman1
82099
Points
Riverman1 03/14/13 - 04:26 pm
2
0
Of course, she couldn't say

Of course, she couldn't say what she said until she had left. At least she didn't retire from the job before the merger began and continued to take a paycheck from the university to affect a retirement income.

crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 03/14/13 - 04:47 pm
0
0
Azziz is in his own world and
Unpublished

Azziz is in his own world and he cannot be touched. He could care less about Shirley Strum Kenny's letter or this news story or fifty "Save the A" signs in his front yard. Why doesn't the news media explain to the people of Augusta who is in charge of Azziz and why does he still have a job? These are the people Augustans should take issue with at this point. Otherwise Azziz will continue to make snide remarks like "I place high value on her [Kenny's] counsel” and continue doing whatever he wants. The SGA of ASU is dismantling and the whole university is dismantling under Azziz.

grouse
1635
Points
grouse 03/14/13 - 04:59 pm
0
0
I hope she's wasn't an
Unpublished

I hope she's wasn't an English major...

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