“Hey, Dr. Bloodworth,” they say, one after another.
He greets students with a smile and almost always by first names.
Most know William Bloodworth not because they had him for English or public speaking. They know him because for 19 years, he led the then-Augusta State University as president through a whirlwind of renovations, new degree programs, budget cuts, national golf championship titles and expansions.
But now, after stepping down as president in 2012, Bloodworth has returned to the classroom and to his lifelong passion for teaching. He is now just an observer to the consolidation of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities that created GRU in January.
His office in Allgood Hall is still decorated with memories from his presidency: a Jaguar basketball jersey with his name, a proclamation from the mayor marking June 28, 2012, as William Bloodworth Day, a stained glass Augusta State ‘A’ in his window.
“I’m just a part of the way things were,” he said.
In his first semester back, Bloodworth took on a full load of four courses: two survey of American history sections, one public speaking class and a new course about literature in medicine.
He traded balancing multimillion-dollar budgets and leading cabinet meetings for writing lesson plans and grading assignments.
“It’s fun when you get in the classroom,” Bloodworth said. “I love to learn, and when I’m teaching is when I learn the most. School was always a good place for me. I just found a lot of meaning there.”
Bloodworth was born in San Antonio, Texas, and was shown a passion for learning when he was 11.
Before then, his parents divorced and Bloodworth attended five elementary schools while he moved around with his mother, who dropped out of school in eighth grade and worked as a waitress, a J.C. Penney clerk, an Avon saleswoman and whatever she could.
When he got to the country school in Wilson County after moving in with his father and stepmother, it became a refuge from the instability. In that four-room school with no indoor plumbing, his teacher, W. Dain Higdon, was the first person to show Bloodworth learning was important and something to be proud of.
Though he spent just two years there, the feeling he learned never left.
Bloodworth went on to earn his doctorate and become a teacher, college professor and provost before being named president in 1993.
When Bloodworth was inaugurated as college president in 1994, Higdon sat in the front row after reading about Bloodworth in a San Antonio newspaper.
Former colleagues Jim and Michelle Benedict, retired mathematics professors, said they were not surprised to see Bloodworth return to teaching full time after his presidency.
Even in his leadership role, he was always connecting with people and encouraging deans and cabinet members to teach, too.
“He gets the joy of the typical professor who is immersed in his craft,” Michelle Benedict said.
In the classroom, Bloodworth jumps with excitement when a student raises a hand to ask a question.
Freshman Tara Shelton said “he’s surprisingly funny” for being a former president.
Bloodworth brought the doctoral dissertation he wrote in 1972 on Upton Sinclair – which is typed, red-book bound and looks like an encyclopedia – to class Wednesday to use in a discussion on the Progressive Era.
He also showed students a copy of the 1997 book he authored on Sinclair, which was autographed by political activist Ralph Nader for Bloodworth’s son: “For civic leadership – a happy way to live,” Nader wrote.
Bloodworth said part of what draws him to teaching is getting to know students who love the campus as much as he does. He likes to learn their stories and ambitions.
“My students, I’m always surprised by them,” Bloodworth said. “I’ve always liked the type of student who goes here. Most of them are local, they lead complicated lives, many do not have a lot of money, but they want to learn.”
Although Bloodworth taught one course most years toward the end of his presidency, he said he had to readjust to the daily routine of a full-time professor.
He was used to showing up to work with a roomful of people in his office. Now days are more solitary when the bell rings, and he’s left with his own ideas and papers to grade.
However, there are visitors. Bloodworth said some come to him to vent about changes spurred by consolidation.
But while his hand used to mold the maturation of the college, he is now just an observer.
“I see a lot of people who are in a kind of pain, because they want to know what’s going to happen with themselves,” Bloodworth said. “In all these changes, I’m OK. I’ve got a job, I’ve got classes, I’m happy. But I’m a short-termer. I’m not going to be here in five years. There’s so much uncertainty out there that troubles me because these are people I care about.”
In the meantime, Bloodworth spends his days outside teaching spending time with his three grandchildren and family. He has written about 50 pages of a memoir of his presidency until his bounce back to teaching.
He jokes it will be called Return from the Dark Side.