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Augusta State University students concerned merger will swallow their school's identity

Will there be an identity crisis?

Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012 12:36 AM
Last updated 2:22 AM
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When it was time for Jada Royal to enroll in college, Augusta State University was the obvious choice.

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File/Staff
Even the University System of Georgia acknowledges that “significant differences” between Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities will be among the challenges of merging the two Augusta schools by 2013.

She liked the small classes, the intimacy of the campus and that she could earn her degree and still live at home.

Now that her liberal arts school is soon to merge with Georgia Health Sciences Uni­versity, she said some students worry it could become something they didn’t sign up for.

“I know for a lot of people, it will change the identity because they came here to go to ASU, not some new school,” Royal said.

Though she questions the merger, which became official in a vote Tuesday by the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents, others have different views about a potential identity crisis, with some already missing the comfort of their small school and others taking pride in the possibility that ASU could become a nationally recognized institution.

Proponents for the merger say they envision the new school becoming a world-class university and a destination for students across the country. But yet to be determined is how that growth will affect the sense of home at ASU, where the Jaguars’ golf team brought pride and national attention to Augusta by winning national championships in 2010 and 2011, and where a once primarily commuter school has invested millions of dollars in dormitories so students could actually call the school their own.

“As long as the change doesn’t affect my money or my major, I don’t see it as negative,” said ASU communications sophomore Arthur Chapman. “So many colleges have the initials ‘ASU’ anyway. When I tell them I go to ASU they are like ‘Oh, Albany State?’ and I’m like ‘No, no, no.’ The change might give us more of an identity.”

Others wonder how well a liberal arts school can blend with a medical college and whether ASU’s strengths will be overshadowed by the health science areas.

ASU Spanish professor Jana Sandarg said the fear of losing identity is real. In class, she has overheard students talk about buying up shirts and hats with ASU logos at the bookstore so they can show off being the last generation of ASU.

“We are the Jaguars, we are like family,” Sandarg said. “The fear is that when we get into a huge institution, we won’t have that family anymore. … The fear is we’re going to be swallowed up by the medical world.”

Students pursuing health science-related degrees at ASU are the minority, at roughly 31 percent of the 6,741 students. When ASU combines with GHSU’s current 2,442-student body, liberal arts will no longer have the same weight.

Former U.S. Rep. D. Douglas Barnard Jr., who attended the liberal arts school in 1940 when it was Junior College of Augusta and has a campus amphitheater named in his honor, said he worries the merger will remove some of the hometown pride it has built through the years. He’s also concerned
about whether Augusta’s interests are accurately portrayed on the Board of Regents given that the board has no Augusta-area members.

Of the 18 regents who approved the consolidation, none graduated from ASU or GHSU, previously the Medical College of Georgia.

“We’ve always had, up to now, a member of the Board of Regents from Augusta,” Barnard said. “I think that we do not have the same advocacy as we used to, and I think that’s a shame.”

The last regent with Augusta ties was Timothy Shelnut, who left the board in 2007.

Someone who knows the importance of having representation on state-appointed boards is former Augusta Commissioner Bill Kuhlke, and he has a different take. Kuhlke, who served on both the Georgia Department of Transportation and Economic Development boards, said even if regents are not from Augusta, they often have ties to the area and interests in seeing the city improve.

“I think the potential opportunities it might open up from an educational and economic standpoint could be enormous,” Kuhlke said.

Though there are alumni who are hesitant to let go of what they know as ASU, M. David Alalof, the chairman of ASU Foundation, the school’s fundraising entity, said the alumni on his board are eager to see the university expand.

As the school changes, alumni can actually take more pride in that the merged institution is sure to get national attention, he said.

In reality, he said, it’s about taking identity from the past and carrying it to what the school is gaining – not feeling like anything is being lost.

“Augusta College evolved into Augusta State, which is bigger and better, and ASU will evolve into this bigger institution that will be bigger and better,” Alalof said. “We’re not giving up our business college, we’re not giving up liberal arts. … The identity of ASU will stay intact.”

By the numbers


LEARNING

ASU enrollment 6,741 (fall 2011)

ASU bases its mission on the value of a liberal arts education for a diverse population. More than 50 programs leading to associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degrees
and continuing education courses are offered.

GHSU enrollment 2,948 (fall 2011)

GHSU’s mission centers on preparing the health professional workforce and conducting research. The Medical College of Georgia owns the largest enrollment among GHSU’s five colleges, which offer 68 degrees and majors.


GROWING

ASU main campus 80 acres

During the past 20 years, ASU has completed $103 million in building projects. In addition to the Walton Way campus, there is a 244-acre Wrightsboro Road campus and plans for a Damascus Road academic building.

GHSU campus More than 100 acres

In addition to the new dental school, the downtown university has said it plans to boost enrollment by 25 percent in the next eight years. This growth would mean building clinics, doubling research and adding employees.


LEADING

ASU employees 600

With more than 200 full-time faculty, ASU has a student-teacher ratio of 19-to-1. William A. Bloodworth Jr. (right), ASU’s president since 1993, has announced he will step down at the end of this school year and return to teaching.

GHSU employees 10,000

GHSU employs 5,000 faculty, staff and residents, with 651 full-time instructional faculty members. Dr. Ricardo Azziz (left), who was named university president in 2010, is expected to lead the merged ASU-GHSU institution.

Comments (10) Add comment
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kiwiinamerica
934
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kiwiinamerica 01/15/12 - 10:17 am
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The big issue is not what
Unpublished

The big issue is not what Augusta State will lose by merging with GHSU/MCG. The big issue is what GHSU/MCG will lose by merging with a small community college which has abysmal graduation numbers and a "fog a mirror" admissions policy.

Cocomommy
51
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Cocomommy 01/15/12 - 10:25 am
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ASU is not a good school.

ASU is not a good school. It's not even close to the top in Georgia alone so why are people so hesitant to do something drastically different? People don't move to Augusta to go to ASU; they stay in Augusta to transfer out. GHSU is finally getting some traction and hopefully the total can be better than the sum of the parts. UAB is a great model and hopefully we can get there. "Losing an identity going to ASU" is a phenomenal joke. Education is an INVESTMENT. This should be the greatest news ever for current and former AC and ASU grads because their stock has the potential to pay serious dividends.

Cocomommy
51
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Cocomommy 01/15/12 - 10:26 am
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P.S. George Walton

P.S. George Walton University is a pretty great name. Sounds prestigious and would look good in the NCAA bracket if the school makes the jump to full on D1 which is logical.

Riverman1
82173
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Riverman1 01/15/12 - 10:28 am
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Of course, the merger will

Of course, the merger will help ASU tremendously. Let's hope GHSU can get some benefit of the combined nursing programs and so on, too. Azziz can initiate graduate programs at ASU that will lead to improving the med school, also.

citizen0226
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citizen0226 01/15/12 - 10:54 am
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This is what exactly what we

This is what exactly what we risk by merging these two institutions...one a specialized institution of higher learning (classified as a research university, the Regents' highest tier) and a cesspool of ignorance with a 23% 4 year graduation rate. As this article points out, there seem to be too many at ASU who are just too stupid to realize that their little state university is the big winner in this merger...all at the loss of an institution that routinely attracts some of the brightest minds in this state.
I really hope this merger doesn't go through...for the sake of all of us. It simply is not fair to dilute the great institution that is the Medical College of Georgia with something as lowly as ASU.

Riverman1
82173
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Riverman1 01/15/12 - 11:10 am
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Guys, it's a done deal. Now

Guys, it's a done deal. Now let's all get optimistic. A college and a medical school belong to a community like nothing else...even if the Regents did the merger.

itsanotherday
0
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itsanotherday 01/15/12 - 11:11 am
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There is no reason the
Unpublished

There is no reason the standards of ASU can't be raised to match those of GHSU.

JM88
15
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JM88 01/15/12 - 01:00 pm
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Cocomommy, that's easy for

Cocomommy, that's easy for you to say when you have no connection to the university. I love ASU, and it will a little sad if the identity we've cultivated as a school gets swallowed up.

If this turns out to be a net positive for ASU, then I'm all for it. But there's a lot of trepidation right now because students aren't really sure what the implications of this are going to be.

JRC2024
8500
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JRC2024 01/15/12 - 02:16 pm
0
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So coco what was the GOOD

So coco what was the GOOD school you attended since you put down Augusta State. I went there 40 years ago and the education I received there and Richmond Academy has proven to be very effective in earning a living. All things need to grow and expand and this is going on now at the schools. Why be a negative?

Asitisinaug
3
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Asitisinaug 01/15/12 - 04:08 pm
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Riverman is correct, it is a

Riverman is correct, it is a done deal. In the long run, I belive it will benefit Augusta and those who attend. Time to support the new school.

AnonymousAugustaNative
0
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AnonymousAugustaNative 01/16/12 - 10:16 am
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As a student of Augusta

As a student of Augusta State, I have grown fond of my hometown university. The name “Augusta” makes me proud of the success our school has brought to the area. (ie. our hometown NCAA Division I Men’s Golf team or NCAA Division II Men’s basketball team)

Just as SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) is a renowned university that brings recognition to Savannah, the new name should bring recognition locally while incorporating the identity of the school. If we choose something like Walton University, nationally or regionally no one will know who we are. For all they know, we could be on the same level as Troy University or Virgina College, and this is where an identity crisis would come in. I am proud of ASU and GHSU and their achievements within the community. Our new name is crucial to our success as well as gathering local support. I hope the new name will help bring greater recognition to the Augusta area.

createyourfuture
68
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createyourfuture 01/16/12 - 02:20 pm
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Georgia A & M- I still like

Georgia A & M- I still like it

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