Neutral until now, Augusta Commission member Matt Aitken said he wants “Augusta” in the name of the consolidated university formed by the merger of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities.
“It seems like the Board of Regents didn’t get the facts that were in the survey,” Aitken said. “I talked to (GHSU President Ricardo) Azziz and I thought they were doing the study and research and it was going in that direction.”
Aitken was one of two city commissioners to vote against Commissioner Jerry Brigham’s June 5 resolution in support of keeping “Augusta” in the consolidated university’s name. The measure needed one more vote to pass.
Aitken, whose wife earned a physical therapy degree from Medical College of Georgia, said he is now taking an active stance against the University System of Georgia Board of Regents’ name choice, Georgia Regents University.
Aitken’s opposition runs counter to Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s statements last week and Tuesday that he has accepted the choice and wants to move on.
“That’s OK,” Aitken said. “If you look at the (District 1) makeup, there’s a lot of diversity in the district – the business community, college
students. They might not all be voters, but a lot attend the university and are not happy.
“Sometimes we have to take a stand. I think, too, as we look at the history of where we’re going in the district, as the universities merge, the decision is going to affect this city for years and years to come.”
Copenhaver, a 1991 graduate of what was then Augusta College and a longtime ASU Foundation trustee, released a statement late Tuesday saying although he preferred University of Augusta during the naming process, “the decision has now been made and the Board of Regents has shared with me that the decision is definitely final.”
“It should not go unnoticed nor unappreciated,” the mayor wrote, “that Gov. Nathan Deal has set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to help ensure that Georgia Regents University is a long-term success and a nationally recognized institution which will be a major boost to the future growth of our city in a multitude of ways.
“In moving forward, I believe that the best expenditure of my time and efforts is to do everything possible to help the new university grow and prosper here in Augusta to the benefit of the citizens of our community educationally, economically and socially for generations to come.”
Commissioner Bill Lockett joined Copenhaver in accepting the new name.
“It would be beneficial to us as a community to take a deep breath, and step back for a moment and consider the fact that over $1 billion will be coming to this community as a result of these two schools coming together,” Lockett said.
The issue will likely affect the District 1 commission election, in which Aitken has four opponents Nov. 6: Denice Traina, Bill Fennoy, Thelonious Jones and Stanley Hawes.
Traina, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MCG and worked at GHSU until last year, said she wished the new name retained elements of the liberal “arts” and “medicine” offerings now found at ASU and GHSU.
“It does seem funny that you ask the public their opinion, then you reject that opinion,” said Traina.
When her son begins school at GHSU this fall, however, she will be “more concerned what’s inside those walls than what is plastered on the outside,” Traina said.
Hawes, whose wife is nearing retirement from GHSU, complimented Aitken for taking a stand on the name issue.
“I cannot knock the effort to try to exhaust every avenue we could,” Hawes said.
Recalling Augusta’s $10 million donation of the former Gilbert Manor housing project for the GHSU College of Dental Medicine, Hawes said the universities and the city are hopelessly intertwined.
“Once the direction is set, we’re being asked to help,” he said. “Augusta needs to be recognized as a key player.”