More than 500 complain to Gov. Nathan Deal, Board of Regents about university name

ATLANTA — Of the calls and e-mails to the University System of Georgia and Gov. Nathan Deal’s office about the new name of the merged schools in Augusta, the tally as of Friday was 512 against and three in support.

The Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public colleges and universities, voted Aug. 7 for the name Georgia Regents University for the combination of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities. Ever since, people in Augusta have displayed their displeasure with the omission of the city in the school’s name.

Some have transmitted their displeasure to Atlanta. The University System has received 277 e-mails and 10 phone calls. All but three were in opposition, according to system spokesman John Millsaps III, who declined to comment further.

Deal’s office had received 228 messages as of Friday, according to his spokeswoman, Stephanie Mayfield.

“Yeah, those were opposed,” she said. “Honestly, not a heavy amount.”

As a comparison, it’s far less than the 3,000 messages sent to Deal before the execution of cop-killer Troy Davis over concerns that most of the eyewitnesses had backed away from part of their testimony. Legislation on illegal immigrants triggered 2,000 messages.

Issues that generate broader statewide attention, such as the treatment of illegal immigrants, cuts in the HOPE Scholarship or sales of packaged alcohol on Sundays, usually spark more public comments. Those were all issues that the news media across the state covered for weeks.

Public officials recognize that they rarely hear from people who are pleased; after all, those happy with a decision aren’t trying to get it changed.

They also realize most people who are upset don’t bother to communicate it, meaning that for every person who sends a message, there are likely to be dozens, hundreds or more who feel the same way and are quietly fuming.

Despite the outrage in Augusta, the members of the University System board have continued to rally around Ricardo Azziz, the president of the combined schools and an advocate for its new name. Board chairman Ben Tarbutton has said the board won’t consider changing it.

On Thursday, board member Tommy Hopkins, a graduate of GHSU and the board’s representative on GHSU’s oversight panels, was in Augusta, where he tried to downplay anger over the name and Azziz.

“It seems like it is very misdirected. The Board of Regents has made the final say on this,” Hopkins said. “Dr. Azziz couldn’t change it if he wanted to. The decision has been made. It will not be taken up again.”

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