A community scorned

Azziz, regents treat Augustans shabbily over new university name

Anyone who came to a forum Thursday not liking the new name for Augusta’s consolidated university probably left the event not caring much for the man many believe is behind it.

Many of the estimated 400 people at the noon forum at Augusta State University were vehemently opposed to the name “Georgia Regents University,” which the state Board of Regents recently approved for the coming merger of ASU and Georgia Health Sciences University.

And a few folks in the audience were publicly highly skeptical of GHSU President Ricardo Azziz’s repeated claims that he had little to do with the new name and merely showed the state board the pros and cons of each of three possible names.

Citizen David Steele, who said he learned a little about critical thinking at the then-Augusta College, told Azziz at the public microphone, “We’re not so naïve as to think that the Board of Regents made this decision. They made a decision to back you up.”

The Chronicle, as well, has been told by people in the know that Azziz’s claims of being hands off on the choice of names is simply untrue – and that Azziz’s office actively lobbied the state Board of Regents to approve “Georgia Regents University.”

Anger built slowly but surely at the ASU forum, with increasingly bolder statements by members of the audience that earned raucous applause. One woman recalled an anti-GRU discussion at the grocery store that even inspired the butcher to come out from behind the counter and join in.

“I don’t like this name,” she said. “Nobody I know likes this name.”

“We feel like we have been abused in this process,” said another.

One man who said he spent 40 years in branding and marketing chimed in, “GRU is a terrible name – as an expert.”

Indeed, the state’s own information indicated the name was wholly lacking in appeal, coming in way behind the name “University of Augusta” in nationwide and statewide surveys that Azziz himself commissioned.

The surveys were, as it turns out, a complete waste of $45,500 – particularly considering that we now know the Board of Regents members were never given the surveys’ results.

The collective angst and anger at the forum can be summarized thusly: 1) longtime Augustans and those with ties to the university feel they are being robbed of their heritage; 2) they feel the community is being abused and ignored; 3) they believe the name is unredeemingly awful; and 4) they believe the naming process, which pretended to value the community’s and the survey’s input, was a total sham.

They appear to be right on all counts.

Now the regents chairman and Dr. Azziz are telling us to just get over it. Clearly, the bulk of the 400 there Thursday aren’t, and won’t.

The vast gorge between Dr. Azziz and the community was most evident when he suggested people here wouldn’t be happy unless “Augusta” was in the name. At that point, the crowd no longer waited in line to speak, shouting at Azziz that his assertion is untrue, and that we’d like just about any other name than the one we got.

Steele urged Azziz to be a strong change agent who has the “grace to admit a mistake and rectify it.” Azziz instantly declined, saying flatly, “We did not make a mistake.”

He’s right and Augusta is wrong. It’s that simple.

To borrow a phrase from songwriter Don McLean, “They would not listen, they’re not listening still; perhaps they never will.”

Topic Page: University Merger

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