Reading between the lines of Georgia Board of Regents Chancellor Hank Huckaby’s remarks to the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast on Wednesday, it sure sounds as if folks in Atlanta have very badly misread what’s going on in Augusta.
Very, very badly.
The chancellor talked about his role, and Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz’s role, as a change agent. He talked about the institution having a statewide mission. He talked about turning over sacred cows. Did we mention he talked about the benefits of change?
Again, we hope we’re wrong – we just don’t know, because, sadly enough, organizers of the breakfast this week seemed overly concerned about the audience asking the chancellor any indelicate questions, so there wasn’t much of a dialogue.
Yet, it sounds as if the chancellor thinks 1) Augusta is resistant to necessary change; 2) that we think of GRU as ours, not the state’s; and 3) that we’re trying to protect “sacred cows” here – perhaps meaning the name “Augusta.”
Even if the chancellor isn’t under those misimpressions, there’s no doubt some still are. So let’s address them.
First, Augusta isn’t resistant to necessary change.
Fact is – and our archived editorials bear this out – this newspaper and most of the area’s leadership and constituencies were firmly behind the consolidation of Augusta State University and the former Medical College of Georgia.
We knew that would result in massive change. We knew there would be upheaval. We knew there would be some sacred cow-tipping.
But the chancellor seems to say that neither the changes nor the manner in which they’re being carried out are open to scrutiny or question. And that anyone who questions how the consolidation is being carried out is just afraid of change.
Or maybe we’re just being provincial – particularly in the community’s near-unanimous and unabated revulsion to the name Georgia Regents University. Maybe that’s it; we just think this is our university, and it should have Augusta in the name. Maybe that’s why we need to be told that GRU has a statewide mission.
Well, to our friends in Atlanta: We understand this is a state university with a statewide mission. We always have. And we’ve always taken great pride in that.
How our pride in Augusta State University was turned into a bad thing is beyond us. It’s not. Folks in Atlanta should be thrilled that Augustans care this much about our state institutions. Instead, they think we need to be lectured.
And about the name: If some people think we’re being provincial, how does that explain Dr. Azziz’s $45,000 national survey that ranked “University of Augusta” or something close to it as the best name for the new U?
As for our concerns about the consolidation either being provincial or coming from an irrational fear of change: How does that explain the seven-page, single-spaced letter of concern from Shirley Kenny, the recent interim president of ASU? Dr. Kenny doesn’t even live here, so she’s hardly a product of provincialism – yet, her letter is
an alarming indictment of how the consolidation is being handled, and of Dr. Azziz’s leadership.
Moreover, if folks in Atlanta want to look into that leadership, they could poke around a bit in Augusta. They’d find faculties and administrators who are living in fear but who are on the verge of rebellion against the authoritarian rule of Dr. Azziz. They’d also find a community fed up with his arrogant excesses, condescension and betrayals.
They might also learn that Augusta rightly feels betrayed. Just one example: In return for swallowing the GRU name, Augusta activists got Azziz to promise to use the name Augusta in branding the new U. Gov. Nathan Deal was even under the impression that was being done. But an Augusta television reporter recently showed the governor Azziz’s stationery – which never mentioned the word Augusta.
State officials seem not to know the first thing about what’s going on here. We hope we’re wrong, and look forward to being proved wrong – particularly by a willingness to work with us on these ongoing problems.
Change agents have to be willing to change too.