Stand up for Augusta

Georgia Regents University's president has abused his power -- and this city -- for too long

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The signs were all around us.

  RICK MCKEE/STAFF
RICK MCKEE/STAFF

No one can say Augusta wasn’t warned about Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz and the increasingly negative toll his leadership would take on our community:

• A $45,000 study revealed that the name “University of Augusta” was by far the most popular and recommended name for the new university merging Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University. Respondents across the nation said so. Instead, Azziz chose to ignore the overwhelming sentiment, bizarrely pushing the name “Georgia Regents University,” a moniker loved by few outside his office.

• Promotional brochures for GRU, printed early last year, featured championship Augusta State athletic teams – but with ASU logos and verbiage electronically removed from students’ clothing. It was a stinging slap in the face to people who consider the respected Augusta State name and storied athletic history as more than a mere label to be wiped off a piece of sportswear.

• An erudite exit letter to Azziz from departing interim ASU President Shirley Strum Kenny laid bare the chaotic upheaval of the university merger – and how it left the Augusta community feeling, in Dr. Kenny’s words, “dissed and discarded.” Her letter raised alarming red flags about Azziz’s leadership style, and emphasized the urgent need for healing within the university and the community “to get over the sense of a hostile takeover ... .”

Instead of healing, however, the insults and injuries just keep coming.

Now comes the most recent poke in the community’s eye: New signs have been erected at GRU’s “Summerville” (former ASU) campus entrances that leave off the most important word in the university’s name: Augusta.

The signs’ wording clearly runs counter to an explicit agreement struck with organizers of the community-wide “Save the A” campaign in 2012 who sought to get “Augusta” back in the name. The understanding was the Augusta name would be included in the school’s name, in Azziz’s own words, in the “official logo, brand name and all marketing and communications efforts.”

That obviously should include the very signs that most conspicuously mark the university.

Here’s the explanation from David Brond, GRU’s senior vice president of communications and marketing: “The final signage that is being placed as we speak on the campuses now has been tweaked, yes, from what we were sharing, but those were conceptual ideas.”

Allow us to translate that: Azziz is altering the deal. One supposes we’re to pray he alters it no further.

It would have been so easy to keep the faith with Augustans by the relatively simple gesture of including “Augusta” on campus gateway signs – but the school’s negligent leadership evidently couldn’t be troubled to do that. In fact, Azziz consciously and cynically chose to contravene the agreement and spit in Augusta’s face.

How much more chronic contempt is Augusta going to obediently endure?

The success of GRU requires, in no small part, a tremendous public buy-in in terms of good will and cooperation. So why are GRU’s leaders treating the important desires of our community like trash stuck to their shoes?

“Basically I feel like they have stabbed every citizen of Augusta in the back by eliminating our name,” says Fleming Norvell, a generous supporter of the former ASU whose name adorns the top-notch golf house he built for one of the nation’s leading golf programs. “They haven’t lived up to their word in many ways, so the fact ‘Augusta’ was left off the signs really doesn’t surprise me.”

And those are the words of just one donor who has dedicated many years and many dollars toward supporting the school. How many other faithful supporters of GRU now feel the same way? Will their outrage drive them to redirect their considerable resources?

We would hope not, but neither could we blame them. And it would all be Azziz’s fault. When it comes to abusing the very community he relies upon for support, Azziz has been a model of scorn and condescension.

We have been told, in no uncertain terms and over time, that he treats his employees every bit as poorly as he treats the community, if not worse.

This wound is not healing as our leaders in Atlanta had apparently hoped it would. Indeed, it is constantly reopened and deepened by a supposed leader who exhibits naked disdain for those he purports to lead.

This community must continue to pressure Gov. Nathan Deal, the Georgia Board of Regents and the highly respected James M. Hull, Augusta’s newly minted Regent, to step in and take decisive action. Mr. Hull, in particular, has an unmistakable first mandate: Stand up to the bullying. Stand up for Augusta. And fight to change the school’s name to the University of Augusta.

And while the governor may not have direct effect on Regents policy – the board’s set-up deliberately removes politics from decision-making equations – he does wield considerable respect and influence with the Regents, including the power to appoint them. We ask that he use that power to put an end to this creeping crisis of confidence in our institutions of higher education.

In a city where enduring agreements have been struck on the strength of a handshake, it’s apparent that such handshakes mean nothing to Ricardo Azziz – except to placate dissent while he plans to ignore it.

There is no honor here. He has shown yet again that he is not a man of his word, and he has shown precisely what he thinks of Augusta.

The young relationship between the merged university and the people of Augusta is pockmarked by broken faith.

Azziz has abused the position the people of Georgia trusted him with, and has squandered any credibility he has to lead this university. To
ameliorate the toxic effect he has had on this community, he needs to go.

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iaaffg
2214
Points
iaaffg 01/19/14 - 06:46 am
11
2
azziz suffers from that most

azziz suffers from that most fatal of maladies: hubris. can't do much with folks like this, they do not recognize their own faults much less than ever admit to them, much like other political personalities we have come to know in the government. unless whoever brought this clown to town steps up to the plate to remove him (which hardly appears likely, given the many, many times he has ramrodded the augusta citizens up the wazoo and no peep from the powers-that-be), augusta is stuck with him.....until, that is, he succeeds in his assigned mission. then you will see him disappear from this area faster than i dream of jeannie gets back in her bottle after making the major mad.

seenitB4
87116
Points
seenitB4 01/19/14 - 08:48 am
10
2
Brazillian wax job

Augusta you are getting one now & don't know it!!

Riverman1
83821
Points
Riverman1 01/19/14 - 09:16 am
10
2
Simply An Inept Administrator

Merging the schools was a difficult task. The BOR and Governor Deal knew that and hoped Azziz would be the person to accomplish the mission. Unfortunately, they couldn't have picked a more inept person to lead the merger. He worried me very early on when he would show a misunderstanding about various matters in his talks. His deficiencies were hard to ignore. He would throw out common trite remarks as if he had originated the thought. Huh, I said more than once.

He lied about the methodology for coming up with GRU. He lied about using the state owned buses to transport his drunken wedding party to Savannah Rapids. He lied about the use of Augusta in the name with GRU. He should have been made to personally clean the drunken puke from the buses and run out of town.

Poodie
26
Points
Poodie 01/19/14 - 09:44 am
10
2
When considering Azziz and

When considering Azziz and his arrogance this thought came to mind: The wolf doesn't care about the opinion of the sheep.

KasparHauser
364
Points
KasparHauser 01/19/14 - 09:49 am
0
0
Where's the FFW?
Unpublished

If only we could fast forward through all this whining and whingeing to see how things stand in 2 years...

I predict that despite the 'prayer' of the multitudes, the Savannah river will continue to flow to the sea, pupils will continue to enroll at GRU, and the old complainers will find something else to bore people with.

BTW, why don't Augusta-Richmond County and any nterested greed-o-crats from Columbia County just buy GRU from Georgia and name it whatever they want?! Whatever they want, aside from Ronald Reagan Kollege of Bonzo Knowledge, that is...

Little Old Lady
5936
Points
Little Old Lady 01/19/14 - 09:57 am
10
0
Election

Deal should care about Augusta. I will NOT vote for him again.

grouse
1635
Points
grouse 01/19/14 - 10:41 am
0
0
An editorial I can endorse.
Unpublished

An editorial I can endorse.

charles6780
203
Points
charles6780 01/19/14 - 10:47 am
11
1
Time to revive the campaign

Once again Ricardo has lied to this community. He will never ever gain the trust or respect of this community; having said that, it is time to revive the Save the A campaign - this time the signage should be halved, Save the A on the top, and a hobnailed boot kicking a smaller A out of town or to the curb. Pressure should be put on Mr. Hull our new representative on the Board of Regents, as well as the others. The Augusta community does not need to be subjugated to the dalliances of Azzia any longer. The return of Dr. Shirley Strum-Kenny, while a search for a "true" leader is pursued would be the best avenue to take at this time. Write to Mr. Hull, the Board of Regents, and Governor Deal - he has to go; sooner rather than later, too much damage has been done.

Little Lamb
45949
Points
Little Lamb 01/19/14 - 11:08 am
10
1
Windmills

The brave people who put their money, time, and reputations on the line to orchestrate the Save the A campaign have become humiliated because of Azziz's hubris and breach of trust. Those brave people rightly cannot start a new campaign. But there's no reason that another group of business leaders, governmental leaders, and ordinary folk can't get another campaign going. Is there one solitary person in the CSRA who has a good relationship with Gov. Deal who might have some influence? If not, then why not defeat Gov. Deal in the May 20 primary election? He is running against a formidable opponent in the primary.

First, Down With Deal.

Next, Away with Azziz.

Then, University of Augusta

harley_52
23272
Points
harley_52 01/19/14 - 11:40 am
7
1
"....but the school’s negligent leadership....

"Negligent," you say? Seems like the wrong word. "Negligent" means neglect, or carelessness. I don't see any of that here. I see a purposeful campaign to deceive and insult the population of Augusta. I see planning, organization, and execution here. I see a man who will look you in the eye and tell you what you want to hear and then go out and do exactly the opposite. A man who tries to "trick" people into believing one thing, then knowingly and purposefully doing exactly the opposite of what he told them.

And I hear the same thing from employees. They're being mistreated and lied to. They're scared to say anything. He's spending lots of money on lavish facilities for conferences and meetings, but pinching pennies for patient care. The work force is demoralized and looking for a way out.

At this point, one man is responsible. The governor. He has the knowledge of what's happening and the power to fix it. He hasn't. In my mind that makes him part of the problem and I join @Little Old Lady in promising NOT to vote for him again.

deestafford
27565
Points
deestafford 01/19/14 - 11:53 am
9
0
Great editorial!!

Great editorial!! Hopefully, the new Augusta member of the BOR will read this editorial and pass it on to the other members. Maybe, just maybe, it will get to the governor and something will be done. Of course...some say pigs will one day fly.

Lee Benedict
1585
Points
Lee Benedict 01/19/14 - 11:57 am
7
1
This IS an election year,

so if change will come, incumbents must be challenged...but given the apathetic nature of the CSRA and the refusal by most to get involved, many if not all incumbents will not be challenged.

As for Nathan Deal, he has proven to be a Washington, DC guy who grew tired of DC after changing party affiliation for longevity and popularity reasons, so he decided to return to Georgia and run for governor. People flocked to him because he had name recognition and funds and was ordained "the winner". HOW'S THAT WORKED OUT FOR GEORGIA, AUGUSTA, AND THE CSRA? I wrote a letter to the Editor a few years ago supporting Deal against Barnes...never again. Deal must go and he will never receive my vote or public and private support.

Since Augusta was snubbed and has been/is being given the shaft, um, why doesn't Augusta's government do something? Augusta has a mayor, no? Augusta has commissioners who love to make the news and display tantrums and "go after" people. They are the ones who must have a 24/7/365.25 campaign to oust Barack Christie Aziz and have AUGUSTA restored in GRU's name in a prominent position. But they won't. They'll just talk and give sound bites and Aziz will continue to rule as he pleases.

countyman
20120
Points
countyman 01/19/14 - 12:13 pm
2
12
The local community is the problem and not Dr. Azziz

Dr. Azziz is the least of our problems here in Augusta.. The Medical Commons underway and the future Cancer Center will both tremendously help our local economy.. The Golf and Gardens property and the potential Cultural/Mills Campuses is another way the area can attract the private sector.

The main problem with Augusta is the media groups, people, etc who generally portray such low expectations for Augusta but then want everything in the suburban counties to grow exponentially. The most important county in the CSRA is Richmond and nothing will change the facts..

Why doesn't the media want to stand up for Augusta any other time? The citizens of Richmond County are constantly bombarded with the crime map, daily crime reports, any disagreement between the commissioners, etc..

Why can't the media stand up and report the positive news too? If 90% of the reporting on the suburban counties involves something positive. Then we should expect the same type of reporting on Richmond.. The positive articles related to Richmond County always increase dramatically during the Masters week. Why does the media want to portray Augusta in an positive light to the visitors but then constantly portray the negative to the locals daily?

The Augusta Chronicle's Sylvia Cooper is the person who disagreed with the top ten rankings for Augusta and not Dr. Azziz... The Chronicle allowed for Sylvia to write the editorial disagreeing with the rankings(6th best place to live & 4th best place to retire)..

The really sad thing about the entire situation is when the Chronicle published the editorial even before they printed the article regarding the national rankings. I bet the Chronicle would NEVER publish an editorial disagreeing with any national rankings for somewhere in Columbia County..

Riverman1
83821
Points
Riverman1 01/19/14 - 12:16 pm
5
1
It's Time

Azziz said Augusta is boring.

But what's becoming clear is what LL and Lee B. are saying. It's time to make an official appeal to Gov. Deal and to the BOR to remove Azziz. The Commission could undertake this task. The Mayor could be the contact person. Will a Commissioner please take the bull by the horns and bring it up at a Commission meeting? One of you who is running for office this year maybe?

Esctab
891
Points
Esctab 01/19/14 - 12:37 pm
9
0
To The Augusta Chronicle

To The Augusta Chronicle Editorial Staff:
Thank you writing this editorial!

To Rick McKee:
Thank you for a picture that tells the whole story! All of your previous illustrations capture the point of our ordeal too. Thank you for saying what GRU employees cannot say for fear of retaliation.

To Gov. Deal:
Governor, you have an opportunity to prove that your appointment of Mr. Hull as a Regent isn’t just an attempt to placate Augusta or to hoodwink us into thinking during election time that you care about Augusta. We need a President of our university who can be trusted; we don’t have that now.

To Mr. James Hull:
Stand up for the faculty, staff, and students of our university. Stand up for Augusta.

harley_52
23272
Points
harley_52 01/19/14 - 12:52 pm
6
1
" They'll just talk and give sound bites...

....and Aziz will continue to rule as he pleases."

Exactly.

And "rule" is the appropriate word here. We've degenerated into a society that is "ruled" by a bunch of tax payer supported royalty who are unresponsive to the voice of the citizens who pay their salaries.
Leadership has been replaced with laws, orders, and pronouncement.

Where are the LEADERS?

nocnoc
42520
Points
nocnoc 01/19/14 - 01:43 pm
7
0
It is simple

Demand a better DEAL from DEAL
Before re-election.

Or find some one running for governor that will sign a promise to do so
or not run again.

Esctab
891
Points
Esctab 01/19/14 - 02:15 pm
11
0
Countyman: Your comments

Countyman:
Your comments about Augusta desperately needing the future Cancer Center that is underway are interesting. Interesting from several angles: (1) A cancer research building already exists on the corner of Laney Walker and 13th Street; (2) on the opposite corner a cancer treatment building exists; (3) both of these buildings are relatively new; (4) GRU has a rocky record of attracting and retaining cancer center directors; the current director is about the third one in the space of only a few years; (5) GRU seems disinterested in supporting faculty they hire to conduct research – case in point is the comment made by Dr. Theodore Johnson that without the $375,000 grant he recently received that his lab might be shut down (see full article at http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/health/2014-01-08/homegrown-research-g...). My hearty and heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Johnson for obtaining the grant; God bless him and his work. However, in the big scheme of things, $375,000 is chump change to GRU and yet Azziz is unwilling to support a researcher doing the very thing that he claims he wants GRU to become internationally known for? If Azziz can’t find $375,000 spread out over three years to support the research, why should we believe the institution is fiscally sound? Why should we believe he has any sincere interest in supporting cancer research or anything else at GRU?
What evidence do we have that Azziz has any ability to make good on his claim that when the next building is finished that GRU will do a better job of attracting and retaining researchers to fight cancer? While researchers need adequate space that is properly equipped to do their work, its people who fight cancer not buildings.

harley_52
23272
Points
harley_52 01/19/14 - 02:20 pm
7
0
SimpleGirl
407
Points
SimpleGirl 01/19/14 - 02:50 pm
9
0
Agree with Esctab!

Many wonderful employees have been let go because of Azziz and the morale is at an all time low. Many are afraid to go to work each day and with good reason! I agree with Esctab, all the buildings won't do much good if they're empty!

Keep up the great work Augusta Chronicle!

bright idea
814
Points
bright idea 01/19/14 - 02:58 pm
5
0
Raise your hand

if you think Hull has the will or stones to make a difference for Augusta on the BOR. That's what I thought.

Sweet son
10397
Points
Sweet son 01/19/14 - 04:06 pm
8
0
Esctab said it when questioning the need for more cancer

buildings! I guess Ricky Ricardo Azziz is trying to make himself the owner of a cancer center likened to M D Anderson or Sloan-Kettering. He doesn't care about cancer or Augusta all he wants are feathers in his cap for bragging rights! We don't need a cancer center that is notable in publications. We just need a cancer center with the best doctors and the best treatment plans for out loved ones!

Can't you just hear him saying? "I built that!" or "I did that!" The only word he probably knows is I.

Truth Matters
6824
Points
Truth Matters 01/19/14 - 05:18 pm
3
3
@Countyman...11:13am My

@Countyman...11:13am
My thoughts exactly. This is not directed with those people who have legitimate and constructive criticisms of Augusta. But I wish some of the people who post a daily potion of negative remarks about Augusta and Richmond County would stop for once and consider what image they are projecting to the rest of the world.

While it is fair to disagree with elected officials and to call them out, most days this section is one big rant page. Just last week a poster called Azziz a pile of dog _______. When it comes to ARC bashing, much of it comes from our neighboring county as evidenced by some of their comments.

Dr. Azziz has some atoning to do as it relates to the community, but you Augusta - Richmond County bashers need to ask who would want the name Augusta on a major university if the city is as bad as you imply.

Little Lamb
45949
Points
Little Lamb 01/19/14 - 06:25 pm
4
0
Augusta

Well, Truth Matters, there is a big difference between the city of Augusta and the city government of Augusta. The city includes the citizens, churches, businesses, organizations, etc. The government includes the baiters, backbiters, backstabbers, liars (see Rick McKee's cartoon), race hustlers, and other scoundrels.

harley_52
23272
Points
harley_52 01/19/14 - 06:28 pm
4
2
" When it comes to ARC bashing....

.... much of it comes from our neighboring county as evidenced by some of their comments."

Very true.

moderate321
321
Points
moderate321 01/19/14 - 06:44 pm
1
0
The Role of the BOR

Remember that the Board of Regents is merely a mouthpiece for the Chancellor and the Governor. Jim Hull or anyone else on the BOR for that matter would be relatively powerless to do anything about Azziz.

harley_52
23272
Points
harley_52 01/19/14 - 06:57 pm
2
1
"Well, Truth Matters, there is a big difference....

....between the city of Augusta and the city government of Augusta."

Another true statement, but it doesn't change the validity of that made by Truth Matters. That's an observation I've made in here hundreds of times, I'd estimate. Most of the bashing I see in here is bashing of Augusta, not the city government.

noway
201
Points
noway 01/19/14 - 07:05 pm
5
1
This isn't everything

If people on the outside even knew how horrible things are for the former ASU employees, you'd really be mad. The GRU people in charge wouldn't be qualified to run a real research institution, which is built on strong undergraduate programs. They have no experience with real undergraduate education. Their bullying tactics and horrible treatment of the "know-nothing" ASU employees is sick. Take a look at an org chart, titles, salaries, and see who has won in this takeover. Of course, many ASU employees have left. Not because they didn't agree with the merger, but because of the methods. It's a disgrace.

seenitB4
87116
Points
seenitB4 01/19/14 - 07:06 pm
3
2
The bashing I see

I see bashing of the city gov & crime in the area.....also other counties take a hit too.....we see what we want to see at times....btw..dichotomy has been griping over a legit problem that evidently caught the attention of the commish....he finally got some results & he posted a nice thank you afterwards.

harley_52
23272
Points
harley_52 01/19/14 - 07:21 pm
3
2
"we see what we want to see at times..."

Indeed.

My position has ALWAYS been that people who live, vote, and pay taxes in Richmond County have every right to complain and bash to their heart's content. My issue has always been with those who don't live, vote, or pay taxes here who bash Richmond County all day, every day and make excuses for one another when questioned about it.

Some don't seem to see it that way, particularly those who join in with the bashing.

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