The signs were all around us.
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.