Georgia Regents University’s sudden decision this week to add the name “Augusta” to the new signs at the entrances to the former Augusta State University campus is certainly a welcome turnabout.
Augustans, you’ll recall, strenuously objected to the Georgia Regents name that was foisted on the community last year – with a “Save the A” campaign to get “Augusta” into the name of the school, which had been merged with the former Medical College of Georgia.
GRU President Ricardo Azziz agreed with the Save the A leaders that, while the official name would remain Georgia Regents University, the name “Augusta” would be added to the end on marketing materials and such. There also was an understanding that Augusta would appear on signs at the entrances.
That wasn’t the case when signs were changed recently to say merely “Georgia Regents University.” Azziz and Co. reneged and, after the handshake deal, gave the community the back of the hand.
The public backlash was so fierce that it led GRU to change its mind this week and add the name “Augusta” to the signs.
Perhaps one reason for the saving-face about-face: Even diehard supporters who had acceded to last year’s compromise, including Save the A leaders and major donors to the former ASU, were publicly critical and even bitter about the slap in the face regarding the signs.
One prominent donor called it a “stab in the back” to every Augustan.
In addition, apparently several unnamed members of the state Board of Regents stepped in to try to repair the damage done by Azziz’s insult of the community. If so, we appreciate that intervention more than they know.
But we would ask them to stay engaged in the goings-on here – and to realize that this is about much more than a few letters on a wall. It is only the latest of Azziz’s affronts – not just to Augusta, but to the people who have the sincere misfortune to work under him at GRU.
It’s not even the first time he’s tried to eliminate “Augusta”; his people also electronically removed all mention of Augusta from photos of ASU’s most renowned athletic teams.
More importantly, he has treated nearly all of us with naked contempt and condescension – as retired ASU interim president Dr. Shirley Strum Kenny subtly tried to presage in her exit letter. Indeed, we continue to hear that treatment and morale at GRU is purely awful.
Under Azziz, GRU only pretended to value public input on choosing the new name for the consolidated university, all the while ignoring national surveys that expressed an unambiguous preference for the name “University of Augusta.”
And this past week, when former ASU golfer Patrick Reed won on the PGA Tour, the name on everyone’s lips around the golfing world wasn’t GRU. It was Augusta.
Why Azziz and others would go out of their way to toss that legendary international brand into the trash is beyond most of us.
The fact that public pressure could so quickly cause Azziz to retreat to defeat on the sign issue is an encouraging sign. But this decision isn’t the end.
We’ve got a lot more work to do to ensure that Augusta and our friends and neighbors who work in our leading institution of higher learning are treated with more respect, courtesy and dignity going forward. And that the second-largest community in Georgia is treated as a partner, not a pawn.
It’s hard to see how that happens under the school’s current regime.