Every spring, Augusta’s azaleas bloom citywide.
This autumn, it’s been “Save the A” signs.
The red, white and blue signs bearing that short phrase have been sprouting by the thousands in yards, windows, vacant lots and public rights-of-way since a corps of local leaders decided several weeks ago to lead a battle on behalf of a vast majority of Augustans.
For you readers who may have been vacationing off-planet for the past few months, here’s a synopsis:
AUGUSTA STATE University and Georgia Health Sciences University are merging. That’s good. But it’s merging under the proposed name of “Georgia Regents University.” That’s dreadful. It’s a name concocted without public knowledge, public input or public sympathy. It’s aesthetically flat and historically sterile. It thoughtlessly excludes the word “Augusta.”
And – if GHSU President Ricardo Azziz and the University System Board of Regents are granted their ill-conceived wish – that clunker of a name will be crammed down Augusta’s collective throat whether Augusta likes it or not.
And for the record, virtually all of Augusta says “not.”
So the “Save the A” campaign has been marshaling the support of thousands upon thousands of CSRA residents against the name. The preferred name for the new university seems to be the University of Augusta – the name revealed to be the front-runner in marketing studies that seemed to have been either ignored or scorned.
So much for the synopsis. Now back to the signs.
They’re everywhere. They’re being given away for free. You can get them at Midtown Market, French Market Grille, the WifeSaver chain of chicken restaurants, Somewhere in Augusta Bar and Grill or Phoenix Printing.
And last Tuesday morning, you could’ve picked up a few in front of Azziz’s house.
AZZIZ APPARENTLY left his home that day at 6 a.m. and returned an hour later to find dozens of newly sunk “Save the A” signs in the right-of-way running the whole length of his front yard. GHSU public safety officers were dispatched quickly to remove the embarrassing signs.
Azziz didn’t make an official statement about the incident. I’ve got a good idea what he might have said unofficially. I doubt it’s printable in a family newspaper.
Few things are more impractical than a practical joke.
But dang, they’re funny.
You might have seen that stunt done before with spoons. In college, one of my friends somehow acquired several hundred of those little pink spoons that ice cream parlors use to offer free samples. (We never questioned this guy’s resourcefulness – we only marveled at it.) The spoons ended up dutifully planted one by one in someone’s yard, looking like a poppy field sown by Salvador Dali.
MY FAVORITE variation of the prank occurred in 1979. A shuffled pack of jokers had gained control of the student government at the University of Wisconsin, and they blew their budget on elaborate pranks. The prank they still talk about in Madison, Wis., was when they planted more than 1,000 pink flamingos on Bascom Hill, the university’s quad. Google a picture of it. It’s truly striking.
I can’t imagine very many people getting all huffy about the prank in front of Azziz’s house. But if you are one of those people, allow me to offer some perspective. Elsewhere in the world, fights about university name changes are a lot worse.
Example No. 1: Afghanistan. In Kabul, its capital, the second-largest school is Kabul Education University. Not a snappy name, but serviceable. But Afghanistan’s president decided the school would be renamed Martyr of Peace Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani University. Also, not a snappy name.
Rabbani is Afghanistan’s previous president. But according to The New York Times, Human Rights Watch said in a 2005 report that he committed atrocities “including intentional killing of civilians, beating of civilians, abductions based on ethnicity, looting and forced labor.” Or, as it’s known in Afghanistan, a typical Thursday.
MANY STUDENTS don’t like the university being named for such a divisive political figure. One social sciences major was calmly explaining this recently to a Times reporter when the student was punched in the face mid-interview, spurring yet another on-campus fight. Rocks, knives and brass knuckles have not been out of the ordinary in these skirmishes.
Example No. 2: Nigeria. In Lagos, its capital, the University of Lagos is the flagship university. But in May, Nigeria’s president decided the school would be renamed Moshood Abiola University, in honor of a political prisoner who died in 1998. That decision sparked days of student protests that shut down the school for two weeks. A judge has temporarily blocked the name change.
According to the Associated Press, “Students say the original name is a valued brand.”
Sound familiar, Augustans?
Look at Afghanistan and Nigeria. In each country, a university, named after a prominent city, is being forced to change its name by a wildly unpopular president whose choice for the new name also is wildly unpopular.
Again – sound familiar, Augustans?