University's new name should forge an international identity

Blanchard Fountain stands near Augusta State University's University Hall. What name and identity will best suit ASU when it merges with Georgia Health Sciences University?

 

Shakespeare may have written that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but the ad men of America know that a poorly named “rose” would not sell so well.

I have been excited by the recent news of the merging of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University. It is a matter about which I have given much thought since those days of 1968 and ’69 when I served as student body president of Augusta College, and as the first chairman of the Student Advisory Council to the Board of Regents. The council members were the student body presidents from their respective schools.

We were all equals – though the University of Georgia’s student president thought he was more equal than the rest of us, a feeling that the 24 other student body presidents did not share.

 

I SPENT MUCH of my senior year in the Regents’ office and attended a number of Regents meetings, often traveling to and from Atlanta with Augusta Regent Roy Harris and the student president from the then-Medical College of Georgia, who was a senior medical student.

Augusta College was then much smaller, but it was an institution that had evolved rapidly, with much change anticipated in the near future. William S. Morris III – the publisher of this great newspaper, also then serving as a member and chairman of the Board of Regents – promoted the evolution of the school to become the University of Augusta. I liked that name.

It seemed then that the undergraduate nursing students who took their academic courses at Augusta College, but lived in housing at MCG, could become a link to student housing for both schools, and a path to making Augusta College something more than a good community college. This thought carried the hope of further cooperation and perhaps some form of union between AC and MCG.

However, the next 20 years brought little change.

Augusta State University is today a much larger institution than the Augusta College I attended, and its future was bright without the merger. I have high hopes for the merged university, but the challenges are great, as are the opportunities.

My wife and I have been blessed with five amazing children, but they were born without prior gender disclosure. So the final naming decisions were made after birth but before discharge from the hospital, a decision made within a couple of days with life-long implications.

 

OUR NEW UNIVERSITY needs a name now, but we must get it right, for we will probably live with it for a long, long time. As with roses or widgets, the wrong name will not sell so well.

There are certain characteristics of good school names. They contain no more than three words, and often two words are better than three. The word “University” is a necessity for our school, so we should limit the rest of the name to two words, and perhaps only one.

Georgia’s recent crop of new names for old schools demonstrates the folly of long names: Georgia College and State University and North Georgia College and State University come to mind. These excessively long names flow from the monopoly claimed by a school in Athens as to any efficient use of the words “Georgia” and “University.”

Our son Chapman graduated from Richmond American International University, an excellent small college based in the beautiful southwest London borough of Richmond. It does have an American style of undergraduate curriculum, with American accreditation, and its 1,200 students come from more than 100 countries. The school provided Chapman with an excellent education and contacts that have served him well in his ascendant career with NBC News that has gained him two Emmys. But his college’s name, though descriptive, is one word too long.

The name “University of Augusta,” proposed more than 40 years ago, would be great. Likewise, “Augusta State University” would be fine, particularly given those cherished trophies that bear that name. “Augusta University” also would be good. If there be a need for something new and different, I propose that the name be “Augusta International University.”

 

I HAVE LONG found that the further one travels from Augusta, the higher the cachet of the name “Augusta.” I recall in 1978 meeting lawyers from Australia as we attended a summer program at Harvard Law School. To them, Augusta was far more recognizable than Atlanta. It has long been surprising and disappointing that both high-school students and adults from Biarritz, France, have been far more eager to travel to Augusta than Augustans wanting to go there to visit one of our sister cities. Biarritz is a world-class resort, with a rich and elegant history, but Augusta’s name has a special call to those who live in Biarritz.

Augusta State’s ability to attract talented athletes from distant lands is further evidence of the value of the name “Augusta” – a name more revered beyond our shores than the name “Georgia.” Let Athens keep it.

I have long had a passion for students learning foreign languages well enough to speak them, and the enlightment that comes from study abroad. I never considered either until being pushed to do so by my Augusta College French professor, Madame Colette Avril, but my four months at the University of Dijon brought not only conversant skills in French but a life-altering exposure to a bigger world.

My father’s unexpected death when I was 18 had ended my plans to go to UGA, but the Dijon International Student Program probably was far more broadening, and I was to get three years and a great wife in Athens in law school.

 

THIS BIGGER, FLATTER world in which we live calls for more emphasis in teaching other languages and enhancing international understanding, both by going there and having more come here. This provides a need, an opportunity and a vision for our newly merged university.

Locally, we have a wonderful resource in those thousands of multilingual folks at the semi-secret operations at Fort Gordon. Many are enlisted personnel who retire with 20 years of service before reaching age 40, as do those who teach sophisticated computer skills at the Signal School. Their unique talents have gone unused and wasted as they have taken jobs at Walmart and as security guards.

The dreams for our medical university include hopes of cooperation for sophisticated research with Georgia Tech and UGA, but should not we also seek links with the medical schools of Cambridge, Oxford, France, Japan, India and beyond?

The Hull College of Business could develop an MBA in international business. The need is certainly there.

The names University of Augusta, Augusta State University or Augusta International University can be a calling card.

We’ve already got an international star for president in Dr. Ricardo Azziz. We could become a magnet for undergraduates and graduates from afar, a fact that would further enhance our athletic programs and the educational experience for all of our students. We would, though, need to reinstate soccer as a varsity sport, and perhaps return the “Georgia Medical College” to the gridiron. It actually fielded an intercollegiate team in the early 1900s.

 

THE GREAT MEDICAL schools are part of great universities, and their stature is not dismissed because the words “medical” or “health” are not included in the university’s name. I refer for example to Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Cambridge and Georgetown. The best public medical school in California is part of the University of California at San Francisco – another example of too long a name, but the quality of that school is not thereby diminished.

The prominent use of “Augusta” in the name would promote rather than diminish the potential national and international impact and prestige of our university. The University of Chicago is a far more prestigious institution than the University of Illinois. The prestige of Amherst, Williams, Davidson, Wake Forest, Cambridge and Oxford is not impaired by the diminutive size of the towns for which they were named.

Names that should be rejected are ones that label us as a stepchild of another institution, including the one in Athens. I have heard, perhaps incorrectly, that some wish us to be labeled the Augusta campus of the University of Georgia, just as the Athens campus of Georgia Health Sciences University is now labeled “University of Georgia, Health Sciences Campus.” Such a name would denote permanent second-class status.

Augusta is what we are, and international is what we can become – with or without the word “International” in the title. Shakespeare would approve.

 

(The writer is an Augusta attorney.)

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