Augusta needs its own regent to guard its interests

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As a former member of the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents, I read of the regents’ latest decision to merge the presidential position of Georgia Health Sciences University with Augusta State University. Dr. Ricardo Azziz, the current president of GHSU, also will serve as president of ASU.

When I see an action like this, my first thought is that we obviously don’t know the real story. An action like this implies that neither Dr. Azziz nor departing ASU President William A. Bloodworth Jr. really had a full-time job.

ANYONE WHO knows Bill Bloodworth knows that he has worked tirelessly on behalf of ASU and its 7,000 students. I don’t know Dr. Azziz; however, I knew former Medical College of Georgia President Dan Rahn, and I can tell you firsthand that he also worked more than full time on behalf of MCG.

I served as chairman of the Board of Regents when the question arose of purchasing the U.S. Navy Supply Corps School property next to the University of Georgia. The issue then was that it would be purchased by the Board of Regents and serve as an annex of MCG. With 90 percent of the MCG students coming from UGA, how many people really believed that any of those students would rather move to Augusta than walk across the street from the university in Athens to attend medical school? You did not have to have a crystal ball to see where this was heading.

As chairman of the Board of Regents at that time, this was a major concern of mine. I remember calling a meeting at MCG to discuss this situation. In attendance were the executive committee of the Board of Regents; Michael Adams, president of the University of Georgia; Dan Rahn; and several others. We discussed the pros and cons of purchasing the property and the long-term possibilities of UGA having its own medical school. Dr. Rahn and I were opposed to the idea for fear of what it might do to MCG here in Augusta, and the financial effect it would have.

THIS LED TO an all-out battle with then-Gov. Sonny Perdue – the most arrogant and egotistical governor I have ever known. He didn’t want anything done on this until he had control of how it was to go. (Incidentally, Perdue is a graduate of the UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine.) This same governor once threatened the executive committee of the Board of Regents that if it didn’t fire a certain chancellor, he would support legislation to have the Board of Regents moved back under the arm of the Georgia General Assembly.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this historic issue, many years ago the Board of Regents was moved out from under the governance of the legislature so that it could not be used a political football – the very thing Perdue tried to do many times.

I remember one of the last issues I had to deal with – when Perdue had one of his lap dogs call me to insist on who I would recommend as the next chairman of the Board of Regents. The first of his recommendations I refused to go along with, and then we later agreed on a secondary recommendation (one of his appointments) who was a very capable individual.

I MENTION these personal issues because we may never really know why these changes at MCG and ASU are occurring. It should, however, be an issue of great concern to the Augusta community that any possible change might have a negative financial effect on our city and all of us.

The economic impact of the demise of either one of these institutions could have a calamitous effect on Augusta and the surrounding area.

One of the ways to help solve this problem is for the leaders of our community to put pressure on our governor to appoint someone locally, who has Augusta’s best interest at heart, to the Board of Regents.

The Augusta area had many years of local representation with Tom Allgood, who served on the board for many years, and then I filled seven years of his unexpired term upon his untimely death.

Augusta needs and deserves its own regent. With ASU and GHSU, there is absolutely no reason for us not to have our own representative.

I WOULD encourage our local leaders to put pressure on Gov. Nathan Deal to appoint a pro-active person to represent our community and our institutions.

I understand there may be a need to merge some small, two-year colleges with larger state universities. However, to even suggest any kind of merger of Georgia’s only medical university with a state university with a 7,000-student population is unimaginable.

The regents work very hard for no compensation. My hat is off to them for the wonderful job they do on behalf of our colleges and state universities. However, I’m sure many of them would tell you they could do an even better job if we could keep the politicians out of their business!

(The writer was elected chairman of the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents in 2005 and served through 2006.)

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jweatherred@knology.net
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jweatherred@knology.net 06/18/12 - 09:12 am
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Board of Regents

I very much appreciate your writing this column. I am of the opinion that it has been quite some time since we have had any strong political leadership from the Augusta area who can represent us at the state and federal levels regarding these issues. The exact title of your article has come up in discussion by plain old folks like me as well as former and current leaders in the area. The book "Behind the Hedges" brought up some of what has been going on behind the scenes regarding the board. As it relates to the future of Augusta and its political leadership, I sincerely hope that one day in the near future we can inspire someone to step up and for the rest of us to get behind and fully support a community leader/person to become a member of the Board of Regents (as you did) again. I think the future of Augusta, particularly in the wake of changes at GHSU and Augusta State University, will depend on it.

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