Azziz is tone-deaf in naming controversy

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Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz has many positive traits – a powerful intellect, creative thinking skills and the tenacity required to drive change. However, from all appearances, he lacks candor, humility, listening skills and the self-knowledge essential in a great leader.

These deficiencies were on full display at an Aug. 16 public meeting at Augusta State University. Azziz clearly wasn’t at ASU to listen; his comments were self-serving, deceptive and condescending. Azziz claims the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents made the decision to combine ASU and GHSU under the name Georgia Regents University – and the decision is final.

ANYONE WHO understands how boards operate know that Azziz is being disingenuous. His attempt to hide behind the regents didn’t quite work for him today. Azziz, when pressed, admitted how hard he worked to ensure that his choice, a name without Augusta included, won out.

He correctly stated that he has a right to express his opinion. True. But he had no right to withhold contrary evidence. This awful name, GRU, is his “Rosemary’s baby.” The regents aren’t, as he said, being underestimated – they’re being vilified.

Azziz values his opinion more highly than he ought. As one scientist remarked to him at the Aug. 16 meeting, he “ignored the data.” Azziz is right that “someone was not going to be satisfied, no matter what.” But for goodness sake, 97 percent opposed to GRU vs. 3 percent for GRU ought to get his attention.

But, no, Azziz is willing to waste the equity already inherent in the Augusta brand with the full knowledge that it may take 20 years and huge investments for GRU to acquire a fraction of the worldwide equity we already have in Augusta’s name.

HIS WORKING premise, from day one, was that “Augusta” didn’t communicate the image of a statewide university. If you start with a flawed premise, a flawed outcome is assured. Azziz, if he were a great leader, would “get it.” Sadly, he doesn’t. His outsized ego won’t allow him to admit that “branding” is not his area of expertise. Despite evidence to show how wrong-headed he can be (remember the Laney-Walker road closure?), he is adamant in defense of a bad decision.

Azziz’ none-too-subtle message is that we should stop whining or the regents will retaliate and withhold funds. The regents should be alarmed to know that Azziz is telling everyone, in so many words, that the regents are petty tyrants who will withhold funds if we continue to speak up in opposition.

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, whom I deeply admire, said as much on a local TV newscast. Copenhaver wants to move on because Azziz obviously has him convinced we’ll be punished if we keep complaining. The mayor and others fear that $400 million in funding will be held up if we fight over this issue.

REALLY? ARE the regents this small-minded and petulant? Several respected members of the community have urged us to move on. I respect them, but I disagree. The “fat lady” may be on her feet, but she hasn’t sung, and 97 percent of us aren’t ready to quit just yet. Many of us still have hope that the regents will reconsider.

As a former resident of Southern California, Azziz can be excused for failing to understand the love of place and attachment to history that animates us. After all, “he ain’t from ’round here.” We Augustans forgive easily, and we don’t hold grudges against our leaders when they admit they can occasionally be dumb as dirt.

All Azziz has to do is make one
call. Tell the regents not to saddle us with a name that only a dictator could love.

(The writer is an Augusta resident and, until recently, a downtown business owner.)

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Insider Information
Insider Information 08/20/12 - 01:01 am
This is leadership?

Can somebody tell me what makes a pencil-pusher at a railroad company qualified to oversee higher education in Georgia?

That's what the chair of the Board of Regents does for living.

So, how does he or any of the other "qualified" members of the Board of Regents really know what is best for MCG and ASU?

peggyandrick 08/20/12 - 06:21 am

How about Augusta Regents University? Then we could use the slogan "AR U sorry Azziz is our president?

soapy_725 08/20/12 - 09:14 am
Those who post on this board have more

intellect and ingenuity that Mr. Azziz. If he is in fact a genius, someone must be telling him to do unintelligent things. Azziz is the clown who counts the other clowns as they exit the VW Bug. Leadership of the combined or uncombined universities could be better served by public opinion. It never fails to amaze me that there are some great minds and leaders in Augusta who chose to avoid the mindless everyday sh_ that is River City.

prov227 08/20/12 - 10:03 am
Let's just rename the state ...

Maybe a solution is to rename the state (named for George II of U.K. who was grandfather of George III whom the colony of Georgia repudiated and revolted against). We forgot to rename the state, however, after the Revolution, a minor oversight, I'm sure.

On the other hand, Princess Augusta, who birthed the future George III, bore the colonies no particular ill will (she died before the Declaration of Independence was signed).

Therefore, a proposal is for Georgia to be the first state in the Union to rename itself and the proposal is to honor the lovely and peaceful Princess Augusta, that is, the new State of Augusta (Nathan Deal could then be Governor of Augusta). Then, in addition to the University of Augusta, we could rename other institutions, i.e., University of North Georgia to University of North Augusta (oops) and South Georgia State College to South Augusta State, Georgia State to Augusta State (!!), Georgia Tech to Augusta Tech and the University of Georgia to ... well you get the idea.

Princess Augusta was named a "prospective regent" for the future king, so she would have fit right in to our Board of Regents.

p.s. What would we do about the City of Augusta (we can't have an Augusta, Augusta). Let's rename Augusta ... Oglethorpe, an honor long overdue. (We would need permission from another small city in the state.)

Sweet son
Sweet son 08/20/12 - 11:59 am
Nice Job Mr. Steele!

You have the sentiments of most Augustans well covered in your column. Dr. Prez has probably never lived in any community for more than 10 years so he does not understand our ownership of the two universities. They belong to us in Augusta first and next to all citizens of the State of Georgia. You have accurately described Dr. Prez and his lack of leadership skills as well his lack of personal skills. You can only be a great leader if you earn the respect of the people under you that help accomplish the goals set before them. Dr. Prez said that he was going to state his opinion and he really believes because of his title that his opinnion is the only one that matters.

As far as this statement: "All Azziz has to do is make one
call. Tell the regents not to saddle us with a name that only a dictator could love." it will never happen and this is sad.

He is not made of the same stuff as we are and that would be admitting a mistake. I really don't think he will.

Anyway, I enjoyed your column.

Fiat_Lux 08/20/12 - 01:26 pm
You really did nail it, Dave.

Dr. Azziz does not have a clue what he is dealing with, and he would be smart to come up with some kind of compromise that allows people step back from their current animosity toward him. He really has done himself and, more importantly, his ability to succeed in his plans for New U, genuine damage.

The sad part of this is that he probably will get disgusted before too long and leave Augusta after finding himself stymied. To save his reputation and status in academia, he will have no choice but to totally trash our reputation, identifying us as ignorant hicks who can't be helped by anyone from anywhere. And then, everything that might have been will lie in the dust, and nobody with any vision or energy here will be willing to come lead MCG-ASU for a very, very long time.

That is my greatest fear, and the big Z could avert this with so little effort on his part, and no loss of face whatsoever, if only he would.

MMorgan 08/29/12 - 12:59 am

What does one expect from a man who pushes the only name of the three that sounds like an online university? He has zero tact, diplomacy, class, understanding or compassion for the citizens of this community. Let the black-balling begin! This is one time I do hope the "good old boys" system works!

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