Azziz is tone-deaf in naming controversy

 

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.)

Topic Page: University Merger

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