The Save the A campaign was formed to encourage Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and the leadership of the state’s newest university to have “Augusta” in the school’s name – preferably, the University of Augusta or Augusta University. Augusta was the only one of four communities chosen for consolidation that gave support to the governor and the Board of Regents in their decision to create this new enterprise and a school of which we can all be proud.
In every meeting and discussion with Save the A supporters, the leadership of the school, the Board of Regents, the governor, our community leaders and elected officials, we have taken the high road and made every effort to remain civil and professional.
When the news hit that our new university was going to be named Georgia Regents University, there were shock waves of disbelief, disappointment, and, yes, disgust – not only in our community but around the state, the United States and globally.
The news of Georgia Regents University also came with many questions of a flawed process that included:
• a $45,000 survey, paid for by taxpayer funds, that was never presented to the Board of Regents and completely ignored;
• a prior warning of having to defend a lawsuit from Regent University of Virginia;
• a complete disregard for the histories of the Medical College of Georgia and Augusta State University, the two schools that merged to form the new university.
We met with community leaders, Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, GRU President Ricardo Azziz, the leadership of the Board of Regents and the governor. It was clear that all sides were unhappy but for different reasons.
It also was clear that we were all very appreciative to the governor and the Board of Regents for their commitment to the growth and prosperity of the combined universities, and to the students who will follow.
This is where I completely disagree with the premise of the recent letter to the editor by a GRU faculty member (“Augustans are all GRU now,” March 7) that implied or stated that the “energy” and “efforts” of “Save the A” were “designed to protest consolidation ... .” Not so.
I also have heartburn of many past statements from Dr. Azziz that our community seems to be against the progress and successes of the new university. Not so. We just do not like the name and the process.
It also was clear that the Board of Regents had dug in their heels to ignore the pleas of the Augusta community. They gave their full and complete support to Dr. Azziz – making it clear that they would not revisit or reconsider the naming of the new university. It was clear that none of us wanted to jeopardize funding and appropriations to our school and community. It also was clear that growth of a medical facility in Athens is imminent.
After days, weeks and months of meetings and efforts of all parties, it was clear to me that a compromise was in order. The compromise is that Georgia Regents University Augusta, or GRU Augusta, would be the name that is branded and marketed to all, recognizing that Georgia Regents University would be the official name on the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ accreditation documents and other legal documents. For the record – UGA, Georgia, Georgia Tech, UCLA, South Carolina and USC are not the official or legal names of those universities, either.
It was agreed to and committed to by the words of Dr. Azziz and the leadership of the Board of Regents that all marketing and branding materials of the school would prominently display the name “Augusta” (signs, letterhead, stationery, caps, T-shirts, sports uniforms, marketing and communication materials, branding, etc.). The commitment and compromise was announced in a joint press conference.
So the question now is: How is the compromise going? I would have to say it has not gone very well.
In a recent discussion with Dr. Azziz, I voiced my disappointment not only with the disgraceful attempt to rub out references to Augusta State University and the Medical College of Georgia in photographs for a poor-quality admissions brochure, but also with the void of “Augusta” in all materials and communication as was agreed to in our compromise. I spoke with other leaders at the university. I cannot say that their responses were what I hoped for.
On another note, while I know why there is recognized disagreement with the media and especially The Augusta Chronicle and its publisher, William S. Morris III, it is wrong to blame the media for the current situation. It also would be wrong to punish the citizens of the Augusta community for certain editorial and news viewpoints.
I have personally been the brunt of Mr. Morris’ ink before, and I have disagreed with some of his views and writers. I also know that he is my friend and that he loves Augusta.
I am personally grateful to Gov. Deal for allowing me the time in his office to express my views. I am appreciative to Gov. Deal and University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby for their direction and counsel in working out the compromise of including “Augusta” in the name of our university. We all wished that we did not have to spend the time on this subject, as we were all busy with other meaningful and deserving projects.
It is my hope that Gov. Deal will follow through with his statements to several of our close friends in the community that Augusta will soon have a regent. It is vitally important that this community has representation on the Board of Regents as Georgia Regents University Augusta fulfills its mission to the students, faculty, community, state and region.
While meeting with the governor at the Capitol, I was asked if “Save the A” was a part of, or was contributing to, the lawsuit by Regent University of Virginia. I assured them that was not the case. In fact, the monies leftover from the “Save the A” campaign were contributed to the Augusta State University Foundation for the “A Day Campaign.”
And while looking to the future, it would be wonderful if one day we had not only a regent from Augusta but a young, bright, worthy and capable Augustan to be governor.
I am one of many, and of the great majority, who believe that Georgia Regents University Augusta can and will be successful in its mission with any name – provided we have good and smart leadership, and provided we get the support of our community and state leaders.
While it is not a perfect solution, it is my hope and prayer that we all come together to promote and support GRU Augusta.
I think it is time to move on, and for the leadership of Georgia Regents University Augusta to build the enterprise, and to live up to the word and spirit of our compromise.
In closing, let me say that I am proud to be a graduate of Augusta College, an Augustan and a Georgian.
(The writer is chairman of the Save the A campaign.)