Presidents say merge will grow institution

Merger of two universities will grow institution, presidents say.

(with Damon Cline)

The consolidation of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University will create the next “great American research university” with enormous growth potential, Presidents from both universities said during a series of town hall-style meetings Thursday.

The combination of the Georgia’s public academic health center with one of its oldest liberal arts universities – one of four pairings approved by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents – will create new opportunities for growth in all sectors.

“This is not about replacing one university with another,” GHSU President Ricardo Azziz said. “…That would be a travesty. That is not the Chancellor’s goal, that is not the Board of Regents goal and that is certainly not my goal.”

Each university will bring a unique culture to the collaboration, said ASU President William A. Bloodworth Jr., adding that each institution has an opportunity to learn from each other.

“We have a strong sense of family here…That feeling is one of the things we can bring to the merger,” he said. “Maybe there are some lessons we have to teach: Collegiality, listening to other people, and taking care of the entire family.”

What is expected to be the most transformative event in the history of the two universities occurred Jan. 10 when Regents approved the consolidation as part of an overall plan to increase college completion rates, broaden access to public higher education and maintain affordability. Regents Chancellor Hank Huckaby said the consolidations will make the universities more effective and efficient.

“We will focus on how these consolidations enable us to better serve our students and areas of the state,” he said earlier in the week.

On Thursday, Azziz and Bloodworth acknowledged there would be some cost-saving efficiencies, but that overall the consolidation will result in synergies that will increase capacity at both institutions.

“This is not about becoming smaller, this is about becoming bigger,” Azziz said. “There is absolutely no value to consolidation if we are not going to continue to grow.”

Months of collaborative work with ASU officials will need to occur before true consolidation occurs, but the presidents said they are committed to the ensuring the complicated task is completed with the utmost collaboration and transparency.

Azziz said he expects the collaboration between the universities to be more efficient than might be expected from two institutions with disparate missions.

“When ASU and GHSU faculty and staff sit down together, you’ll find that you’re facing many of the same issues,” Azziz said.

Bloodworth said there are already many small, but important collaborations between his institution and GHSU, such as courses in medical communication and philosophy.

“There’s a lot of little things that offer us the opportunity to build on as we go forward,” he said.

Both presidents said a name change is imminent, and that it likely will not include “health” or “medical.”

“This is not about creating an overgrown health sciences center,” Azziz said.

Other consolidations in the USG system include: Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University (Dahlonega); Middle Georgia College (Cochran) and Macon State College; and Waycross College and South Georgia College (Douglas).

“There’s a lot of support for this in the general assembly. We already see that support in the governor’s message: $113 million of new money. That didn’t happen last year,” Bloodworth said, referring to Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed budget announced earlier this week.

The consolidation plans are expected to take between 12-18 months to finalize. State officials will ultimately approve the integration, but the actual work will be carried out by a committee consisting of faculty, staff, students and administrators from both institutions.

“Will this be difficult? Absolutely,” Azziz said to the town hall attendees. “Will the future be incredible? Absolutely.”

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