(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.
“This is not about replacing one university with another,” GHSU President Ricardo Azziz said during a series of town hall-style meetings Jan. 12. “…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.”
“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.”
ASU President William A. Bloodworth Jr., who co-hosted the town hall meetings, assured both campus communities that the consolidation will grow, not shrink the merged institution.
“The merger is not going to decrease the amount of work that has to be done. It’s going to increase the amount of work that has to be done,” Bloodworth said. “This new institution will be a job-creating machine.”
The plan to consolidate GHSU and ASU is part of a series of new efforts launched by University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby to focus on increasing college completion rates, broadening access to public higher education and maintaining affordability. The USG Board of Regents approved the consolidation plan for ASU and GHSU – and three other pairings – on Jan. 10.
“We will focus on how these consolidations enable us to better serve our students and areas of the state more efficiently and effectively,” Huckaby said. “I look forward to working with the eight institutions on this process.”
The consolidation plan, the most transformative event in the history of the two universities, is expected to take between 12-18 months to finalize. Azziz will head the merged institution.
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 added that each institution has an opportunity to learn from the 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.”
Bloodworth cited many small but important existing collaborations between the institutions, 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.”
The two schools will continue to function as separate institutions while a committee consisting of faculty, staff, students and administrators from both institutions crafts a consolidation plan that complies with accreditation guidelines for every program. State officials will ultimately approve the integration plan, which must then be submitted to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for approval. If rejected, the universities will continue to operate separately until a workable plan is approved. Once approved, the two institutions must implement the plan within 30 days.
Campus working groups will be appointed by Huckaby and charged with developing detailed recommendations for consolidation. Huckaby said the campus working groups should be up and running by February. Implementation actions will be reviewed by the USG and approved by the Regents’ Special Committee on Consolidation and the full board.
“Will this be difficult? Absolutely,” Azziz told town hall attendees. “Will the future be incredible? Absolutely.”
Other USG consolidations include Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University (Dahlonega); Middle Georgia College (Cochran) and Macon State College; 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.
For more information about the consolidation effort, visit usg.edu/consolidation.