ATLANTA – Things are looking up at Georgia Regents University since the consolidation of Augusta’s two universities, Ricardo Azziz told the Board of Regents Tuesday.
Azziz, GRU’s president who presided over the merger of Georgia Health Sciences University and Augusta State University, gave an update to the panel of gubernatorial appointees who control the University System of Georgia.
“In summary, this consolidation has been able to demonstrate that we can bridge significant gaps between different schools when we consolidate,” he said. “This has been, as far as we can tell today – the numbers are speaking for themselves – a successful consolidation.”
Among the numbers Azziz was referring to are figures he presented showing increases in alumni giving, research funding, graduation rates, admission standards, undergraduate enrollment and freshmen retention, among others. At the same time, the percentage of budget going to administration declined 10 percent.
Part of the challenge was in combining a research university with high admission standards with a community college with minimal admission requirements designed to make college accessible to most high school graduates. The regents didn’t want to harm the medical school’s reputation by giving the impression standards were watered down nor did they want to make it impossible for Augusta State’s traditional students to get in.
“This is probably one of the most complex consolidations undertaken in this area, for sure, if not in the country,” said regents Chairman Philip Wilheit. “Dr. Azziz referenced that there were some people critical about what I thought were some of the soft issues, and the hard issues were relatively easy. The soft issues gave you another problem. I think that’s behind us now, so, I thank you and your team for the hard work you put into this.”
One of the hardest issues was meshing the admissions standards. That was done partly by steering weaker students to East Georgia State College with classes on the GRU campus and the same extra-curricular privileges as GRU students.
“So everyone wins,” said East Georgia President Bob Boehmer.
The trickiest “soft issue” was picking a name because many in the community wanted the city included while Azziz and others feared that would label it a community college instead of a world-class research institute. Azziz praised the regents to shielding him from the public outrage and said such protection is vital for any merger to succeed.
“You … need to provide massive air cover for your leaders who are tasked with consolidation,” he said. “I don’t have to tell you that, given all of the discussion around the name, for example.”
He acknowledged that the GRU consolidation process should have been more transparent, especially in explaining the reasons for the merger.
“Many of our faculty were completely unaware of some of the challenges we were facing at their university, and at that point it made it hard to actually achieve the consolidation,” he added.
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