Local philanthropist and property developer Jim Hull is the man.
It begins and ends with him… and one other guy… fellow Regent Tommy Hopkins.
Hopkins is an orthopedic specialist out of Griffin, Georgia. Three years ago Hopkins doubled down pretty hard in support of the name change to Georgia Regents University, and yielded to the leadership of Dr. Ricardo Azziz. He has since had a pretty serious change of heart.
Hopkins was animated, dare I say irate, when interviewed by Channel 12 reporter Chris Thomas in August of 2013, following a student protest of the name change.
He was apparently taken back by the anger and vitriol aimed at Dr. Azziz by the gathered Jaguars.
“It seems like it is very misdirected. The Board of Regents has made the final say on this,” said Regent Tommy Hopkins. “Dr. Azziz couldn’t change it if he wanted to. The decision has been made. It will not be taken up again.”
But I am not here to bury Hopkins, I am here to praise him.
Hull was not yet a member of the board when the protest was staged; he joined the board three months later. I have no idea how quiet he was about his agenda; I have no clue how well it was planned out. Rest assured Hull had a mission from the moment he was drafted for duty: get the damn name changed and, with any luck, hold Azziz’s feet to the fire for all the trouble he caused over the issue.
No need to restate the obvious history; Azziz engineered a con involving a “contest” to name the school, when the whole process was already over with and GRU (his own pick) was carved in stone. The people of Augusta never forgot that, and to say that Azziz quickly became the most universally unpopular public figure in local history, outside of convicted killers and criminals, would be putting it mildly.
Back to Hopkins. As “dug in” as he was, he was no fool. It did not take long for Azziz’s pettiness, dishonesty and hideous ego to wear thin with the middle Georgia physician, and the other Regents as well. But there was another hand tugging at his sleeve in all this as well… his little sister’s.
Dr. Hopkins’ baby sister is one of the coolest, smartest ladies in the CSRA. Her name is Jean. You might know her as Jean Duncan. The wife of Columbia County Commissioner Doug Duncan.
I have known Doug longer than Jean has known Doug. We both grew up in National Hills together. He is Westside Class of ’81… I am ’83. He is better than good people; he is best people.
We also both attended Augusta College. He graduated, I didn’t. It is not a stretch to say that there is no single AC alum of our era that has done more volunteer work and fundraising for the university than Doug Duncan. None.
If there is a single “civilian” who probably has a better mind for what is best for Augusta’s largest center of higher education than Doug, I will be damned if I know who it is. When all the drama began in 2013, it would have been easy for animosity and acrimony to creep into family dinners and holiday gatherings with Doug and his brother-in-law, but from what I have heard, that never really happened.
What did happen is that when Jim Hull began to discuss his growing and compounded issues with Azziz, and the “shell game” involving the GRU moniker, Tommy Hopkins had an impeccable resource for back-up and first-hand verification. It was stored on his cell phone under the speed dial nick name “bro-N-law.” (Or it could have been.)
Adding to the frustration the Regents had developed with Azziz, was the recent audit released a few months ago, basically showing that the former boss had misrepresented certain financial details involving the operation of the school, while painting a much better picture of the business model than real life was giving them.
There appears to be some real bitterness toward Dr. Azziz on behalf of the board, particularly in light of the incredibly generous severance package he was given to leave. Removing the GRU brand once and for all was one of the few ways they had to “put a boot to his butt” without litigation, or the professional burden of rescinding promised pay.
Jim Hull and Tommy Hopkins engineered the name change, pure and simple. I have been told they explained to their fellow Regents that a huge mistake had been made and it needed to be fixed. It was.
As wonderful a decision it was to bring Dr. Brooks Keel into replace Azziz, Dr. Keel had nothing to do with the name change. Just thought you folks needed to know.