For many people throughout this area, the announcement that Georgia Regents University has been renamed Augusta University was cause for massive celebration.
It was like sunshine, rainbows, fluffy kittens, warm apple pie, a soaring bald eagle and a pot of gold all wrapped up in one big shiny bow.
However, there is another large segment of this community that is completely baffled by the Board of Regents decision this week.
That segment of the community is looking back at the last three years and seeing wasted time, wasted effort and wasted money.
Those local residents remember all the pain and discord that occurred under the merger of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University led by former GRU President Ricardo Azziz.
They remember the absolute shock over Azziz’s announcement that Georgia Regents University was the chosen new name. They remember the “Save the A” signs scattered throughout neighborhoods and the anger in people’s voice when the name, “Dr. Azziz,” was merely muttered.
But, more importantly, they remember the division between the two schools.
They remember faculty and staff at the former Augusta State University feeling like red-headed stepchildren.
They remember the ASU faculty saying their opinions didn’t matter.
They remember the talk of “consolidating” the two campuses, which was writing on the wall for a lot of employees that their services may no longer be needed.
They remember the fear.
Fear from students that their GRU diploma wouldn’t mean as much as an ASU or GHSU diploma.
Fear from the alumni that their historic school would no longer exist.
Fear from the administration that enrollment would drastically drop.
Fear from the athletic departments that recruitment would suffer.
But in the past few months, that fear has slowly started to fade.
With the exit of the highly controversial and, let’s just say it, much hated, Dr. Ricardo Azziz, things started to look brighter at GRU.
People were breathing a little easier. Employee morale improved. Doors were open, instead of closed and the university seemed to be turning a corner.
When Augusta native Dr. Brooks Keel came on board as the new president, the city rejoiced.
He is one of us.
He grew up in Augusta. He earned both his graduate and undergraduate degrees from GRU’s founding universities: Augusta College (later Augusta State University) and the Medical College of Georgia (later Georgia Health Sciences University).
He was absolutely perfect.
Keel seemed to know exactly where the university was headed.
Less than a month ago, Keel told the Metro Spirit that it was time for Augusta to move past the naming controversy.
While he completely understood people’s sentiment about the new name, he said it was time to embrace it.
“I’ve always been proud of where I’m from. My whole family is from these parts. I still have a lot of families in these parts. So I understand it completely,” Keel said when asked about the controversy over the name change. “I think it was an unfortunate setback that held the whole university back from making as much progress as it possibly could have. But I think we are beyond that now and I think people realize that the merger has brought together two totally different universities and created something really magnificent in the wake of all of that.”
We are beyond that now…
In fact, Keel insisted there had been a “tremendous marriage” between the two campuses.
“To me, as an alum, I wasn’t as concerned about the name,” Keel told the Metro Spirit. “To me, it was the outcome of the merger and what it meant to the value of my degrees.”
That was less than three weeks ago.
So, less than three weeks ago, Keel said the name didn’t concern him.
Apparently, a lot can change in three weeks.
Just this week, Keel stood before the Board of Regents and said that changing the name was necessary for the future of the university.
“Being born and raised in Augusta, and having graduated from both of the two institutions that have now formed this one university, it has become apparent to me that Georgia Regents University or Augusta University cannot become the university that it can and should become without the complete and total support of the partnership we have with the city of Augusta and the community,” Keel said. “And I am fully convinced and firmly believe that the action that you are taking today will help us establish that strong partnership that is going to make this great university even greater and it is going to make the city of Augusta even greater as well.”
So what will Keel tell those former students with degrees hanging on the wall from Georgia Regents University? Or how about those poor souls who have degrees from Georgia Health Sciences University?
What does their degree mean now?
But more importantly, what are future students thinking about the very public identity crisis that Augusta State University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Regents University and, now, Augusta University are all suffering from?
Augusta has become the land of confusion.
So, enjoy the celebration over the new name if you want, but there is a long road ahead.
Augusta University needs to instill trust and value in its name.
That won’t come with a flip of a switch.
In fact, if Dr. Keel is smart, he may want to consider installing digital LED signs around the two campuses.
After all, you never know what Augusta University will be called next year.