In a vote of 17 for and 1 against the University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents (BOR) voted overwhelmingly to name the State’s new comprehensive university, arising from the consolidation of Augusta State University (ASU) and Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU), as the Georgia Regents University (GRU).
Fact #1. With a strong show of confidence, the BOR gave name to Georgia’s nascent fourth comprehensive research university. A university that from day one will have over 9,500 students, more than 5,000 staff, over 1,000 faculty, over 150 buildings, 650 acres of campus, nine colleges, and an aligned health system, forming part of the state’s only public Academic Health Center (AHC). A university that will have state-wide reach, and will strive to have national and global relevance in becoming one of America’s great universities. An institution that already injects over $2 Billion dollars (that’s Billion with a ‘B’) yearly into the local economy and, with its planned growth over the next 8 years, will eventually be having a greater than $3 Billion annual economic impact into the local community… And much, much more into the Georgia and South Carolina economies.
Importantly, the BOR selected a name that we can grow with. A name among the short list of three names that the Consolidation Working Group, acting on the branding work team’s recommendations, presented to them. A name that arose from a process that involved multiple inputs ranging from suggestions received through informal channels to rigorous national opinion research.
Fact #2. On the same day the USG BOR approved the new name for our new university, demonstrating their confidence in our future they also approved submitting to the Governor’s office a $45 Million request for General Obligation (GO) bonds to be sold in FY14 for the construction of a new $100 Million Cancer Research Building. This building, if funded by the legislature, will eventually serve as the cornerstone for a new Comprehensive Cancer Center complex as we move to become host to Georgia’s 2nd National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Center. And the BOR further approved an expansion of the already funded Education Commons building to include a $14.5 Million state-of-the-art interprofessional simulation center.
This is a huge investment in our community and our university, on the heels of funding for our new J. Harold Harrison M.D. Education Commons building approved by the legislature earlier this year, which will provide learning space not only to our growing number of medical and dental medicine students, but also to our allied health and nursing students, including those students currently at ASU. And the funding and construction of our new $112 Million College of Dental Medicine clinical training building opened last year, ensuring we remain the center for dental medicine training for the state.
And to be clear, despite what you might have heard, this new research building originally planned for FY 15 is not a replacement for the academic building originally planned for ASU. We were simply not ready to submit a cogent and compelling plan for the planned academic building for FY14 considering we did not know which academic programs should be included (as we had already planned on moving the nursing program and nursing simulation laboratory to the academic health sciences campus), we had yet to complete a classroom utilization study for ASU, we do not know what our student enrollment will actually be into the future, we had not yet decided where to build it (Forest Hills vs. Summerville campus), and we do not have a firm plan on how much philanthropic support we would bring to the table.
And so we (ASU or GHSU) were not going to have any projects on the FY14 budget submitted by USG to the Governor. Fortunately, because the success we are having in attracting new scientists is well ahead of schedule and we are rapidly running out of laboratory space, USG staff were able to include in the FY14 budget request the new proposed cancer research building which was originally slated for FY15.
But we do also recognize that it will be critical that we continue to pursue additional academic space, as well as student recreational, residential, and parking facilities, for the new university in order to ensure our success and student satisfaction.
What’s in a name? While I do respect that not all individuals agree or like the decision made by the BOR (with three possible choices there was bound to be disappointments regardless of the decision made), it is important to recognize the extensive and extraordinary amount of work carried out by the work team and Consolidation Work Group to arrive at their recommendations. And to understand the richness of the future we now face, with a new university providing new opportunities and value to our students, faculty, staff, and community. And to recognize that, while important on one level, the selection of a name for this university is one of the lesser decisions that must be made in what is, and will continue to be, a complex and difficult process.
But let me review with you briefly (but certainly not exhaustively) the pros and cons as I see them of the names submitted to the BOR. And noting that I do not, and do not pretend to, know what the BOR’s thoughts were behind their decision.
On the pro side, the suggested name “University of Augusta” served to honor our local community, and in the golfing world the term “Augusta” holds a special place. Market research indicated that the name was received positively. And it has only two words with a useful acronym (UA), although one shared by many other universities.
On the con side, this name carried the risk that the new university would be viewed only as a local and parochial concern and not the state-wide entity that it needs to, and will, become. It also created the impression that ASU took over GHSU, rather than it being a consolidation of equals. And imagine trying to manage and create the campuses and partnerships needed across the state, in localities where other communities also feel strongly about their city’s name. For the same reason that our local daily, the “Augusta Chronicle”, would not be able to sell its newspaper under that name with any success in the Atlanta, Valdosta, Athens, Savannah, or any other state markets.
On the pro side, the suggestion of “Georgia Arts & Sciences University” prominently recognized two important fields of study in the university. National marketing research indicated that the name was received positively. On the con side, the name could be construed as limiting because in academia the term “Arts & Sciences” is generally used to designate only one of the schools (the College of Arts & Sciences) of larger comprehensive universities — a limitation that would become evident immediately. Where do we fit in then, the current schools of business and education, not even considering the many other new disciplines yet to be created? And it has four words, with an acronym that reads GAS-U.
On the pro side, the name “Georgia Regents University” recognizes that this is the first comprehensive research university created in Georgia by the BOR (UGA, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State were all created before the BOR was established in 1931). It contains the term ‘Georgia’, which all three other USG comprehensive research universities carry. National and state-wide branding studies suggest that it is relatively neutral, allowing us to create our own brand. The cons include the fact that in national and state-wide testing it is relatively neutral (which can be seen as both a positive and a negative) and… well, it is not one of the two other names above…
Why is a name that we can brand important? Because it is the calling card that our students will have when seeking employment or further training, or when we wish to recruit new faculty, staff, and students.
And so let me tell you a story about a university name. A few years ago, I received a letter from a student at a university called ‘Florida International’ seeking a research position. However, as we rarely dealt with offshore colleges, I ignored the request. And oddly, shortly thereafter (which is why I remember) I received a call from a former mentor telling me that he was going to ‘Florida International’ to set up a new medical school and did I want to join his team. I demurred and feigned pressing obligations. I certainly was not interested in moving to a for-profit offshore enterprise!
But last week, as I had the honor of addressing 120 new medicals students as keynote speaker at their White Coat Ceremony (a rite of passage for budding doctors…) I learned that Florida International University was one of Florida’s public state-supported comprehensive universities… with over 50,000 students… in the middle of Miami. Who knew! The term ‘International’ in the name had made me (and apparently, according to their faculty, lots of other folk) think that they were a for-profit offshore college…. (much like the name ‘Medical College of Georgia’ had made many think we were just a stand-alone private medical school.. and not the health sciences university we are).
And so Florida International is today being branded as ‘FIU’ by its new leadership…. Because we all need to ensure that our graduates get the attention they deserve from prospective employers and training program directors when they finish… and the faculty and staff we want to recruit at a minimum give us the opportunity to listen to us….
A couple of last facts. The new name does not take effect until university consolidation is complete, approved by SACS and further ratified by the BOR. And no, we haven’t wasted tons of money with our prior name change (from MCG to GHSU). Then, as good stewards of limited resources, we allowed most expendable materials to be used up. And we spent less than $300 Thousand on temporary signage.
It is an exciting day to finally have a name for our new university.
And so I strongly encourage and urge our community, our university, our alumni, and most importantly our prospective students and faculty, to embrace the future and to remember that the true hard work remains ahead of us. And if we do this right, and we come together, we will create the next great American university… in Augusta… for Georgia and for the world.
A university that will create greater value for our students. A university that will inject over $3 Billion into our local economy, creating new jobs and opportunities.
It is our time. Let’s embrace it in unity. And let’s be sure not to waste this once in a century opportunity.