Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Some people just don’t get it.
Georgia voters and taxpayers are angry. Elected officials who demonstrated during the last session of the General Assembly that they had lost the fear of those voters seem to have found some religion after the July 21 primary.
Ethics reform has gone from being derisively dismissed to being the front burner issue for the upcoming legislature. A governor who was willing to be caretaker of his predecessor’s transportation now says he will be hands on in selecting priorities to get projects moving. In short, those who govern almost seem a bit desperate to demonstrate they have heard and are acting on behalf of the will of the people.
And then, there’s the Board of Regents.
The Regents are appointed by the Governor, but are staggered in 7 year terms to limit political influence after the appointment is made. The Regents budget is one single line item for appropriations from the Georgia General Assembly, to limit the political influence too often found in the appropriations process.
Much of this is intentional and by design. Institutions within the University System of Georgia must face accreditation from outside agencies. Political influence over academic programs is generally not tolerated by such agencies. As such, the Regents receive the utmost trust of the public by being appointed stewards of Georgia’s higher education system, and the many dollars that taxpayers use to fund it.
In this era of voter anger and institutional distrust, the Regents have taken the opportunity to remind us all that they are accountable to no one and may just be more important than all of us. After all, none of us have a university named after us. But as of last week the Regents do.
Georgia Regents University was chosen to be the leading name of the merged Georgia Health Sciences University (the recently renamed Medical College of Georgia) and Augusta State. The name was chosen after an exhaustive search process. Except, according to open records received by the Augusta Chronicle, the name Georgia Regents University wasn’t part of most of the evaluation of new names. In the one survey it was included – late in the process – it scored very poorly, even on national surveys of brand perception.
The Regents choice to glorify themselves with the name was and is a direct slap at Augusta. While names such as University of Augusta or others with the namesake city or state were included, the Regents decided those names were too regional and too limiting. They needed a name that didn’t limit the University to its association with Georgia’s second largest city. One that is known worldwide because of their premier annual golf tournament. No, the name had to be bigger than that. The name needed to reflect…them.
And so, our politically insulated Board of Regents chose to dismiss Augusta as not being worthy of holding the name of its crown jewel university. To them, apparently, Augusta does not hold the glamour of places like Syracuse. Or Auburn. Or even Clemson.
No, instead, the Regents needed to think big. And there is nothing bigger than the ego of an appointed bureaucrat who has neither check nor balance. In a monument to ivory towers everywhere, the Regents decided the only name big enough needed to be theirs.
The people of Augusta are not happy, nor should they be. They have long been the hosts of the state’s flagship medical school, generating much of the backbone of the state’s medical community for generations. Their reward is to be told they are not worthy of having their name be part of their flagship institution’s name.
In the process, one more segment of Georgia’s population has become up close and personal with yet another portion of Georgia’s government that has become separated from the taxpayers who fund them.
The Regents should inquire as to Augusta’s rules for when a mulligan can be taken. They need another shot at this decision. The people of Augusta deserve a university that has their good name in the title.