The Faculty Senate at Georgia Southern University will consider naming a committee to deal with unforeseen consequences that arise after the consolidation with Armstrong State University takes effect.
Robert “Bob” Jackson, Ph.D., one of the GS College of Business Administration’s faculty senators, submitted the motion in early September to form a faculty-driven Consolidation Review Committee. He cites the size of the decisions being made as an indicator that things will not always go smoothly. Faculty Senate Moderator Robert Pirro, Ph.D., cites the speed with which the consolidation planning has been done by the state-appointed Consolidation Implementation Committee, or CIC, and its working groups.
After the Faculty Senate’s executive committee selected agenda items Thursday, the motion is on the agenda for the whole senate’s Oct. 16 meeting.
"The idea is this,” Pirro said in a Sept. 26 interview. “This consolidation process has been very accelerated, obviously. We've had six, seven months to essentially put together a new university, and the expectation is that there may be adjustments that have to be made after we get to January.”
So some of the faculty senators, he said, thought it would be a good idea to have a way of alerting administrators to potential issues.
Jackson’s written motion states: “Some problems concerning consolidation will require immediate action. For example, the College of Business Administration is going to be housed in Statesboro but continue to offer some courses on the Armstrong campus. The Department of Biology will be housed in Statesboro, but the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry will be housed in Savannah; this could severely impact the synergy between these two departments, including the reduction of applications to extramural funding agencies.”
Also by way of example in the motion, Jackson stated that the split of the current College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, or CLASS, and the assignment of three other colleges to the Armstrong campus “could result in further consolidation of programs during the transition process.”
The entire post-merger university will carry the Georgia Southern name, on three campuses: the Statesboro campus, the Armstrong campus in Savannah, and the smaller Liberty campus, currently Armstrong’s satellite campus, in Hinesville. Five of the colleges of the “new Georgia Southern” will be based at the Statesboro campus, but the College of Education, the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health and what will now be the Don and Cindy Waters College of Health Professions are to be headquartered in Savannah.
Meanwhile, departments formerly in the CLASS will be divided between a College of Arts and Humanities and a new College of Behavioral Sciences.
‘Things this big’
In a phone interview, also Sept. 26, Jackson said the concerns cited in his motion are examples of things that could happen, not predictions that they will.
“Things this big are not going to go smoothly,” he said. “I've been through the merger of a couple of accounting firms in my years in public accounting. It didn't go smoothly there either. So my view is, something's going to happen, darned if I know what it is.”
Now an assistant professor of accountancy, Jackson worked in public accounting for more than 25 years before becoming a college teacher. He joined the GS faculty in 2004.
“These are just examples of some things that could happen, not necessarily things that are happening, and we're going to have unintended consequences and we need to be able to deal with them,” he said.
His motion calls for a “faculty driven committee with representation from all Georgia Southern University campuses” and suggests it be “a small task force” to focus on specific problems and advise the university president.
University System Chancellor Steve Wrigley appointed the CIC, with 20 members from Georgia Southern and 20 members from Armstrong, after the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia voted Jan. 11 to consolidate the two universities. The CIC has been assisted by 93 operational working groups assigned various topics and tasks.
The CIC held its first joint meeting March 3. After making a number of announced recommendations, the committee submitted a prospectus describing the consolidated university to the regional accrediting organization, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Sept. 1.
SACS could approve the prospectus at a meeting in December. If that happens, the consolidation plans would return to the Board of Regents in January, and if approved there, the new Georgia Southern will begin operating as such right away, GS President Jaimie Hebert, Ph.D., said in a recent interview.
Pirro said that if there is one complaint he has heard “almost universally” it is about the speed of the process. He observed that the schedule was not chosen on campus, but by state officials.
“And naturally when you do things quickly, there may be issues that you haven't fully thought out, and all the more reason to have people looking at the process later and the results to see whether there are issues to be addressed,” Pirro said.
Senate to change
An advisory body, the Georgia Southern Faculty Senate makes recommendations to the university administration. The senate’s makeup will also change with consolidation. A current proposal, Pirro said, would give the Statesboro campus 60 members, the Armstrong campus 19 members and the Liberty campus one member in a single senate that will hold some meetings in Statesboro and some in Savannah. Currently, the GS Faculty Senate has about 60 members, plus alternates, just from the Statesboro campus.
“It's an advisory body, but it's an important advisory body," Pirro said. "I think if you want full buy-in from the faculty at a university, you have to give the faculty the means to discuss and debate issues that are important and to advise the administration."
Pirro is not a member of the Consolidation Implementation Committee. His predecessor as Faculty Senate moderator, Richard Flynn, Ph.D., was the only member of the Statesboro campus teaching faculty, other than deans, named to the CIC, but faculty members have been active in many of the working groups.
Georgia Southern Director of Communications Jennifer Wise sat in on the in-person interview with Pirro, as she did with interviews of a college dean and a school chair for a consolidation story published last Sunday. She had asked him if she should be there.
“She asked and I thought it would be fine,” Pirro said. “Transparency is my motto, so I think that having people sit in is fine."
Wise said, "It's not unusual that I sit in on faculty interviews."
It has occurred sometimes but not always with other topics.
When Hebert was asked, during the Sept. 28 phone interview, whether the practice reflects a special sensitivity regarding consolidation, he noted that communications-office staff members are present when he is interviewed by news organizations, regardless of the topic.
"That's a matter of consistency in communication and sharing our messaging from person to person on our campus,” Hebert said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.