As Georgia Southern University grows, leadership has to make key decisions - sometimes quickly to capitalize on an opportunity.
But fast action doesn't always sit well with all involved parties.
David Dudley, the chairman of Georgia Southern's Literature and Philosophy Department, said professors do not have enough say in crucial decisions.
He said in an interview with the Statesboro Herald that the linchpin behind an "open letter" he wrote, which quickly gained national attention, was the quick decision to replace outgoing Provost Ted Moore with Jean Bartels.
Dudley emphasized that he has no quarrel with Bartels, saying that she is well-qualified and likely will do a good job in her new role. His issue was that there was no consultation with the Faculty Senate before the announcement was made eight days after Moore announced his resignation - which itself came just more than a year after he had been hired as provost.
"The division between the president and the provost was evident at the (recent Faculty Senate) meeting, as it has been evident for a long time," Dudley wrote. "The university community deserves an open and honest discussion of their differences, be they philosophical or on policy matters, and the real reason Provost Moore left his job after only one year."
In a June 5 statement announcing Moore's resignation, University President Brooks Keel said Moore "has informed me of his decision to resign from Georgia Southern University to allow him to take up the next phase of his life." Moore could not be reached for comment and did not issue his own statement.
While Moore came from the University of South Carolina, Bartels has been at Georgia Southern since 1999, most recently serving as Health and Human Services dean and interim provost.
Keel did not address the provost situation in a wide-ranging interview with the Herald other than to say that "people are very enthusiastic about Jean Bartels and what she brings to the table." He did say that Dudley's letter was "very well-written, very well-articulated."
"I wish that he had come to me directly as opposed to sending something across the entire nation," Keel said. "But I think a lot of other faculty across the country that saw that felt a certain amount of understanding because they, again, are equally frustrated. If nothing else, the national attention that David Dudley's letter got speaks to the fact that it's not just Georgia Southern. It's not just the state of Georgia. It's a frustration nationwide."
Keel said he issued a standing invitation to Dudley to meet with him privately at any time to address concerns.
Dudley, however, said he is discouraged not only by the lack of input sought in the provost change, but also with the university's recent $8 million purchase of 208 acres at Veterans Memorial Highway and Lanier Drive. There still hasn't been an official announcement about that transaction, he said.
Keel touted the purchase as part of the university's growth plan, but he did not elaborate on what that might be. GSU spokesman Christian Flatham said the planned purchase is public record, but no announcement was made because "it is not yet fully closed."
nother issue Dudley cited is the lack of a faculty representative on the President's Advisory Council. Dudley said that "is within his rights according to (Board of Regents) policy."
"But here was a missed opportunity to reach out to faculty, inviting their greater participation in decision-making discussions," Dudley wrote. "Instead, standing behind policy, the president sent the message that faculty voices are not welcome at the highest administrative levels."
Dudley said he joined the Georgia Southern chapter of the American Association of University Professors and plans to encourage more instructional faculty members to attend Faculty Senate meetings and ask questions regarding decisions made by the administration.
The role of athletics
East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., has experienced growth on a similar scale to Georgia Southern. Unlike GSU, East Carolina has been in college football's top tier for all of its history. But it did raise its profile by joining the mid-major Conference USA in 1996. Previously, it was an independent program after leaving the Southern Conference in 1978.
Since joining Conference USA, East Carolina's athletic facilities have grown significantly, much the way Keel says he would like to see Georgia Southern's grow as it tries to join the ranks of the highest-profile football division, now known as Football Bowl Subdivision.
Georgia Southern has added more than 3,000 students during the past six years to get to a total enrollment of about 20,000 in the 2011-12 school year. East Carolina has added even more, about 5,000, to pass 27,000 students.
Keel said he expects the growth at Georgia Southern to slow to "a couple hundred a year" for the next several years. Rather than pick a specific enrollment target, he set a high goal of doubling the university's research portfolio in the next five years, and he wants GSU to compete in FBS rather than be content with its success in the lower Football Championship Subdivision. Those are part and parcel of his vision to have Georgia Southern be a player on the national stage.
"To allow our students to perform athletically on a national stage helps get the entire university to that national stage," he said. "It gets us out of this concept of being regional. We have a regional role to play no doubt, as I've already alluded to, in south Georgia, but Georgia Southern needs to develop a national reputation. We need to be attracting more students from across the entire country, indeed if not across the entire world, and moving to the FBS would give us an opportunity to perform on that national stage. We would get more national exposure by having a single game on Thursday night on ESPN at the FBS than if we were playing for a national championship at the FCS level."
That national exposure, Keel added, would have a further reach than simply enhancing the stature of GSU's athletic program.
"I think it's huge for us," he said. "It puts us at the table with the grownups in many ways and puts a national spotlight on Georgia Southern that will have far-reaching implications in terms of the students we have, in terms of the faculty that want to come here and in terms of business and industry that want to locate in this area."
Marilyn Sheerer, the provost and senior vice chancellor at East Carolina, said that has happened at her institution. As is expected to happen at GSU, East Carolina used higher student athletic fees to help pay for facilities expansion.
"The typical thinking is when you have a winning football team and all the hoopla that goes with it, more numbers (of students) come, or at least the applications rise," she said. "That happened here at East Carolina. ... I think the success of the athletic program has contributed to the growth of the university as a whole."
Despite these positive pronouncements, Dudley, who has been at Georgia Southern for almost 23 years, still has misgivings about, as he wrote in his open letter, "bigger football." He said the university's drive to enter FBS, like the desire to vastly increase its research portfolio, will be done at the expense of quality teaching and the individual attention to students that made Georgia Southern appealing to attend.
GSU's position in the community, region
Keel said Georgia Southern's relationship with other key parts of the community - business leaders, the city and county governments, the Bulloch County school system - "has never been better."
"In a down economy, when you have so many students that are spending money in the community, that's only a good thing," he said. "In fact, in the summers, we've had just about half of our enrollment here. Where a lot of the small businesses in the community potentially lay people off or not hire summer help, for example, because there aren't as many kids around - that's changing now. So from that point of view, the economic impact the university makes on the community I think has been absolutely huge."
Another key role for the university is to be a force for economic development in the region. That is a responsibility Georgia Southern takes seriously as the largest university in south Georgia, Keel said.
He pointed to the legislation signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal in front of the Marvin Pittman Administration Building in April. That law transferred managing authority of the Savannah-based Herty Advanced Material Development Center to the university. Herty manufactures forest and paper-related products, building materials and bioproducts.
Keel said that acquisition will "give us tremendous opportunities in research and development capabilities."
The university often touts its role as an advocate for rural areas. A recent example of that was an announcement that Georgia Southern's Rural Health Research Institute would receive $150,000 annually for three years from the federal Rural Health Care Services Outreach program. The project will use videoconferencing to reach people with diabetes at clinic locations in Candler, Emanuel, Tattnall and Toombs counties with sessions originating on GSU's campus.
The institute itself is a new initiative at Georgia Southern, formed two years ago.
So is the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Information Technology, which was formed earlier this year. The new college was created less than a year after the University System of Georgia Board of Regents approved allowing GSU to offer degrees in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. The first engineering graduates will matriculate next year.
Despite Dudley's differences with Keel and others in leadership, he said he still believes in the values that make Georgia Southern great. He wrote "We Are the Eagle Nation," a creed for the university.
In part, it says:
‘We pursue knowledge not only for its own sake, but also for the benefit of our region, our nation, and our world.
We believe in excellence and the diligent effort needed to maintain it.
We hold of highest worth the equality of all people and their freedom to think, believe, and express themselves.
We value honesty and honor in the workplace, on the field of sport, and in our communities. ...
We soar, facing the challenges of each new day with hope and determination. Our legacy will be a better world for those who follow in the path of our flight.'
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.