Recreational runner Jaimie L. Hebert, Ph.D., made “Setting the Pace” the watchword as he welcomed faculty who will teach Georgia Southern University’s almost 21,000 students this year before consolidation with Armstrong State University adds over 6,000 more.
Starting his second academic year as Georgia Southern’s president, Hebert had a video clip of a runner’s feet pacing uphill shown on the big screen behind him. His “State of the University” speech capped the fall 2017 convocation ceremony Wednesday in the Performing Arts Center. Many of the university’s approximately 850 faculty members and some of the 1,900 support staff attended and then had lunch together. Classes start Monday.
“Running is really about pace. You can’t sprint a 5K,” Hebert said. “If you did, you’d either seriously injure yourself or worse, you’d fail to finish. I pace myself. I pace myself for long runs. I pace myself for small runs, short runs. I pace myself when I’m running up the hill.”
Companies and institutions of higher learning also need to pace themselves, he said.
Hebert cited examples of companies that, after reaching a pinnacle, “lost sight of their principles and clung onto a culture that didn’t work in a new environment.” One was the now defunct video rental company Blockbuster, which fatefully left the video streaming market to Netflix. Another was the once-dominant camera and film company Eastman Kodak.
He listed recognitions Georgia Southern received and efforts made in 2016-17, linking each accomplishment to principles he said will not be abandoned. “We value our students and their education,” was one of those principles.
Then, near the end of his speech, Hebert addressed the consolidation of Georgia Southern and Armstrong directly, calling it “a momentous change” and the current moment “a pivotal point.”
$1 billion impact
He asked, and answered, whether Georgia Southern will adapt or be overwhelmed.
“I believe that this consolidation provides us with an unprecedented opportunity,” Hebert said. “Georgia Southern will become a truly regional doctoral research university, providing more opportunities, more options and more resources for more than 27,000 students across three campuses.”
Besides the current GS campus in Statesboro and Armstrong’s main campus in Savannah, the consolidation will bring Armstrong’s Liberty Center in Hinesville under the Georgia Southern name. The “new university” will be better positioned both to focus on student success and to expand its programs to meet market demand, he said.
“We also expand our economic impact to the region,” Hebert said. “Combined, we will have an economic impact of over $1 billion, and this will provide the leverage to work more closely with regional business and industry to continue to promote innovation and growth.”
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia approved a proposal from its staff for the consolidation in January. Hebert and Armstrong’s president were then appointed to head a 40-member Consolidation Implementation Committee. An overall plan has to be submitted to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, whose college accrediting commission meets in December.
If returned to the regents for final approval in early 2018, the merger would formally go into effect for fall. Armstrong’s athletic teams ceased competition last semester, but the committee voted to keep all existing academic programs on their current campuses until spring semester 2022.
Hebert said decision makers have been moving forward “strategically and deliberately, pacing ourselves in a manner that protects our principles through every decision.”
After seven months work, the committee has approved more than 500 recommendations this summer from about 90 working groups assigned different topics, Hebert reported. The working groups include faculty, staff and students from both universities.
A critical view
GS Faculty Senate Moderator Robert Pirro, Ph.D., a political science and international studies professor, presented a more critical view of consolidation. Remarks from representatives of the faculty, staff and students are a traditional part of convocation and preceded the president’s. The other representatives were Staff Council Chair Jasper Stewart and Student Government Association President Dylan John.
“Calling a process consolidation does not guarantee that the end result will be faculty and staff who feel more unified or an organization that is stronger,” Pirro said. “It could go the other way, especially when you have groups of faculty and staff working 60 miles apart, colleges being relocated or split without adequate faculty input and departments getting pulled in different directions by issues of tenure and promotion or curriculum or staffing.”
The consolidation, he said, was not something that either Armstrong or Georgia Southern sought. But Pirro, who has taught at Georgia Southern 21 years, expressed confidence that the faculty and staff can make the most of the process.
“What it’s going to take in these next years, in my view, is a commitment to being more than normally engaged as university citizens, to be more than normally attentive to what is going on at this evolving institution, and to be more than normally willing to raise pertinent questions if leadership goes astray,” Pirro told the assembled university employees.
Interviewed afterward, he acknowledged that he is one of the GS College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences faculty members who opposed the CLASS being split into a social science college and a separate humanities and arts college within the consolidated university.
“I think there were good arguments on both sides,” Pirro said. “My side lost, and I accept that and I move on.”
Pirro, a Savannah resident, also said he believes Georgia Southern in Statesboro has things to gain in the consolidation, particularly from Savannah’s cultural scene and status as a port city attracting people from all over.
“President Hebert, he’s a savvy guy, and I’m confident that he and his staff and the faculty here are going to find ways to leverage those advantages in Savannah to make us a better university,” Pirro said.
Hebert and interim Provost Diana Cone, Ph.D., presented the annual faculty medals.
The 2017-18 Awards for Excellence in Contributions in Service went to Dr. Michele McGibony of the College of Science and Mathematics and Dr. Cordelia Zinskie of the College of Education.
The Awards for Excellence in Contributions to Instruction were presented to Dr. Wendy Chambers of the College of Education and Dr. Christine Whitlock of the College of Science and Mathematics.
The Awards for Excellence in Contributions to Research or Creative Scholarly Activity went to Dr. Chad Posick of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Dr. Hani Samawi of the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.