Karl Peace, Ph.D., endower of the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University and one of the university’s largest donors, is removing the university from his will over the move of the college’s headquarters – and as he interprets it, the college – to Savannah.
In the merger of Georgia Southern and Armstrong State University slated to take effect in January, the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health is one of three constituent colleges of “the new Georgia Southern” that will be headquartered at the Armstrong campus in Savannah. The other five colleges will be based on the Statesboro campus.
Peace told the Statesboro Herald that the relocation, of which he was not informed until it was announced to the public Aug. 17, was the final straw in a series of disappointments he has had over the years with the handling of his endowment funds.
“Now there seems to be no appreciation of what you’ve done or the sacrifices you’ve made – to let you know, by either a newspaper article or email that the college you endowed to honor your wife is going to be moved from here to Savannah; without any discussion with me or the dean of our college,” Peace said in a phone interview.
Peace is reluctant to publicize a cumulative total for his donations to Georgia Southern, his alma mater where he still teaches and does research in biostatistics. But accountant Billy Hickman, presenting Peace the 2017 Statesboro Herald Humanitarian of the Year award at the annual Deen Day Smith Service to Mankind Awards banquet in May, said that Peace “has given over $8 million to Georgia Southern University in various ways, developed numerous medications that have likely saved countless lives, and inspired and enabled hundreds to obtain degrees in various medicine-related fields.”
His alma mater
Peace, who grew up in poverty in Baker County in rural southwestern Georgia, came to what was then Georgia Teachers College in Statesboro as a student in 1959, paying for his first two quarters with $532 borrowed from a businessman on a handshake. With the help of a dean at the college, Peace obtained a Georgia State Teachers’ Scholarship to continue his education, and the Teachers College was renamed Georgia Southern College the following year.
After graduating from GSC, Peace attained his master’s degree in mathematics at Clemson University and was back at Georgia Southern within a year, teaching there the first time 1964-68.
He taught at three other colleges and earned his doctorate in biostatistics from the Medical College of Virginia before going into biostatistics and research work in the pharmaceutical industry. He held senior positions in four major pharmaceutical companies, working with Jiann-Ping Hsu, Ph.D., at two of them, before founding Biopharmaceutical Research Consultants Inc. in Michigan in the late 1980s. They were married in 1993, and she was named president of the company in 1996.
Peace created his first endowment at Georgia Southern in honor of his mother after her death in 1994. In 1998, the third endowment he established was the Karl Peace Chair in Biostatistics, the first eminent scholar chair at the university.
Upon returning to deliver a speech to the graduating class of the College of Science and Technology in May 1998, he discovered that there was no degree program in biostatistics or any school or college of public health in the University System of Georgia.
Meanwhile, Charlie Hardy, Ph.D., had established a master's degree program in public health with an emphasis in community health. While still living in Michigan, Peace worked with Hardy to establish the Master of Public Health in biostatistics degree program. After Peace returned to teach in August 2000 his wife was diagnosed with cancer the following February.
Statesboro, not Savannah
Two years later, after her prognosis had worsened, the Jiann-Ping Hsu School of Public Health was founded, with Board of Regents approval in January 2004. The school was upgraded to college status effective Jan. 1, 2006, but Jiann-Ping Hsu, the distinguished biostatistician and beloved wife called "JP,” had died in February 2004, knowing that the school was named for her.
“I did what I did to establish this school because it would represent an enduring legacy that would honor my wife, and she died knowing that the school existed that bore her name in Statesboro, not in Savannah," Peace said.
In all, Peace has created 17 Georgia Southern Foundation endowments. These include the endowments supporting the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health and two eminent scholar chairs with two funded graduate students to assist each chair plus 14 other endowments to support scholarships and graduate assistants.
Peace said he first learned that the college was being reassigned to Savannah from an Aug. 17 email he received – the same email received by faculty and staff members across the university.
That day, the University System of Georgia also issued a news release headlined “Higher Education Regional Strategy for Southeast Georgia’s Workforce.”
All about “the new Georgia Southern,” the official release in its seventh paragraph set out the assignment of colleges to campuses: “The new Georgia Southern will have eight colleges with five based in Statesboro: College of Arts and Humanities, College of Behavioral Sciences, College of Business, Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing, and College of Science and Mathematics; and three based in Savannah: College of Education, Don and Cindy Waters College of Health Professions, and Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health.”
The post-consolidation university will have three campuses, with Armstrong State’s Liberty Center in Hinesville becoming Georgia Southern University’s Liberty Campus.
The Aug. 17 announcement also stated: “Classes from each of the colleges will be offered in both Statesboro and Savannah, with a select offering in Hinesville.”
As detailed in a Sept. 30 Statesboro Herald story, the deans’ offices of the three Savannah-based colleges will be located at the Armstrong campus, with the deans, and to some extent department chairs, having to travel for duties on both main campuses.
Greg Evans, Ph.D., current dean of the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, declined an interview request in October. In an Oct. 20 response to a further email asking specifically if he was not informed about the college’s reassignment until Aug. 17, Evans wrote, “All colleges were officially informed of our location in the morning of 8/17 but I was unofficially aware that this would probably be the location of the college.”
The universities’ consolidation website lists Evans as a member of the operational working group on organization and structure and one on public health, two of the 93 working groups assigned consolidation topics. He was not a member of the main Consolidation Implementation Committee.
An undated list of approved public health working group recommendations, available online, shows program assignments, including that five Master of Public Health concentrations would continue to be offered on the Statesboro campus and one on the Savannah campus, but makes no mention of the college headquarters location. A similar summary of organization and structure recommendations names the colleges, but not where they would be based.
In contact with Peace since early October about his perceptions of consolidation, the newspaper asked the GSU Office of Communications whether an effort was made to reach out to colleges’ namesake donors before the relocations were announced.
Actually, this question applied only to Peace. The College of Education is not named for a person, and the Don and Cindy Waters College of Health Professions, which replaces the colleges that include nursing at both Armstrong and Georgia Southern, is being named for Regent Don Waters of Savannah and his wife. The Waterses donated $2 million toward the construction of the college’s $22 million building, now under construction, and he was recently elected vice chair of the Board of Regents, which will now make the final consolidation decision.
“Really, it’s hard to answer, because the colleges aren’t really moving, it’s just the dean’s office,” Georgia Southern Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications Jan Southern said in late October. “The colleges are now going to have two locations, so the colleges are really expanding.”
But Peace sees the campus reassignment as moving the heart of the college named for his late wife without his being consulted.
He commissioned cost-benefit assessments of the college’s economic impact last year and 10 years ago, and these showed a net impact of $16 million to the area.
But he said he has seen neither a cost-benefit assessment nor a feasibility study on the consolidation of the universities.
“If either a CBA or a feasibility study was conducted I’d like to have the opportunity to read it,” Peace said. “If neither has been conducted, then a bona fide, objective, cost benefit assessment should be conducted at five and 10 years after the merger.”
Peace has objected to previous decisions the university or its foundation made in the use of endowment funds. For example, in 2012 the foundation began to direct some money annually from his endowment accounts to “operations,” when in almost all of the agreements Peace negotiated that no “user fees” be deducted, he said. The amount going to operations has since been reduced, but he said the original drain on the endowments could instead have supported five doctorate students working as graduate assistants.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Peace said. “I thought there were some vertebrae still holding in place, but then this year when I find out that decisions had been made to relocate The Jiann-Ping College of Public Health to Savannah without any discussion with me or the dean… that was the last straw.”
This week, Peace said he has already rewritten his will to exclude Georgia Southern. But he indicated that he intends to contribute to the university still through teaching and research, and is not trying to take away anything he has already given. However, he is unsure whether he would drive to Savannah, as he considers Interstate 16 dangerous to travel.
Asked Thursday whether university officials were aware of Peace’s decision and would have a response, Director of Communications Jennifer Wise replied that the university has no comment.
The Board of Regents is slated to hold a telephonic meeting Tuesday to approve the consolidation.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.