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New Georgia Southern spells change for Statesboro campus
Consolidation to base College of Ed., health colleges in Savannah
W GS College of Ed
Classes of Georgia Southern University's College of Education on the Statesboro campus will remain in the college's building on Forest Drive, but the dean's office is set to move to an as-yet undetermined location on the Armstrong campus in Savannah. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

The pending consolidation with Armstrong State University to form the new Georgia Southern University will have real effects on Georgia Southern’s Statesboro campus, which will no longer be the home base of all of the university’s constituent colleges.

Recommendations the Consolidation Implementation Committee, or CIC, made this summer will place the headquarters of 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 on the Armstrong campus in Savannah.

While the Armstrong campus gets those three, the Statesboro campus will get the headquarters, including the deans’ offices, of five colleges. But classes from each of the colleges will be offered in both Statesboro and Savannah, and a selection of courses will be offered at the third and smaller campus in Hinesville. The deans, school chairs and department chairs will have responsibilities on both main campuses.


No longer a dean

Martha Abell, Ph.D., dean of the GS College of Science and Mathematics, applied for the dean’s position at the college of the same name in the post-merger university. But Delana Gajdosik-Nivens, Ph.D., dean of Armstrong State’s College of Science and Technology, was chosen instead.

"I would have preferred to be selected, but I certainly will be as supportive as I can in the new university," Abell said when phoned the first week of September.

Deans for seven of the eight colleges were announced in mid-August.

Abell joined the Georgia Southern faculty 28 years ago, in fall 1989, as a math professor. She started serving as interim dean in July 2012 and was named to the permanent position in March 2014. Abell chairs the Mathematical Association of America’s Committee on the Teaching of Undergraduate Mathematics, and she and James P. Braselton, Ph.D., together have authored several textbooks, including “Mathematica by Example,” now in its fifth edition.

Abell, at the beginning of September, indicated she was neither ready to retire nor eager to leave Statesboro. Also a full professor, she could return to teaching full-time and remain at the university, she acknowledged.

“I’m just leaving my options open,” she said.

If the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia votes as expected in January to approve the CIC’s proposals, the deans are expected to begin new roles immediately afterward. However, there will be a transition period. Abell said she expects to continue in her contract with responsibilities for the college’s current budget and with duties such as faculty evaluations until June 30.

Gajdosik-Nivens joined Armstrong in 2000 as a Chemistry professor. Associate dean from 2010, she was named interim dean in June 2016 and became dean of Armstrong’s current college Jan. 1.


Other deans

The other deans selected to head colleges in “the new Georgia Southern” are Allen Amason, Ph.D., for the College of Business; Mohammed S. Davoud, Ph.D., for the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing; Greg Evans, Ph.D., for the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health; Barry Joyner, Ph.D., for the Don and Cindy Waters College of Health Professions; Thomas R. Koballa, Jr., Ph.D., for the College of Education; and Curtis Ricker, Ph.D., for the College of Arts and Humanities.

Additionally, John Kraft, Ph.D., was named interim dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. But the university announced that a national search will be conducted for a permanent dean for this new college.

Armstrong State had only four subject-area colleges, and so did not have any deans paralleling some of the current colleges at Georgia Southern. This became a factor in assigning deans, Georgia Southern University President Jaimie Hebert, Ph.D., said in a phone interview Thursday.

"But every one of those deans, even when there was only one incumbent, every single dean appointment was the result of an interview process that consisted of faculty input, faculty from both campuses, and the provosts from both campuses," Hebert said.

He confirmed that each dean will have duties on both main campuses, but said there will be no set number of days each week a dean must spend on each campus.

"There won't be hard, fast policies regarding number of days,” Hebert said. “You know, deans have a job to do, and that will be up to the individual deans and the needs of the colleges, just as they are today."

He also confirmed that the expectation of work on multiple campuses will extend to school chairs and department chairs to some extent.


Choosing to leave

Hired in 2016 after a search process, Katherine T. Thomas, Ph.D., chair of Georgia Southern’s School of Health and Kinesiology, decided not to apply to keep her job in the post-consolidation university and so will be leaving after her second year. Health and Kinesiology, one of three schools in the current College of Health and Human Sciences, has 46 faculty members, four bachelor’s degree programs with more than 1,200 students, according to her estimates, and two graduate degree programs.

Previously with the University of North Texas, Thomas moved to Statesboro to be head of the school and says she planned to make it a five-year commitment. But after consolidation was announced, she sensed that the next two years of the five were going to be taken up in consolidation work instead of what she hoped to do, she said.

“Doing this job you do scheduling, you do budget, you do evaluations of faculty and staff, and that’s what you have to do to get to do what  you want  to do, and what you want to do is grow programs and develop faculty and do those things,” Thomas said. “That was what excited me about coming here, and that’s the part that kind of is on hold for a while.”

The need to commute to the Armstrong campus confirmed her decision, she said.

“My office would be over there, and that would mean three to five days a week of driving there, when I already work 50 hours a week,” Thomas said. “I love Statesboro, this is a wonderful university, but I applied for one job, and it was this one, and it was the job I wanted, and part of what I like about it is I live 15 minutes away out in the country. I don’t want to spend an hour each way commuting.”

This was not a criticism of anyone, only her choice for herself, she added, and said she thinks consolidation will be good for the university.


College of Education

College of Education Dean Thomas Koballa’s main office will move from its current location in the 105,000-square-foot GS College of Education building, purpose-built on the Statesboro campus in 2000, to the Armstrong campus.

Armstrong’s College of Education office is in University Hall, which it shares with other programs. But a space study is underway to determine exactly where his office will be, Koballa said Wednesday.

He had only positive things to say about consolidation.

"I don't see it as a sacrifice,” Koballa said. “I see it as a benefit to the college. It provides us with greater opportunities for our field placements in more diverse schools across the region. It provides an opportunity for the faculty here to have colleagues in Savannah that they work with, and certainly there's no intention for faculty on this campus to have to travel to Savannah or vice versa.”

He was speaking only of the College of Education’s teaching faculty. As dean, Koballa expects to spend some days every week on each campus as needed. An associate dean will be assigned to each campus “to be the go-to person” when Koballa is away, he said.

He also suggested that Georgia Southern staff and faculty will need to make more use of technology such as videoconferencing.

With him, the headquarters for one of Georgia Southern’s longest established areas of expertise will move to Savannah. Founded as First District A&M School in 1906, what is now the university was Georgia Teachers College from 1939 to 1959.

But Koballa noted that other colleges on campus also have roots in teacher education, since all GTC graduates once received teaching certificates. The College of Education will continue to honor its legacy on the Statesboro campus through events such as the Marvin Pittman Laboratory School reunion, he said. The reunion held in 2016, intended to repeat at two-year intervals, brought back former faculty and students of the Bulloch County grade school that once operated on the GS campus, where it helped provide experience to teachers in training.

Georgia Southern Director of Communications Jennifer Wise sat in on the interviews with Koballa and Thomas.


Health Professions building

Gov. Nathan Deal joined university and Board of Regents officials in breaking ground Aug. 29 for the new $22 million Waters College of Health Professions building on the Armstrong campus. Don Waters, the Board of Regents member from Savannah, and his wife Cindy donated $2 million, so the building was named for them, Deal acknowledged in his remarks. State funding for the project had been budgeted since 2016.

"The premises we have operated on throughout our decision-making processes have been increasing access to higher education and broadening educational opportunities,” Hebert said in answer to a question Thursday. “Those decisions were not made because of where buildings are located or where new buildings will be located.

“Those decisions are based on where we feel we can optimize access and optimize growth in terms of educational opportunities for students in Southeast Georgia,” he  said.

The CIC, which made its recommendations with input from working groups from both universities, submitted its prospectus Sept. 1 to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. If SACS approves at a December meeting, the regents could receive the prospectus in January.


Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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