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Our View: Georgia Southern needed stronger advocates in consolidation process
gsu-armstong combo

After Georgia Southern was founded in 1906 as the First District A&M School, it took on the name of Georgia Teachers College in 1939. Georgia Southern established itself as one of the top colleges for graduating young teachers into classrooms around the state and the south. Indeed, all graduates of GTC before it transitioned into Georgia Southern College received a teaching certificate as part of their degree, no matter the major.

Georgia Southern continued to build on its reputation as a top destination for training teachers and a 105,000-square-foot headquarters for the College of Education at Georgia Southern University opened in 2000. 

Thousands of top teachers have graduated with Georgia Southern Education degrees since then and, no doubt, thousands more will graduate in the coming years. However, the home base that started with Georgia Teachers College 78 years ago, for future College of Education graduates no longer will be in Statesboro. Starting in 2018, the main office will be housed in Savannah at University Hall on the Georgia Southern Armstrong Campus.

Tuesday afternoon, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia voted final approval for the consolidation of Georgia Southern University and Armstrong State University, effective Jan. 1, 2018. That decision was set in stone when the regents voted Jan. 11, 2017 to begin the consolidation process.

Georgia Southern expands to Armstrong’s main campus in Savannah, now to be the Georgia Southern Armstrong Campus, and to Armstrong’s satellite campus in Hinesville, now to be the Georgia Southern Liberty Campus. Officials call the three-campus institution “the new Georgia Southern University.” Television ads naming all three home towns already are airing.

The combined university will have more than 27,000 students, including about 20,600 enrolled at Georgia Southern in Statesboro.

The new Georgia Southern actually realizes part of a plan proposed by Nick Henry, then president of Georgia Southern College, in 1987. Working with Armstrong State, Savannah State, East Georgia College and Brunswick College, Henry and the heads of the colleges came up with a plan for a regional university containing all of these schools. While that plan ultimately fell apart, the end result was Georgia Southern being granted university status in 1990.

So, the consolidation of Georgia Southern and Armstrong was, in a way, a long time coming. And, to be clear, we believe the consolidation not only makes sense in the long run, but will create a stronger Georgia Southern University. But the road to not just bigger but better things, must include the best traditions long established by the students, faculty and leaders who have built Georgia Southern into what it is today.

Consolidation of Georgia Southern and Armstrong was necessary because of the efficiencies it creates in lowering administrative costs and making the benefits of a much stronger university — Georgia Southern — available to the large population base of Savannah and coastal Georgia. Consolidation addresses the realities of endless rising costs for higher education and will mitigate some of the costs moving forward.

All that said, we believe the decisions made in Atlanta took much of the human element out of the consolidation effort.

We don’t believe Georgia Southern had strong enough advocates to argue the College of Education main office should remain in Statesboro because so much of the history of the entire university stems from that college. 

No one could have made contact with Dr. Karl Peace prior to opting to move to Savannah the main office of the college named for his late wife — the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health? A college that would not exist without his vision and his financial gifts?

Hard decisions had to be made, but who forcefully presented the case for the importance of tradition at a 111-year-old college?

No one expects decisions made to be reversed. And we have no doubt Georgia Southern faculty and staff, and we include Armstrong in that, will continue to provide quality learning experiences for all students on all campuses.

New traditions will be created and most frayed feelings will heal. We just wish some long-established traditions and the feelings of some long-standing employees and supporters had been considered more thoughtfully in the consolidation process.

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