Georgia Southern donor and alumnus Burney Marsh asked the University System of Georgia Board of Regents to hold town hall meetings presenting the final plan for Armstrong State University’s consolidation into Georgia Southern before a final vote.
Marsh, who is also a part-time instructor in the Georgia Southern’s writing and linguistics department, has received a reply from a regents’ staff member, but not a promise of town hall meetings.
Meanwhile, the time remaining before that vote appears to be winding down. The prospectus developed by the Consolidation Implementation Committee of the two universities was submitted Sept. 1 to the regional accrediting organization, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS, and is slated to be considered by SACS’ Commission on Colleges when it meets Dec. 2-5. A January 2018 confirming vote of the Board of Regents was predicted when the board set the consolidation process in motion last January, but the regents could meet by conference call during December if SACS first approves, a university system spokesman said this week.
‘So many questions’
The only town hall meetings on the consolidation planning schedule were two held Jan. 19 in Statesboro and Savannah after the regents voted Jan. 11 to consolidate the two universities, and a third held April 12 on the Armstrong campus in Savannah. The 41-member implementation committee and working groups assigned various topics began their work after the January town halls. Major decisions, including the division of constituent colleges to the two main campuses announced in mid-August, were made after April with no “town halls” or similar public input meetings.
“There have been so many questions and no answers, not just from the faculty and the staff at Georgia Southern, but in the community, just so many,” Marsh said Tuesday, “and after that letter appeared in the paper I got so many emails and phone calls.”
In a letter to the editor published Nov. 5 in the Statesboro Herald, Marsh noted that the consolidation committee included only one teaching faculty member from the Georgia Southern campus. He called for creation of a new committee with a membership “weighted toward faculty, administrators who have taught at a university, department chairs, students, alumni, community leaders, patrons and donors” to review the implementation plan. The committee would exam the rationale behind changes and short- and long-term consequences.
Citing a statement by Regent Don Waters of Savannah that the consolidation is “an opportunity to create an economic powerhouse in southeast Georgia,” Marsh also asserted that the first priority instead should be academic excellence. But that excellence, he alleged, is being shortchanged in the process.
Many calls and comments Marsh received after the letter appeared were from people wanting to know what happens next, he said.
“So that’s why I pursued the town halls. If everybody is informed, they can maybe accept change better, but you know there is a lot of anxiety when there’s change,” Marsh said. “You don’t really know what’s going to happen, and I think that will help quite a bit.”
He labeled his Nov. 9 request to the Board of Regents a petition “on behalf of concerned students, GSU employees, alumni, community leaders, patrons and donors, and other interested residents of the region.” But Marsh was the only named signer.
He wrote: “Considering the ubiquitous confusion and angst created by a divisive consolidation planning period, we respectfully request that you order public forums to be held in Statesboro and Savannah, during which stake-holders are briefed on the Consolidation Implementation Plan, and most importantly, have their questions answered.”
Marsh went on to ask that the town hall meetings be held before the board approves or disapproves the plan and that sufficient public notice be given so that anyone who wants can attend.
The Board of Regents held a regular meeting last week. Meanwhile, Vice Chancellor for Organizational Effectiveness John Fuchko III told Marsh that the regents would be informed of his request.
“The Board was made aware of the petition,” Fuchko wrote Marsh in an email Tuesday. “No formal action was taken but the petition will be taken under advisement by the institutional presidents and me as it pertains to our duties in implementing the consolidation.”
Meanwhile, the Statesboro Herald called a different University System of Georgia vice chancellor, Vice Chancellor of Communications Charles Sutlive, about local reports that the regents could vote on the final plan in December. Again, this follows from an understanding that the SACS Commission on Colleges accrediting body will consider the prospectus Dec. 2-5.
“Once SACSCOC acts, and if they do act to approve the prospectus for the new Georgia Southern University, we would then likely have a board call some time in December for the board to then act,” Sutlive said Tuesday.
The regents would face a 30-day deadline to act on what SACS has approved, he said. In past years the regents could act on a SACS-approved prospectus in January, but the same situation occurred last year when the board approved the consolidation of Darton State College into Albany State University in a Dec. 9 “telephonic meeting,” as shown in the meeting minutes.
The Board of Regents first meeting of 2018 is slated for Jan. 11. As Sutlive noted, that would be “outside of that 30-day window to act.”