Wednesday, September 16, 2015


What was our local public community college--known for almost 100 years by the normal and decent name of Augusta College--expanded and was upgraded to a university some two decades ago. It took the name Augusta State University. Nothing too weird. People got used to that without trouble, although "why bother?" was a common response.

The Medical College of GA, also local (for two centuries) and also a part of the statewide UGA system, grew even faster over the last 20 years, gobbling up property between the private for-profit University Hospital (it is my understanding that prior to the school's having its own hospital, there was a training affiliation, but that's long gone) and the downtown branch of the Veterans Administration hospital, creating a kilometer square campus. Then, some nameless administrator decided MCG ought to be renamed Georgia Health Sciences University, yielding an acronym that resembled a sneeze. This was highly irritating to many, not because of the "unprogressive" cultural environment of the surrounding area (as prejudiced non-Southerners might automatically assume) but because it really didn't do anything useful--it did cost a good deal of time and money to change all the signs, the stationery, and so forth, though! But again, most people just sighed in resignation and locals continued to refer to MCG as a shorthand for the metastasizing medical district.

Then GHSU's president, an ambitious import good at glad-handing multimillionaire research donors, but who cared little for local opinion, somehow persuaded the state Board of Regents, an anonymous Atlanta-centered cabal of good ol' boys (regardless of superficial race or gender identity) to not only fuse the medical school and the former community college into a single entity under one administration, with him at the head, but also to call this Frankenstein's monster after themselves! Thus, Georgia Regents University, GRU, was born.

Hilariously, the French-animated movie Despicable Me was released around that time, which prompted many jokes (one Halloween, all the hospital nurses dressed up as minions). Also, local wags noted that the acronym for the health sciences section should now appropriately be GRUSOM (Georgia Regents University School of Medicine). But mostly people were just pissed off – there had been no consultation of the alumni about the merger or the name change, and the fact that "Augusta" was entirely lost in transition led to a forest of yard signs reading "Save the A". There were plenty of volunteers to kick the ass of Dr. T, the wheeling and dealing administrator who had masterminded the whole fiasco that subsumed the former ASU administration beneath that of the medical mucketymucks (if you think academic organizations are generally byzantine, try adding healthcare bureaucracy!).

Several years after the GRU merger, much of the liberal arts curriculum that had been a staple of ASU was gone, and communication issues between civilians and scientists at GRU continued to flourish. There was even talk that Dr. T wanted to move the medical center to Athens, leaving Augusta wholly bereft. If his goal was to be universally loathed, he'd accomplished it. He spoke briefly at the community-wide Martin Luther King Memorial service in January, and was distinguished as the the dignitary who received only a smattering of perfunctory applause, falling far behind the enthusiasm for figures who (given their politics and paleness) might have been presumed to be much less popular with the mostly African-American audience.

Then, only a few months ago, Dr. T left. I don't remember if he simply retired or if he found another seat of power in another state that paid better, but the general consensus was, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out." And just yesterday, out of the blue, the Georgia Board of Regents announced that they were changing the name of GRU to Augusta University. I don't know if the membership of the board has changed, or if they got so much mail protesting their self-aggrandizement that they repented, but I think it is the right decision. However, it is unclear whether the medical school and the mostly undergraduate college will continue to operate together, or if they will again be independent institutions.. One way or another, it will take some time to sort out the mess that this one person promulgated. 

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