News 12 at 11 o'clock / Friday, May 10, 2013
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal had just walked off the stage at the James Brown Arena and was about to board his plane when he sat down for a one-on-one with News 12 at Daniel Field.
"I was honored to be asked to be the first commencement speaker at Georgia Regents University Augusta," he said. "I tried to point out to the graduates today that even though it's a new name, it is a school that has great traditions. I referred to it as their pedigree, and it is one that is very steeped in history in our state, and I challenged them to be a part of making that tradition and that pedigree grow."
Part of that growth, Deal says, will also happen because of GRU-Augusta President Dr. Ricardo Azziz.
"I do not think we would have been able to see the progress that we have seen in recent years without the vision and without the forethought that he brought to the table."
However, Azziz has also brought something else to the table: Controversy, the latest being a wedding for his niece at his state-funded home. Currently, the state is looking into if Azziz misused university resources. The festivities included the use of a university shuttle bus to transport guests to and from the home. Uniformed public safety officers also worked for the family that day.
Deal says the official review will make sure if Azziz is following the rules.
"That is appropriately addressed to the Board of Regents and to the Chancellor's Office, and I feel sure they will deal with that if action is required," he said.
Azziz has also admitted to using school officers to pick his kids up from school on two occasions. He says the last time was about 18 months ago.
The Azziz family's request for updates to the Twin Gables university home garage carport for storage and entertainment space has also raised some eyebrows.
The project could end up costing the school nearly $100,000. The school paid just more than $23,000 for architect designs. They detail exact measurements and what the changes will be. A second set had to be drawn and sent to Veracity Construction for approval. The school is now waiting for those plans and a final price tag. The GRU finance and facilities department need to crunch the numbers, but final approval has to come from the Board of Regents.
Arguably the biggest controversy surrounding Azziz, however, could be the name of the university he leads. When Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University merged, there was public outcry the word "Augusta" would not be included in the name Georgia Regents University. After "Save the A" protests and petitions that made their way to Deal's office, a compromise was announced in October 2012: The "New U" would be known as Georgia Regents University Augusta.
Does Deal believed "the A" was saved?
"Absolutely," he said. "In fact, it was enhanced."
Deal repeatedly referred to the "New U" as "Georgia Regents University Augusta" during the course of our interview. However, we showed him the latest news release from Azziz dated April 24, 2013. The official stationery Azziz uses does not have an "A" anywhere. The logo is just "GRU," and Azziz signed the release with "President, Georgia Regents University."
Deal leaned down to get a good look at it, but did not make any comments about it.
However, Deal was excited to talk about how GRU Augusta isn't just a positive force in the CSRA.
"We see it as the hub of something very important for our state. In fact, we've reflected that in this year's budget," he said.
Deal had just signed that budget earlier that same week. It included $45 million for a new cancer research center at GRU Augusta and millions more for research, including the establishment of a tumor bank. That same budget also included a 3 percent hike in HOPE Scholarship Grant money available to students and a lower GPA requirement for students at Georgia's technical colleges. It also included enough money to bring the state's Pre-K calender back up to 180 days. He says the future of our state depends on educating our children.
Deal also discussed another wide range of topics, including the recent overhaul to Georgia's juvenile justice system and well as how the state can add more jobs.