University officials are reaching out to the community to choose a name for the newly-consolidated schools. (WRDW-TV / June 15, 2012)
News 12 First at Five / Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He has been at the center of a firestorm surrounding two major local institutions. Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University will soon merge, but many people are not happy about the new name.
School President Dr. Ricardo Azziz allowed only our cameras into his home for a one-on-one interview about the naming controversy and the personal connection that drives his decision-making process.
He is a father of three. His daughter, Ashlee, is a third-year student at Augusta State.
"In fact, unbeknownst to me, she was one of the first students to ask me a question at an open forum," Dr. Azziz said.
We were there as Ashlee stepped to the microphone with concerns about the soon-to-be-merged ASU and Georgia Health Sciences University.
"What are your plans to be able to do without losing some of the intimacy that ASU students do have now with their teacher?" questioned Ashlee.
"And what I told her is, to the extent we can, we don't want to change that," Azziz said. “We think that is a great asset for our students and that is a way to attract students into the university."
"So let’s hear it for our great leader Dr. Ricardo Azziz," sang ASU student Jerod Gay at a recent student protest. "You can tell that he's not from here and that name will never stay."
Something to the tune of hundreds of “Save the A” signs line Azziz’s neighborhood in support of including Augusta in the new name. They are a constant reminder that many are not on board with his vision.
“What do you say to those people who say you don’t understand what this means to our family?” we asked Azziz.
“Consolidating a great university is already going to be problematic in some level," he said. "We often talk about the name, but the truth is our institutions are made by people."
Azziz will highlight that point in a new “I Am” marketing campaign online and on television. Click here to view a portion of the ad.
It is meant to highlight a school with a new name but the same people you have trusted for health care, education and sports entertainment.
"And we are the Jags and continue to be the Jags," Azziz said. “We're going to be the Jag nation and nobody should confuse us. That program will continue to grow. I'm here to assure alumni that if you have been alumni of either school, you will continue to be alumni of this new university, but it is disconcerting for alumni. It's just going to be rocky over the next two or three years as we settle down into our new vision and our new hope."
Azziz says the Web and television ads should start airing around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The formal name, Georgia Regents University, goes before the Board of Regents in January. Azziz says they will have the final say on the name.
To see all of the clips from the interview, click here to view the playlist: