Augusta mayor: GHSU/ASU merger a 'very, very big deal,' forecasts 'growing pains'

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver (WRDW-TV)

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver (WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Jan. 5, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Georgia Board of Regents will receive a recommendation next Tuesday for the approval of four mergers throughout the state of Georgia. That plan includes ASU and GHSU here in Augusta.

"It's a very, very big deal," said Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver.

But not everyone is as excited as Copenhaver.

"Why merge it?" said Ralph Walker. "I'm totally opposed to merging."

Walker spent 42 years teaching at ASU. He can't help feeling let down.

"We've had a faculty that has worked long and hard to establish their reputation," he said. "Why be swallowed up by a medical college that actually has more prestige, I'll be honest with you."

Copenhaver said the merger will bring national recognition.

"To have a major university in the city of Augusta would be a huge deal with regards to bringing in national recognition," he said.

Walker had a response for that.

"He's a politician," he said with a smile.

But the mayor isn't alone. Gov. Nathan Deal spoke highly of the plan Only on 12 back in November.

"I know that Dr. Azziz is very interested in elevating the reputation of the Georgia Health Sciences University, and I am, too," Deal said. "I think there is a possibility that some very good things would come out of that, especially for the Augusta area. Anything we can do to enhance the educational reputation of the state of Georgia, we should be looking at and be willing to do it, if it's possible."

Copenhaver said the merger could result a university similar to the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

"The closest model that I have heard is the University of Alabama Birmingham," Copenhaver said. "[You have to see] what that has done for the city center. I would expect a similar type of effect here in Augusta."

Although the merger has economic benefits, it has some cons.

"But on the other hand," Walker said. "I would hate to see ASU lose its identity."

Walker said it's also hard to ignore fears about possible job cuts with the merger.

"I think, overall, it is going to be a major positive," Copenhaver said. "Will we have some growing pains? Will it be a little difficult? Yes. But change always is."

One of the big questions will be what to call the school if the merger is approved.

"That's the first question that people give you and the second one is, 'When are we getting a football team?'" Copenhaver said. "I don't know the answers to either of those questions."

But the mayor, an ASU grad himself, has his preferences.

"It's too early to say," said Copenhaver. "But I would like to see Augusta featured in the name."

A formal vote is expected as early next Tuesday in Atlanta.

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