The State of Georgia learned on Friday, November 1, that the Board of Regents, the governing body of the University System of Georgia, had decided to merge Southern Polytechnic State University — where I just began work this semester in the English, Technical Communication, and New Media Arts Department — with the much larger Kennesaw State University in January of 2015.
The new university, according to the Board of Regents’s announcement, will retain KSU’s name and president and is part of a larger BoR initiative to consolidate elements of the Georgia’s higher education ecosystem. According to the announcement, Chancellor Hank Huckaby made the consolidation recommendation to the Board, and the Board will vote (with all indications being that members are already prepared to approve it) in its approval at its monthly meeting scheduled for Nov. 12-13.
The announcement was met with shock by the SPSU community and was announced via email on a Friday when many students and and faculty were off campus. Our President, Lisa Rossbacher, held an impromptu Q/A session an hour later on the front steps of the Student Center, which was live tweeted by The Sting, SPSU’s student newspaper.
It would be an understatement to say that since Friday my time has been consumed by processing this decision with students, colleagues in my department, and colleagues at KSU. I have kept all of this work out of public channels because I wanted to assess the position of our faculty. However, over the weekend student resistance to the decision grew quickly, with a petition at Change.Org and a “Keep SPSU True” Facebook page and Twitter account (both of those adeptly built and managed by my student Eric Cooney, Jr.). Students are taking to the web to push-back on the decision that many see as a top-down, dollar-driven absorption rather than a consolidation.
At this point, as a faculty member, I am left with three main questions:
- Is the merger a good idea for our campus? I can’t tell because I don’t have enough information.
- Why don’t I have that information? As part of an academic community, we insist on data, history, and clearly identified rationale that is lacking.
- Why have we only been given 12 days (Nov. 1-Nov. 12) to organize a cogent response to the announcement?
Given that the BoR’s bylaws dealing with public appearance at official meetings states that
Individual or group representatives who desire to appear before the Board of Regents to discuss or initiate a subject within the Board’s jurisdiction shall submit their request to the Chancellor to be received at least fifteen days prior to the scheduled meeting of the Board.
we are left thinking that the 12 days between the announcement and the vote are strategic. However, with the petition signed by (currently) 6000 students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members, last night’s student rally, and a growing sense of faculty resistance, I’m hoping that we can (at best) reverse the decision or (at least) require the BoR to provide the research-based rationale behind impending merger and more time for its public discussion.
As many of the people in my PLN know, I was overjoyed to begin my first tenure-track position at SPSU this fall. I remember fondly posting this tweet:
— Pete Rorabaugh (@allistelling) April 16, 2013
During my first three months at SPSU, I have been continually impressed with the collegiality and interdisciplinary enthusiasm of the faculty and the collaborative and innovative perspective of the students. I’ve worked in schools long enough (15 years) to know that this kind of culture doesn’t happen by accident — it’s cultivated. It’s also worth fighting for.
My apologies to everyone with whom I usually stay in moderately regular contact. This issue and helping to wrap up my students’ project for the last three weeks of the semester, has kept me a little off the grid. However, I look forward to the work that we have ahead at SPSU in resisting the merger and, if it happens, planning for it in a way that best serves our academic community.