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Town Hall on Armstrong/Southern consolidation gets rowdy

Fate of ASU athletics, Greek organizations still in limbo

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THIS WE KNOW: The 18-month consolidation process will come to its end and the Armstrong Pirate will set sail, making room for what will then be Georgia Southern University, Savannah campus.

The consolidation of the two universities is scheduled to begin September 1, 2017. A vote regarding what the new university will look like will be taken the following December.

Another vote will be taken “approving the creation and appointment of the new president of the university,” said Shelley Nickle, Executive Vice Chancellor for Strategy and Fiscal Affairs, at last Thursday’s Town Hall Meeting on the Armstrong campus.

The panel taking questions — some submitted by text — comprised Shelley Nickle, John Fuchko, Vice Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, Dr. Linda M. Bleicken, outgoing president of Armstrong, and Dr. Jaimie Hebert, president of Georgia Southern State University.

Nickle made the claim that the basis for the consolidation is all about student success/retention, and providing more economic development for the regions of the state.

Until recently, the idea of bringing together Georgia Southern and Armstrong was referred to as a merger, but now it is being explicitly referred to as a consolidation, a word that John Fuchko said is a deliberate one.

“There’s so many positive things that are at this institution and at Georgia Southern, and when we go through this process as we’ve done in the past, we should really say ‘what is the best of both, and how will we bring that together in a way that correctly requires change,” he said.

Brandon Scott is a junior at Georgia Southern majoring in Biology, and like Dr. Hebert, Scott only sees positive things that could come from the consolidation, especially in regards to those interest in attending graduate school.

“I love my school; there are so many great people here. We are number seven of the top ten schools in Georgia, and frankly, that’s a better look for individuals planning to attend law school, medical school, etc. I can’t tell you what to do, and I know you love your school, but things change and it’s best to adapt,” he said.

There was an automatic roaring cheer in the auditorium at the mention of Armstrong athletics. They had questions on whether or not their scholarships would be honored, or what would happen with those individuals already on a sports team? Will they have to go to the main campus to practice and play?

“One of the things our student athletes already know: If there is a scholarship that is currently signed to you that you have earned... the scholarships will be honored,” said Bleicken, quickly turning the microphone over to Hebert to expound upon the future of athletics teams.

But what came out of his mouth only upset the athletes even more. “I am not sure, honestly, what the athletic plan is going to look like... But I will tell you this, what I envision in our new institution will certainly include a presence of athletics here on this campus of student athletics...”

Though Hebert’s response was followed with applause from some, some athletes jeered, “why y’all clappin’, he ain’t say nothing.”

But one very important question went unanswered. “What about the coaches?” was yelled from the crowd to Dr. Hebert, and he had no answer.

With Armstrong having close ties with Savannah State University, it is a worry of many that when the name is officially changed those ties will be broken. Bleicken addressed this thought.

“One of the very fine institutions in this city, many of you know, is Savannah State University. So as we are having conversations about what the new Georgia Southern will look like, those voices from Savannah State will also be contributing into this process. Because something that we don’t want to do is to solve one access issue and create another issue for our sister institution,” she said.

Fuchko added that there will be a Savannah State representative on the consolidation committee from SSU President Dozier’s office.

Gabrielle Boyle, accounting major at Savannah State University, says she is in a state of worry that the same thing happening to Armstrong will happen to her “beloved institution.”

“A guest speaker came to my class earlier this week telling us not to think our institution was safe, because the same thing can happen to us,” she says.

Clubs and organizations were a scare for the Armstrong community as well. The life of civil rights clubs, academic clubs, Greek letter organizations and more are, in the minds of Armstrong students, at stake.

When asked exactly what will happen to the clubs and organizations, like most questions asked that night, the plea went unanswered.

“Those questions are not answered at this point, and that should really bring comfort to you. That empowers you to be a critical part of crafting this university that we are at,” was one response.

“I think the concern of Greek life and campus organizations is will we still exist with the merger? As we all know, GSU has its own organizations and different chapters of Greek life. Well, so does Armstrong. Armstrong has developed so much as far as Greek life and organizations go,” says Erin Lofton, a public and community health major as well as member of the Sigma Tau chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Whether Armstrong will get to keep their current chapter is unknown, but Erin hopes that both can stay.

By the end of the meeting, after Dr. Hebert attempted to convince the audience what Georgia Southern could provide for Armstrong’s campus, many questions went unanswered, and many people left still upset.

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