MARIETTA — University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby, who has proposed consolidating some of the system’s 35 institutions, would not rule out a merger between Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University when asked about it Thursday.
Huckaby, who oversees a system of about 310,000 students, told the faculty at SPSU during a tour there that he has not yet begun to look at which universities to consolidate in his plan. Before he does that, he is developing the guiding principles to be used in the consolidation process, he said.
“I would say right now, candidly, all 35 institutions are at the same point,” Huckaby said. “Obviously some opportunities for consolidation will make more sense than others, but we’re not there yet.”
Huckaby said his goal is to have those guidelines identified by the end of next week.
“We’re putting some straw men out there for (the Board of Regents) to look at and respond to, and then ideally if that goes well I would like to have three or four proposals on the table in December, January at the outside,” he said.
Some of the proposals under consideration are geographic proximity, similarity of mission, size, and the opportunity to improve the breadth and quality of academic offerings, he said.
“We want to save money in terms of administrative overhead, but not save money just for the sake of saving money,” he said. “What I hope we will do is put those administrative savings back into the academy in terms of programs, hiring faculty, those kind of things.”
The Technical College System of Georgia recently underwent a similar and successful consolidation process by shrinking from 33 colleges to 25. It did this by merging 15 colleges into seven to realize an annual savings of $6.2 million, spokesman Mike Light said.
State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee on higher education, said while he is unsure at this point about a KSU/SPSU merger, he supports what Huckaby is doing.
“I think it takes a lot of guts to stand up and say ‘we need to look at this,’” Ehrhart said. “Who is he responsible to? The taxpayers and the students or a bunch or alumni who want to protect their turf at students’ and taxpayers’ expense? I’m a fan of Hank Huckaby’s. I’m going to play on that team. The one that’s there for the students and taxpayers. Not for the ones that are going to protect their turf.”
SPSU President Dr. Lisa Rossbacher said she sees no advantage in a KSU/SPSU merger for higher education in Georgia. Cobb benefits greatly in having two separate public universities, she said.
“Southern Polytechnic and Kennesaw State have different missions, sizes, and approaches to higher education,” Rossacher said. “I believe that we serve Cobb County, the region, and the state in ways that are strengthened by our uniqueness and different purposes; I believe that, together, we serve the community and the region best when we preserve the unique characters and special areas of focus for our two institutions.”
During a press conference at KSU earlier in the day, Huckaby spoke about a new Board of Regents’ policy that went into effect this year designed to discourage illegal aliens from taking advantage of in state tuition.
“I think the policy that the Board of Regents put in place was an appropriate one at that time given the circumstances that they faced,” Huckaby said. “I think we need some time over a couple of years to see how they work. I certainly would not be in favor at this point of repealing them. We’ll try to implement them as effectively and efficiently and fairly as possible.”
Huckaby was also asked if he supports bringing a football program to KSU and if, as some critics have complained, it would detract from academics. While he didn’t know all the details of KSU’s football proposal, he said, “what I do know is the plan is a multi-step plan, and that as certain benchmarks are achieved along the way, then the school will progress to the next level, and I think that’s a very logical and rational way to go. Athletics does not have to detract from the academic mission and goals of an institution, and I’m confident given what has happened here over the last 40 years in terms of always growing upward trajectory of the quality of education here that the leadership, the faculty will not allow that to happen.”
One of KSU’s biggest challenges is that while it continues to see a spike in enrollment, it is landlocked. Huckaby said that challenge was one he and Papp discussed earlier in the day.
“There’s no question that we wish people had been more foresighted 50 years ago and bought a lot more land a lot cheaper, but that didn’t happen,” Huckaby said. But KSU is in the middle of a strategic planning process, he said.
“I think there will be some opportunities hopefully in the future to identify land acquisitions,” he said. “We hope to be supportive of Kennesaw in doing that, but one of the last things we want to do is talk about possible real estate acquisitions at this point. The price goes way up if we start talking about that.”