There’s no such thing in the world as the right decision. Compromise and confusion steal us away.
— Jesus Jones
As part of a whirlwind tour through the region Wednesday, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston took a few minutes of his time to talk with this newspaper’s Editorial Board.
The congenial Republican from Blue Ridge answered a series of rapid-fire questions about the state’s budget, its pending redistricting plan that was passed in record time, transportation issues and the possibility of a budgetary showdown with new University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby.
Ralston was extremely forthcoming with his answers, although he appeared to carefully weigh his answer to the question about “consolidation of schools” within the university system. Certain members of the legislature have, at various times over the past couple of sessions, broached the subject of merging Georgia colleges and universities as a means of saving tax dollars.
At the top of the list during such consolidation discussions have been Albany State University and Darton College in Albany and Savannah State University and Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannnah.
“That’s a discussion we need to have,” Ralston said gingerly as he pondered the question. “As with most issues, the devil’s in the details. I happen to believe we have as fine a system of higher education as any state in the nation, but we have to look at ways of conserving our resources.
“If that means considering an option like consolidation, then certainly it’s something we’ll discuss.”
I don’t think I’d be straining the boundaries of my admittedly limited knowledge by openly stating that attempts to combine any of Georgia’s institutions with unique histories are going to be met with outrage and vocal opposition on all sides. I’m guessing that would be the case in Savannah; I know it would be in Albany.
There’s no way under God’s heaven that Albany State is going to willingly dilute 108 years of its history to incorporate two-year Darton under its umbrella, and there’s no way Darton is willingly going to allow itself to be absorbed into an institution with a decidedly different history and a comprehensive plan that has few similarities.
(A side note here: I’ve read and heard numerous complaints recently from locals decrying ASU’s continued self-designation as a “historically black university.” Such comments once made me angry, now I just wonder if the people who make them are capable of comprehending what that designation means. “Historically black” means just what it implies: The university was founded by black educators for black students who at the time were not allowed to attend white colleges or universities. By law. So, what, should ASU and other HBCUs call themselves “CFBRLs: Colleges Formed Because of Racist Laws”?)
Separately, Albany State and Darton each has around 4,000 or so students enrolled. Combined, that total would immediately elevate the resulting institution to a level closer to Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, West Georgia College in Rome, and Valdosta and Columbus state universities and increase the region’s prestige and most likely its funding.
But at what cost?
The state Legislature can, and indeed should, discuss all possibilities as its focus turns to the state’s budget during the 2012 session. And Georgia’s institutions of higher education should not be exempt from such scrutiny when it comes to taxpayer funding.
But the fallout — historical, political and financial — that would result from a forced merger of institutions like Albany State and Darton would likely inflict damage that would take years of recovery, if indeed the institutions recovered at all.
So, Mr. Ralston, by all means discuss the possible consolidation of some of Georgia’s colleges. But consider in your discussions the impact such action would have. Then you can move on to finding more viable and realistic cost-cutting measures.
Email Carlton Fletcher at email@example.com.