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Is a merger in the future of Albany State and Darton?

Editorial

Talk about the other shoe dropping. When it did, the thud was heard loudly all the way to Atlanta.

The announcement that Everette Freeman, president of Albany State University for the last nine years, was leaving to take a position in Colorado was just sinking in when on Friday when Peter Sireno the president of Albany’s other institution in the University System, Darton State, resigned under pressure from the chancellor.

In the span of about 52 hours, the highest administrative offices at ASU and Darton went from long stability to uncertainty.

But even more intriguing was the mention the Sireno, who had served as president of Darton for two decades, made in his note to members of the Darton Foundation. “Many exciting changes and challenges are in store for Darton State in the months and years ahead,” Sireno wrote, “among them a merger.”

There’s little doubt of what that means for Darton — consolidation.

It’s clear that such a merger can happen. Earlier this year, the University System shrank from 35 member institutions to 31 when eight colleges and universities were contracted into four. And if Darton was under consideration for merger, certainly its president would know. Undoubtedly, however, the open mention of such a plan that so far has been kept secret in an announcement to foundation trustees of Sireno’s resignation wasn’t the way the Regents or chancellor preferred the news to be released. We can imagine that there was much chagrin when the email was revealed in a news report Friday on our website, albanyherald.com.

The most obvious question is, with what institution — or institutions — will Darton merge?

There has been talk off and on about a consolidation of Albany State and Darton. That has met with resistance in many areas, largely because of the different missions the institutions have, particularly with ASU’s standing as a historically black college and university (HBCU).

On the other hand, with Freeman set to depart at the end of the month and Sireno already gone from Darton, the stars may be aligned for the state to look at such a plan if that is what Regents and the chancellor have in mind.

Looking further up the road, there is some speculation that a merger could involve Darton, which has a presence in Cordele, and Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus. And it’s not beyond reason that state officials might look at a regional concept of a Southwest Georgia university comprising Albany State, Darton and Georgia Southwestern. As an aside, we note that former state Sen. George Hooks of Americus unexpectedly resigned from the Board of Regents earlier this month.

It would be a quite a coincidence if, after nearly a decade of stability at the helm of Albany’s two University System institutions, Freeman and Sireno’s announcements came so abruptly and so quickly in succession.

Frankly, we’re skeptical that this can all be attributed to blind fate, particularly with the mention of merger in the farewell of a long-time college president who made no secret that he was being forced out of his job.

A lot of this would be cleared up if the Regents and chancellor would address these questions head on. If there are plans in the near future — or down the road some years — for some type of merger involving one or more of our area’s colleges and universities, it would be nice if the public was informed about it. If the status quo is going to be maintained, saying that would go a long way toward relieving unnecessary anxiety.

Even if the entire road to the future isn’t paved yet, it’d sure be nice to see in which direction the map is taking us.

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board