Less than a minute after the State Board of Regents approved a plan to consolidate the two colleges, a news release was handed out to describe the next steps to be taken.
The merger requires consent by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December before the Board of Regents finalizes the merger in January.
The rush for a vote had many SPSU students questioning if the approval had already been decided before Tuesday’s meeting.
Three representatives of SPSU alumni and students, who addressed the Board of Regents before the vote, said the board had not done its homework to prove the case for a merger.
Austin Clayton, president of the SPSU Student Government Association, said there has been no data on how the merger will benefit the SPSU campus, metro Atlanta or Georgia, or any indication that possible negative consequences have been researched.
“We want to know why, and we want to know how,” Clayton said.
Clayton said the SPSU representatives did not want to dissolve the merger entirely, but asked the board to step back and create a research team.
Kessel Stelling Jr., the board’s representative for Cobb County, was absent from Tuesday’s vote. Stelling has not returned calls to the Marietta Daily Journal since news of the merger broke earlier this month.
Stelling served as chairman of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce in 1998 and 2006, and is a Trustee of Kennesaw State University.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, the Board of Regents received a letter from the Cobb Chamber of Commerce offering its ringing endorsement of the merger.
Opposition takes stand
The crowd of SPSU protestors were bused from campus by the Poly Trolley to the University System offices, a block away from the Georgia State Capitol.
Cars driving past the Keep SPSU True Group on Washington Street honked horns in support of the students holding signs and chanting slogans in matching t-shirts.
By Tuesday afternoon, the Keep SPSU True Group had 8,000 signatures on a petition opposing the merger plan.
Some of the protesting students said they were skipping class Tuesday afternoon, but many said their professors had rescheduled meeting times and tests to allow them to participate in the protests in Atlanta.
Sean Magee, 26, who will receive an SPSU degree in technical communications before the merger is complete, said he came to support those faculty members who have shaped his education and provided him an opportunity for a good career.
“They may not be able to be here, but they have helped a large amount,” Magee said.
Magee said he is worried who will decide which jobs, and whose positions, at SPSU are unnecessary, and if KSU staff will be favored over SPSU’s in the consolidation.
University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby will form an implementation team with representatives from both institutions to work out the details and submit the documents required for accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges.
The implementation team will be headed by KSU President Dan Papp, who will serve as president of the consolidated university.
The gains and the losses
The merger decision was alarming, especially for a student body trained to analyze objective data to solve problems, said Joe Thomas, 27, a professional communications student at SPSU.
“I am a pretty strong proponent of open government and transparency,” said Thomas, who added that the Board of Regents’ agenda was thrust upon the SPSU student body and faculty.
Associate Vice Chancellor Shelley Nickel has led the consolidation of eight USG institutions into four in an effort to reduce administrative costs and relieve some of the burden on state funding of higher education.
On Tuesday, Nickel presented to the board a list of opportunities with the consolidation, including a wider array of student activities, as well as combining resources for regional economic and community development needs.
None of the previous USG mergers have been in metro Atlanta. KSU is in unincorporated Cobb County near Kennesaw off Interstate 75. Ten miles away is SPSU in Marietta south of the 120 Loop.
“We are not recommending closing any part of either campus,” Nickel told the board. But when asked about class sizes increasing, she added, “No decisions have been made about anything.”
The only challenge listed in Nickel’s presentation was blending the cultures of the two institutions. But Nickel said both SPSU and KSU have a history of changing and evolving separately.
Kennesaw State University, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in October, is the third-largest university in the University System of Georgia.
The fall 2013 enrollment of KSU and SPSU combined is 31,178 students, just shy of Georgia State University’s 32,087 enrollment number.
But Thomas said there needs to be a variety of options for high education, including schools for people who do not want a large university experience.
Enrollment at Southern Polytechnic State University, which was founded 65 years ago to focus on the practical application of science, engineering and technology, is just above 6,500 students.
The board’s reasons
Eric Cooney Jr., coordinator of the Keep SPSU True Group, was the first to address the board Tuesday afternoon.
Cooney, a senior in technical communications, said he could not leave SPSU and graduate next year “in good conscience without speaking out.”
The students of SPSU are high academic performers who have a range of options for higher education, Cooney told the board. SPSU is a unique college desired by students and faculty, but it would disappear with a merger.
“We refuse to blindly accept such a risk,” said Cooney, who wanted a reasoned argument about why the merger is necessary. “We have only heard this is happening and that is it.”
Nickel told the board the merger will consolidate administrative functions and personnel positions, including updating faculty contracts, as well as aligning tenure and promotion processes.
For students, the consolidation will combine information systems and athletic programs, as well as streamline academic programs offered, according to Nickel’s presentation.
“This is a decision that will strengthen both institutions” Board Chairman Dink NeSmith said.
Trent Anderson, who recently graduated from SPSU with a degree in construction management, told the board that KSU has graduated fine business leaders, educators and nurses. He added, SPSU has graduated innovators in manufacturing and engineering industries.
Both schools are exceptional, and merging them together would turn two distinct schools into one “ordinary” college, Anderson said.
The original plan would have the merged schools operate under the Kennesaw State University name by the 2015 fall semester.
Nickel said there is a chance for flexibility on what the diplomas will read at the end of 2015, when the first students graduate as a combined university.
Multiple board members asked that the plan include some effort to retain part of the SPSU name.
Protestors like Tyler Rowan, 21, an electrical engineering student who will graduate in the spring of 2015, is worried his degree will be “watered down” with the KSU name.
Rowan said eliminating the SPSU name disrespects his applied engineering degree from a school that should be a point of pride for Georgians.