As long ago as September 2011, University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby suggested the merger, along with mergers for other colleges and universities as well.
Huckaby certainly got everybody’s attention. Media coverage of the announcement is actually a testimony to the popularity and good reputation of Southern Poly. The Marietta Daily Journal’s first story on the merger announcement bore the headline, “SPSU president and students shocked, angered by news.” Shocked was exactly the word. The Atlanta newspaper’s front page headline was equally eye-catching: “Southern Poly, KSU merger stuns.” The word “stuns” works also.
Why? One reason is that SPSU president Dr. Lisa Rossbacher, by her own testimony, learned of the actual merger decision just one day before it was announced. What a way to treat a grand lady and a stellar educational leader. Another reason is that the abrupt announcement showed no respect for Southern Poly students who obviously take great pride in their university, understand its distinct mission, and serve as the university’s best (unpaid) lobbyists or promoters.
Cobb citizens have long been proud of Southern Poly, or as we dubbed it for years, “Southern Tech.” I have taught countless high school students who went on to attend Southern Poly and testified afterward to its quality. My wife and I have attended the university’s speaker’s bureau, which has brought to town such cultural luminaries as commentator Bill Bennett and syndicated columnist George Will. Like KSU, Southern Poly has been a large contributor to the quality of life of Cobb and surrounding counties.
Mature people can get over a tiff. The fact that the merger announcement was so abrupt and mishandled is not as important as the reality of the merger itself. To deal effectively with any decision or action, one should attack the premise, not the practice. The Board of Regents’ premise was not an educational one, but an economic one. Economic decisions — where to spend, whether to spend, when to spend — are arguable. One could argue that the Regents could have just as easily saved money some other way.
The central problem of the matter, however, is that the Regents operated from an invalid (and unstated) premise, the premise that it is fine and dandy for a smaller but effective technical university to be swallowed up by a much larger liberal arts university. That premise was not sound.
I’m a liberal arts, humanities guy myself, having taught English and literature for several decades, but I caught the vision for solid technical education when I began teaching English at Chattahoochee Technical College. At Chattahoochee, I have been intrigued by the mindset and inspired by the work ethic of students. Not once have I heard complaint from aspiring technicians, nurses, engineers, chemists, etc. for having to take college English. They readily accept the college’s philosophy that the ability to communicate is pivotal to all lines of work, and the study of good literature affords us something important to think on when we are not working.
No offense to my fellow liberal arts colleagues, but technically-minded students don’t enjoy wallowing in the humanities, particularly history, literature, philosophy, etc., but they do see their value and do profit from them when they are measured and delivered properly. They like Booker T. Washington’s line: “Education has ruined many a farm boy,” but also understand Washington’s balancing thought: “… but every farm boy ought to be fascinated by the mystery of God’s earth.”
Not all technical universities are alike. Georgia Tech, Cal-Berkley and MIT are theoretical-based research institutions. Southern Poly is theoretical-based as well, but a big part of its brand has been practical application. Southern Poly deserves the identity and the brand it has built for itself. Dr. Lisa Rossbacher has been the excited, forward-looking face of the institution for as long as she has been at the helm. Hence, the Board of Regents’ decision was hasty and wrong. Students who have been served so well by the university are understandably upset.
“Poly” means many; “techne” means skills. There is no doubt that the number of course offerings of these many skills will be affected when Poly is subsumed by KSU. Technology will simply be one of many areas of study at KSU, subject to the needs of the overall KSU program. There is no way that Southern Poly’s present purpose or its quality can be maintained. So sad.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.