At the time, almost eight schools were being merged into four — although we were told that the term “merger” was declared off-limits. Schools like North Georgia State and Gainesville were experiencing shotgun marriages that were not to the liking of those forcibly so joined.
We heard of colleagues being laid off, of long travel times to meetings at locations far from where people taught and of communities losing the identities that a college name afforded. What we did not hear was about the efficiencies these amalgamations supposedly delivered.
And no wonder. According to statistics provided by Inside Higher Ed, the grand total of saving has so far been $7.5 million. That turns out to be about 0.1 percent of a $7.4 billion budget. In other words, for all the angst that has been visited upon my colleagues, the university system might have saved enough to furnish one new building — that is, assuming it was not a science building.
Now it develops that Kennesaw State University (my college) is to be merged with Southern Polytechnic State University. This came as a stunning surprise at both schools. All of a sudden what had been someone else’s problem became ours.
I say ours, but from KSU’s point of view there will be few dislocations. As the larger institution, we get to keep our name, our president and control of our own affairs. Sadly, the students, faculty and administrators of Southern Poly cannot say the same. No wonder they have been protesting their proposed fate.
So far as I can see, they have a point. From the perspective of the University System’s central office, colleges can be moved around like pieces on a chessboard, whereas from that of those so moved their lives may be torn asunder. Yes, they will probably adjust, but the process may be wrenching compared with the gains obtained.
What remote administrators frequently overlook is the importance of organizational culture. Schools develop ways of life that bind them together and provide the spirit that moves them forward. This may seem to be an intangible, but people take pride in their uniqueness and seek to elevate what makes them distinctive.
Take this away by treating groups as interchangeable assemblages of anonymous faces and the evident lack of respect robs them of the motivation to do their best. Why, they will wonder, should they strive to improve when those who control their destiny have no concern for their individuality?
Consider Augusta State University and the Medical College of Georgia. What have they in common? In what ways do they share common habits of learning when one is preparing budding physicians and the other is addressing less academically minded undergraduates? Is it enough that they are located in the same city for them to be lumped together as Georgia Regents University?
This may seem like a small matter, yet if it is so small, why has so much time and effort been put into this reorganization? Couldn’t these intellectual and administrative resources have been better applied to improving the existing colleges?
Professor Benjamin Ginsberg of Johns Hopkins University has bemoaned the development of the “all administrative university.” He notes the number of college bureaucrats has been growing at more than twice the rate of professors. What’s more, the comparative compensation of these administrators is mounting even more quickly.
So I offer a modest proposal. If Georgia wants to save money on its colleges and universities, it should slash the number of college administrators in half. Their ineffectual meddling will not be missed, while the hundreds of millions saved can be better expended elsewhere.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.