The idea of combining Georgia Southern University in Statesboro with Armstrong State University in Savannah is getting mixed reviews from Armstrong alumni. At least one reason is that the merger would produce a name change. “I’m certain that there are some advantages (to a merger) but changing the name just seems a little harsh to me,” says Savannah attorney Howard Spiva.
Spiva is a 1980 graduate of Armstrong and employs five Armstrong graduates in his law office. Most agree with their boss that a name change might wipe out the history of Armstrong somehow, an institution that began with one building in 1935.
“I have a ring that says Armstrong, I have a diploma that says Armstrong, I have awards that say Armstrong and now that institution will just no longer exist? I think that’s where the resistance probably is,” Spiva told me.
The plan is being proposed by University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley. A press release says “if approved, the two new institutions will be named Georgia Southern University, to be led by President Jaimie Hebert.” (Hebert is currently the president of GSU.)
“Creating the new Georgia Southern University will combine the best of both institutions, which are just an hour apart and ultimately serving many of the same students,” said Wrigley. “Consolidating Armstrong and Georgia Southern will create one institution with expanded regional presence, tailored degree programs for the coastal region and positioned to significantly enhance the University System’s economic impact for the area.”
Savannah educator and school principal Pat Rossiter agrees a merger should be helpful to the community and especially to the students. “I really think that the opportunities for a wider selection of career degree choices and the availability of graduate classes here and online classes through Georgia Southern will open a lot doors for a lot of people,” he said.
Rossiter also told us he hastes to see his Alma Mater go by the wayside however. And he says a merger which would create the fourth largest university in Georgia with a combined 27,000 students would probably not be without its problems. ” I am sure there are going to be issues of becoming a number ,” he said. “One thing about Armstrong, you always had small classes and you knew your professors and your professors knew you. The thought of losing that is going to be a downside to this but you know progress dictates that we have to move forward and as this community grows they need more opportunities to further their education.”
Rossiter recalls driving to Georgia Southern several nights a week to take graduate courses and believes the merger would create new opportunities Savannah students now attending Armstrong.
But it the idea that the sign would change that continues to bother some like Spiva. That was really what hit me you know If I’d wanted to go to Georgia Southern, I would have,” Spiva told me. “And I just think that two long standing institutions with good reputations should be allowed to maintain their separate identities.”
Any merger would probably not take place until 2018. If the concept of a merger is approved by the Board of Regents, committees from both campuses will be formed.