Sunday, February 19, 2012

Culture Clash?  Maybe Not!

(Reflections on the upcoming consolidation of Gainesville State College and North Georgia College and State University)

The recent excitement over the impending union of Gainesville State College and North Georgia College and State University is to be both expected and is potentially helpful.  Aaron Hale’s front page article in Sunday’s paper was a stellar attempt to interpret the differences between the two institutions; however, some of the recurring misunderstandings were repeated.  I would like to address three central issues that must be considered. 

Gainesville State and North Georgia are outstanding and vibrant institutions, and comprise two of the most viable entities that Georgia’s Board of Regents has selected to “consolidate.”  Given the fact that a consolidation is not a merger, and one of the finest public institutions in Georgia will be created as the result of the consolidation, I want to explain three aspects of Gainesville State’s contribution to the union that have been overlooked: our academic environment, our faculty, and our existing programs.

1-Open Access Does Not Mean a Lack of Academic Standards.  Gainesville State is indeed an “open access” institution, but we simply provide an environment for academic success for our students, guided by a devotion to the liberal arts, student support, and dedicated faculty attention to the individual student.  Many great institutions in America were founded on this premise, and some have maintained this emphasis.  A classic example of an “open access” liberal arts institution is the City University of New York, which provided a start for the likes of Colin Powell, Jonas Salk, and Senator Barbara Boxer.  Gainesville State strives to be just such an institution.  All available data suggests our academic programs are rigorous in every regard.  “Open access” is best understood as giving those students a chance who would not otherwise have an opportunity to enroll in college; it is not an indictment of our academic integrity.

2-We have a “world class” faculty.  The main part of any college’s or university’s success is its faculty.  In our School of Social Sciences, for example, (and this would be the case for our three other schools as well) I can affirm that we have the most proficient social sciences faculty I have ever encountered as a former vice president and professor at three other senior institutions of higher learning.  Our School’s faculty contributions to the life of the Gainesville State College and the surrounding area have few rivals.  In terms of scholarship, within the last decade School of Social Sciences faculty have published over twenty books (including at least one “academic bestseller”), scores of articles, and presented dozens of presentations at professional meetings.  School of Social Sciences faculty serve on the editorial boards of nationally prominent publications like the Georgia Historical Review, Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Humanitas, Contemporary History of Russia, Digest of Middle Eastern Studies, Political Science Reviewer, University Bookman, and other scholarly journals.

3-We Are A Bachelor Degree Institution.  Gainesville State is a “state college,” and we are already offering bachelor’s degrees in early childhood care and education, early childhood education, human services delivery and administration, theatre (in an amazing collaboration with our neighbor, Brenau University), applied science, environmental spatial analysis, biology, and psychology.  Before the consolidation was announced, we were on the cusp of adding bachelor degrees in communications, English, political science, history, and criminal justice, among many others. 

Amidst the media attention given to the consolidation, and the discussions that are taking place on both campuses, the accomplishments of Gainesville State College’s faculty and students should not be overlooked.  I certainly look forward to the consolidation process and supporting the great educational entity that will be created.

H. Lee Cheek, Jr., is the Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Gainesville State College, a former vice president at Athens State University and at Brewton-Parker College, and the author of numerous books, including Calhoun and Popular Rule (University of Missouri Press, 2004).  The views represented here are personal, and do not represent any institution, et al.