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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Chancellor says No Merger Between SSU and Armstrong State

When new University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll Davis addressed the Downtown Rotary Club Monday, he drew a crowd of area college officials large enough to fill two tables.

And though his topic was economic development, no one asked a single question about his speech.

"Well I guess I'll answer the question everyone asked me in the hall," Davis said. " 'Are we going to merge Savannah State (University) and Armstrong (Atlantic State University)?' The answer is no we are not."

The room was silent, except for clapping coming from Savannah State University President Carlton Brown.

"Thank you Carlton," Davis replied.

Armstrong Atlantic State University President Thomas Jones turned to Brown and smiled.

The recent and unexpected administrative changes at Savannah State University has peaked public curiosity and fueled an already raging rumor mill.

The quiet resignation of Vice President for Finance Arthur L. Moncrief leaves Savannah State without it's top three administrators.

Moncrief's resignation is effective today.

Vice-president of Academic Affairs Joseph Silver announced three months ago that he was leaving on sabbatical and will retire in January.

And last week Brown announced he will leave the university in January and take a position handling presidential initiatives for Davis in Atlanta.

But contrary to the local buzz, Davis, who insisted that he is not in the "rumor control business," said there is no missing university system money and he is not cleaning house.

"Having that number of vacancies at once is just coincidental," Davis said.

Silver has taken a job with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, according to Davis, and he wanted Brown to coordinate initiatives for system presidents, he said.

"It is to be expected as I come in, I want to put in different systems and teams to put in place the things that I want to get accomplished," Davis said. "Brown will work on what I consider to be a critical initiative of mine."

As for the employee of the vendor-run bookstore at Savannah State who was recently indicted for embezzling funds, Davis said the matter is in no way connected to the university.

"That's a non-issue from the system perspective," Davis said. "It's the vendor's problem."

Davis was put off by the anonymous letters about Savannah State University that he's received since he took over the state university system this summer.

He has made several administrative changes around the state - there was even another unexpected leadership change at another university this month - but the only changes people are talking about are at Savannah State, Davis said.

"I don't think Savannah State's problems are unique. There are problems at every institution," Davis said. "But we just don't have people papering the landscape with anonymous letters anywhere else."

Brown was appointed by former Chancellor Stephen Portch in 1997 to lead the university out of a period of academic instability and campus unrest. At the onset groups of alumni, sports boosters and faculty protested his appointment.

Eight of the 10 presidents before him resigned after mounting pressure from faculty, the community, students or the Board of Regents. The two who didn't resign died while in office.

During Brown's tenure, people have staged protests, filed lawsuits, circulated petitions and sent letters to the Board of Regents over everything from tenure and finances to academics and football.

Despite the controversy, Davis said the Brown administration was responsible for tremendous accomplishments, including improving facilities, attaining research grants and increasing enrollment.

In the coming months, Davis said he will appoint a local team to find presidential candidates who can carry out his vision and carry on the work that Brown began. Davis will participate in the interviews and make recommendations to the Regents who will ultimately select the university's next president.

During that process, Davis said he hopes to drive home the point that there are much better ways for the Savannah State community to work out its administrative issues and grievances.

"It does a disservice to the university," Davis said.


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