They worry the value of their degrees will be cheapened and say the school’s identity will cease to exist.
And, they say, there are plenty of reasons they didn’t opt to attend Kennesaw State in the first place, such as SPSU’s small class sizes and the school’s laser focus on technology.
KSU President Dan Papp supports the plan and tried to assuage students’ fears at a forum on the SPSU campus Monday evening.
The University System of Georgia said on Friday that it plans to ask the Board of Regents later this month to sign off on a plan to merge the Marietta-based SPSU with Kennesaw State University, 10 miles northwest. The consolidation would need final approval in January 2015.
KSU, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in October, is the third-largest university in the University System of Georgia with 25,000 students. SPSU has just over 6,500 students and more than half of them had signed petitions protesting the planned merger as of Monday evening.
The combined enrollment would be around 31,178 students.
Papp says the schools are already similar.
Though SPSU has a focus on engineering and technology and Kennesaw State takes a liberal arts approach, Papp said the schools have similar demographics and entrance requirements.
Similar or dissimilar programs?
Their degree programs complement one another, Papp said Monday in an address to Southern Polytechnic students on their Marietta campus.
“We all know they don’t,” Briana Fountain, an architecture student, said at the forum. “Are you in this because you’re going to be president of a new super school?”
Fountain received thunderous applause as did her classmates who also shot skeptical questions toward Papp. The forum hosted in the school’s theater brought in a standing-room-only crowd and had to be broadcast into two overflow rooms to accommodate all of the students who wanted to attend.
Still, Papp maintains the two campuses have more in common than students believe.
“You might think that you’re all that different, but there’s a number of similarities,” Papp said.
What’s in a name?
For some, the name Southern Polytechnic alone was a key factor in their decision to attend the school.
Shelby Silcox, a computer science student, says companies know that graduates from SPSU are well-trained and hard workers. The name her degree would carry if she graduates from the university’s computer science program is enough to open doors.
Now, she’s planning to load up on extra classes to ensure that she gets to call herself a graduate of Southern Polytechnic.
Following the contentious forum where students asked questions filled with animosity toward Papp, students gathered outside the school’s student center heatedly making their case that the two schools should stay separate.
Students have launched a petition on Change.org that had 4,334 signatures Monday night.
If the Board of Regents approves the merger, the new university will operate under the name of Kennesaw State University. Southern Polytechnic State University will cease to exist, and its colors and mascots will be replaced with those of Kennesaw State.
“This place is part of my identity,” said Albert Cousins, who graduated from the college in 2008, standing in a crowd of passionate students.
For some, it’s not the merger itself they find fault with. It’s the way the plan was announced.
The school seemed to be out of the woods when the University System of Georgia merged eight state colleges into four last year hoping to reduce administrative costs, but again found itself on the chopping block this year.
“I’m just appalled that they didn’t try to get our input, especially about the name and colors,” Silcox said.
Brittany Williams, an electrical engineering student, wishes the students had been allowed some input before the decision was handed down.
“I think it wouldn’t be as big of a deal if they had consulted us,” Williams said. “They literally just sent us an email.”
Amber Lawson, an SPSU alumna, also called the move “very quick and very swift.”
Elizabeth Fokes, a graduate student studying information technology, said the two schools are “radically different” and fears losing Southern Polytechnic’s brand name.
“I promise that if SPSU stays, I will donate to the alumni association,” Fokes said. “If we become KSU, you won’t see a dime.”
The students’ response is “totally understandable,” Papp said.
“We want to preserve the traditions of Southern Poly. Heck, I was president at Southern Poly. I know what a great place it is,” Papp said.
He served as interim president of the university from 1997-98 before becoming president of Kennesaw State.
Full impact still unknown
Papp says he still has “no idea whatsoever” how many jobs will be affected or how much savings will be seen if the universities merge.
He also can’t say for certain the fate of all of the degree programs offered now at both KSU and SPSU.
At the forum held on Southern Polytechnic’s campus, Papp placed a great deal of the blame for the decision on the Board of Regents and said much of the details will be worked out by an implementation team.
That team will be chosen over the next week, and once it is approved by the Board of Regents, it will target overlapping services and identify what departments may need to be cut.
Further showing that the full impact of the merger is unknown, SPSU President Lisa Rossbacher responded to a student’s question asking if he has job security in his position at the campus recreation center by saying, “Let me be the first to point out that none of us do.”
Though Papp will be the president of the merged universities and Rossbacher’s future with the school is unclear, she says she is committed to preserving the identity and brand of Southern Polytechnic.
She’s been taken aback by the response of students.
“It’s been interesting and in a way sort of gratifying to hear this sort of outpouring of support,” Rossbacher said.
Papp said he wasn’t told of the plan to merge until two weeks ago, although he said the conversation began about five years ago.
Rossbacher said on Friday, the day the merger plan was announced, that she had only been told of the plan the day before.
Still, Papp said he doesn’t know what kind of savings the merger will bring or what jobs could be in danger.
“We have no idea how much savings to be redirected,” Papp said, adding that any money saved will be invested in instruction, educational support and research.
Papp told a group of business leaders at a Cobb Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Monday that “the winner, again, will be the students.”
“This consolidation really provides a good complementary set of programs that will fit together quite nicely,” Papp said. “At Kennesaw State, with the combination of Southern Poly and Kennesaw State, we look to do some really interesting multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary things.”