KSU-Southern Poly merger plan blindsides Cobb educational community
by Don McKee
December 02, 2013 12:00 AM | 2852 views | 1 1 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This could be one of the biggst stories of the year in Cobb County, outside of the Braves move. It's the proposed merger of Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University.

It came as a shock at Southern Poly from the president on down as reflected in comments to the Marietta Daily Journal after the announcement of the plan. Chancellor Hank Huckaby of the University System of Georgia said he will ask approval by the Board of Regents with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2015.

The chancellor said the plan "offers us some exciting possibilities to enlarge our academic outreach through the existing talent and resources at both these institutions." It remains to be seen how state officials can mix and stir an engineering and technology school with a liberal arts school that is focusing on nursing, business, information systems and education degrees.

The merged entity will be Kennesaw State University, and current KSU president Dr. Dan Papp will head the combined institution. He said most of the Southern Poly degree programs will be continued. He also said he believes there will be millions of dollars in savings from the merger, the largest yet in Georgia's university system.

Southern Poly students and grads don't like losing their identity in what essentially is a merger of their school into KSU. Their university's name disappears and their president, Lisa Rossbacker, likely will exit the scene. After the announcement, she told students, "I was not consulted on this." She learned of the plan only a day before it was announced. She's been looking for another top university job, but it probably won't be at KSU.

The SPSU faculty and staff are concerned about what happens to them. They won't know for perhaps another year. And of course, the merger has to be formally approved by the regents. So it's not surprising that University System spokesman John Millsaps said no decision has been made on what faculty positions would be considered repetitive, or overlapping, and thus no longer needed. But if costs are to be cut, the first place to look will no doubt be the source of most expenses, faculty. In confirming that office staff will be cut to reduce expenses, Dr. Papp promised to look at all positions and "handle any cuts with the greatest sensitivity possible."

It surely will be a tough challenge to figure out a workable solution to combining the two universities. It seems that the most difficult part will be to maintain the status of the engineering and technology programs in the merged institution, but maybe state officials have a plan for that. Maybe they will even come up with a way keep the essence of the SPSU name, for example the Southern Polytechnic School of Engineering and Technology at Kennesaw State University or something similar that at least preserves a link to the Southern Poly that was. Regardless of how it's done, it's a sad thing to lose your university.

Don McKee is a Cobb resident who writes a column regularly for the Marietta Daily Journal ]]>
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Michael Barrett
December 02, 2013
Don McKee's comments are well spoken and worthy of consideration by all concerned.

One element I have not heard mentioned is a critical reason for SPSU's level of success. Most of the faculty positions for engineering/technology at the school require pertinent industrial experience. This applied knowledge is molded into the lectures, labs, and projects in the students' education.

Southern Tech's engineering faculty is eminently qualified with their academic credentials. The extra ingredient of hands-on industrial experience of the faculty completes the spectrum of an engineering education that makes the Southern Tech graduate so valuable to employers.

Until the 1950's and 1960's, most engineering schools in the South provided the applied knowledge a well-rounded engineer needs. This faded away as the colleges moved more into the theoretical realm and started focusing on research. Schools that fit this category include Clemson, Auburn, and even Georgia Tech.

Southern Tech in this sense is an anachronism. It certainly provides all the theory a competent contemporary engineer needs. The calculus, physics, the chemistry all are there. The state-of-the-art technology is drilled into every part of a Southern Tech education. But the elusive key ingredient employers seek in a fresh graduate is also there, the ability to walk in the door and understand the employers' need from a "let's get it done" perspective.

Years of experience bring this quality to an engineer. This is what commands the high engineering salaries. A Southern Tech graduate starts his first job with an understanding of the importance of the applied aspects of his work. He is a valuable asset from day one.

The phenomenal success of Southern Tech's student competition teams bears witness as to how effective are the school's philosophy and focus. In numerous national and international student engineering contests, SPSU consistently bests some of the most prestigious engineering colleges in the world. The same can be said for southern Tech's science competition appearances.

A genuine concern is that a liberal arts school will fail to comprehend the need for industrial experience in its engineering faculty. What impresses in the liberal arts world is research, publishing, and a host of degrees that turn out carbon copies of themselves. I'm sure this formula works for a lot of what they do, but engineering cannot be so statically myopic.

There is a world out there demanding food, fiber, shelter, transportation, comfort, safety, a better quality of life. Engineers are instrumental in providing all of the above. If Southern Tech is directed from its current mission, a promising future and a rich past will be lost.

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