By Maria Saporta and J. Scott Trubey
Friday, March 12, 2010
Change is afoot at Andrew Young’s namesake — the globally known School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.
The school’s new dean, Bart Hildreth, resigned abruptly, claiming he was asked to step down, and people close to the school say top administrators are considering cost-saving measures that could include folding it into the J. Mack Robinson College of Business.
Georgia State officials deny that claim, and say the downtown university is looking internally to replace Hildreth, who will remain a tenured faculty member.
“I was asked to step down,” Hildreth told Atlanta Business Chronicle.
“If we needed to save money, the burden would need to fall on the deans to cut costs,” said Hildreth, whose resignation was made public March 9. “That was not put on the table.
This (changing the structure of the school) was presented in a budget context and was the option put on the table. There must have been discussions before that that excluded [me],” he said.
With the state facing a sobering budget crunch, officials have outlined doomsday scenarios that at the least could result in the axing of key Young school programs. Others tied to the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies say despite Georgia State’s insistence that a folding of the school is not in its formal budget proposals, a merger with the Robinson College is not completely off the table.
Erroll Davis, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia, which governs the state’s public colleges and universities, unveiled a budget proposal Feb. 27 that would slash an additional $300 million from the fiscal 2011 budget on top of the $265 million in cuts previously reported.
The proposals drew a sharp backlash statewide from students, parents, faculty members and even some lawmakers because many of the cuts included highly popular programs.
The spending plan for Georgia State includes ripping an additional $34 million from GSU’s budget, which would result in the elimination of more than 600 jobs; gutting of the Fiscal Research Center, which helps craft state and local fiscal policy; and shuttering the Georgia Health Policy Center, among others.
In an interview with the Chronicle, Young said GSU President Mark P. Becker informed him a week ago that a merger was being considered as a potential cost-saving measure.
“That was just one of the things that came up for discussion as a possibility for cost-savings,” the former Atlanta mayor and U.N. Ambassador said in the interview. “I think we made the case that that doesn’t really save any money and may actually cost money.”
The Young school actually generates more in grant funding than it costs to operate, Young said.
Andrea Jones, a spokeswoman for Georgia State, insisted a reorganization was not among the list of cuts in the school’s amended budget proposal.
“We continue to wait for further direction from the Board of Regents on all budget information,” she said. “When this information is known, the university will determine what actions are necessary to address any budget cuts.”
But according to sources familiar with a meeting of top and administration brass, Becker did not completely take a merger with the business school off the table.
Young said in his meeting with Becker, a merger was only one of several options being considered.
“It would be fair to say that I would want it to stay as a stand-alone,” Young said. “We are going to do what we have to do regardless of what they call us.”
The Young school is the 27th-ranked public policy school in the nation and its influence stretches across the globe, with projects in 61 countries worldwide.
Its scope includes economics, formerly a discipline that fell under the business school, and public policy and management. Outside the traditional business school realm, degree programs include undergraduate programs in planning and economic development, nonprofit management and graduate programs in public health, public finance, criminal justice and social policy.
“We have worked with governments around the world,” Young said, citing examples of Russian tax policy and social policy studies in South Africa and dozens of other nations funded primarily by grants. “We have a record that very few schools can match.”
Hildreth said the “the Andrew Young school is in great shape to face the fiscal problems of the state, and we are called upon frequently to help the state deal with fiscal and policy issues. We remain committed to that mission.”
In a widely circulated e-mail, professor Jim Alm, editor of the school’s Public Finance Review, called for the policy school’s faculty to rally together, and demand a “full say” in the search process for a new dean.
“We would like clear and firm assurances that the faculty and staff of the AYS will be fully engaged in any conversations about the future of the school,” Alm wrote. “As part of these conversations, we believe it essential for the president and the provost to understand the vital importance to everyone in the school about the continued, long run existence of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies as an independent college within the university.”
Dianne Wisner, a development and policy consultant and former executive at Young’s GoodWorks International LLC, said a folding of the policy school into Robinson College would be a blow to Georgia State’s reputation nationally and abroad.
Even proposed budget cuts would be devastating, said Wisner, who sits on the school’s advisory board.
The Young school’s focus on public health policy in rural areas, if cut, would hurt rural communities.
And programs within the school that make it unique, such as public health and nonprofit management, do not fit well within the confines of a business school.
“I think it would be tragedy,” she said. “[The Young school gave Georgia State] an international reputation, and you can’t buy that.
“How can you not know that that has value around the globe?”
In a second widely circulated e-mail, an unnamed faculty member said cuts would damage relationships built with the World Bank and USAID, not result in many cost synergies, and be an insult to a Civil Rights era icon.
“It’s important for this school to remain with a dean reporting to the provost because that gives a lot of credibility and independence to an academic unit,” Hildreth said. “We have been very successful in meeting the needs of stakeholders from the Capitol, downtown and the rest of the state.
“There is no meritorious reason to change that. There’s no budget issue.”
Though his preference is to see his namesake school remain independent, Young said, he would continue to focus on its mission.
“There are two things I try to stay out of — church politics and university politics,” the ordained minister and civil rights icon said. “I don’t know which one is worse.”