Another New Name

A public institution in Georgia is changing its name just three years after an initial, controversial switch that angered alumni, faculty and students.

September 16, 2015

Georgia Regents University is changing its name. Again.

As of Tuesday, it’s Augusta University.

The change is the second in three years at the 9,200-student public university. When Augusta State University merged with Georgia Health Sciences University in 2012, the institutions took the name Georgia Regents University.

At the time, the decision by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents was controversial among many alumni, students and faculty members because the new name did not include homage to the city of Augusta, where the university is located.

So on Tuesday regents reversed their decision and voted to change the name again. Though the name change went into effect immediately after the decision, it will take a while to become obvious on campus.

The university needs to decide on a new logo and a new domain for its website and email addresses. It will have to change everything from its letterhead to the signage around campus. The last name change in 2012 cost the university $3.8 million. Augusta President Brooks Keel said the university doesn’t know how much the most recent change will cost.

Georgia Regents Medical Center, which is affiliated with the university, will decide separately whether or not to change its name, as it is not governed by regents.

Cathy Tugmon, who has taught biology at the university for 23 years and is vice chair of the University Senate, said many faculty were “shocked” by the most recent name change.

“It was just really not expected, so I think we’re still trying to figure out what this means,” she said. “Some people like this name better. They like Augusta being in the name because of the history. Other people are focused more on ‘What does this do to our branding? How does this make us look?’ ”

The board's reversal -- which Keel said was based on a desire to “further build on the great partnership the university has with the city of Augusta” -- comes after the name Georgia Regents University engendered a lot of negative feedback, plus an infringement claim by Regent University in Virginia. An online Save the A petition received more than 1,250 signatures, and Facebook pages criticizing the change garnered thousands of likes.

Prior to the 2012 name change, the university commissioned a $45,500 survey that found the name Augusta University was more popular than Georgia Regents University, yet the board chose the latter name anyway, according to articles by The Augusta Chronicle.

Regent University filed a federal trademark infringement complaint against the Georgia board in 2012. The Board of Regents reached a settlement with Regent University in 2013 that allowed the board to use the name Georgia Regents University. Keel said the university is hiring a marketing firm to help develop a new logo for the new name and “do the proper vetting” so there are no infringement issues.

Elizabeth Johnson, a partner at the higher education marketing firm SimpsonScarborough, said that it’s common for universities to consider name changes -- about half of all the universities she works with at least discuss the option. However, changing one’s name should be done judiciously.

“The fact that they went through one name change a couple of years ago and now they’re going through a second one … that’s in the danger zone,” she said. “It can’t be helping their image. Their market probably thinks, ‘What’s wrong with this place?’ ”

Yet the name Georgia Regents University bothered many alumni, who wanted Augusta in the name in part to honor the college’s history. Before it was called Augusta State University, the institution was called Augusta College. Johnson said the name Georgia Regents University is "too long and too confusing" to build a strong brand around. Keel hopes that with a new name, there will also be renewed alumni support -- possibly even enough donations to cover the cost of another name change.

“There’s been a lot of emotion about the name,” said Keel, an Augusta native who took office two months ago after leading Georgia Southern University. “There were a lot of alumni that were upset because the name Augusta was not in the mix, so I think this will go a long way in bringing back some of those alumni.”


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