Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part interview with Macon State College President Jeff Allbritten. The second part appears in Sunday’s newspaper. Some of Albritten’s comments have been edited for length.
Since word of a merger of Macon State College and Middle Georgia College first surfaced, people across the midstate have speculated what the new college might look like when the changes take effect in 2013.
Macon State President Jeff Allbritten, who assumed office in July, will oversee the merger and become the president of the new entity. Allbritten sat down with The Telegraph to discuss the merger process.
TELEGRAPH: You came into this job with a plan on how to expand Macon State, including graduate programs, as well as work with other local colleges in partnerships. How does the merger affect that?
ALLBRITTEN: When I was referring to partnerships, this wasn’t on my mental radar. But it’s a very historic ... opportunity here. I’ve never, in my career, witnessed or have been a part of the consolidation of institutions. The partnerships I was referring to were what we did in the fall with (the partnership with) Middle Georgia Technical College and Central Georgia Technical College when we launched that Nov. 30. That’s what I was thinking of, and we’re going to continue to grow those. This one (with Middle Georgia College) grows a whole new set of opportunities we haven’t even considered.
TELEGRAPH: This year, Macon State is renewing its Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation. What impact will the merger have on that process?
ALLBRITTEN: One of the first things we had to deal with is that we knew we needed to alert SACS about this, so one of the first things we did was notify our liaison. What we have to file is called a “substantive change,” where, in the process of being looked at as the institution that you are, you are also notifying them that you are going to be modifying and changing as a new institution.
We’re notifying (SACS) that things are about to get really interesting here, and that we want to work with them to make sure that we think about everything we have to as we begin to merge with another institution that is also SACS-accredited. The good news is, we are much more alike than we are dissimilar, and from an accreditation standpoint, they look at all the things that you would look at in any accrediting body. They look at your faculty, library holdings, facilities -- all those things.
Some of our folks have been concerned that this is a bad time because of that accrediting, but I said, actually, think about it this way: it’s a perfect time. When are you more attuned to yourself than when you’ve already been through a self-review? We’re at the absolute zenith of knowing where we are, having all of our things aligned that SACS is expecting us to report on -- what better time?
TELEGRAPH: The merger is not really a common occurrence anywhere. There really isn’t a road map for this. How do you go through the process when there aren’t too many models to study?
ALLBRITTEN: We get to blaze new trails here, don’t we? That’s what leadership is. Instead of following a path to blaze, we can go and blaze a new one. We’re building implementation teams, and the chancellor will appoint those. We’re nominating members of our community -- students, staff, faculty -- who we think are really going to be integral to thinking through (this road map). ... These colleges have been running for decades, so we pretty much know how to do our business. How do you align the businesses? There are certainly models in the corporate world, but we’re not exactly a business. We have many business components and we function in such a way, but we’re probably closer to a nonprofit. We’ll look for best practices, that’s the first thing we’ll do. We’ll gather a team that can break it down to business functions, to computer technologies, hiring standards and practices, admissions policies -- all of those things.
I’m not naive enough to think it’s going to be a cakewalk. There’s going to be some tough moments, because there will be philosophical differences, and we’re going to have to bridge that gap.
We’re going to have to sit with our colleagues across the aisle and say, “We’re going to trust that you can do these things, and you’re going to have to trust us.” A lot of this is human relationships. We’re going to have to get to the point where we put aside everything and just get down to the people. ... There’ll be things that they do better than we do and that we do better than they do, and we’ll build on the best of the two. One plus one can equal three here. We’ll cherry-pick. ... A lot of it is going to be common sense and hard work.
TELEGRAPH: So far, what’s been the reaction, not just from your community, but Middle Georgia College’s community as well?
ALLBRITTEN: I’m having to gauge that sort of second-hand. I’ve been in constant conversation with (Middle Georgia College President) Mike Stoy, who is a real good man. There’s a lot of fear and misinformation running around, and what we’ve tried to do is to quell that on our campuses and in our communities. (On Wednesday) we both held large, open-campus meetings. I had nearly 300 people here, and he had almost the same in Cochran. We tried to let people realize that we’re going to do everything we can to make this go as cleanly as possible and that we’re looking for help. ... I think everyone has been behind it. I can certainly tell you that from the Macon and Warner Robins standpoint, they’ve been extremely supportive of this. ... I know it’s going to take some time to blend the personalities and understand. Our missions are so aligned in educating (the Middle Georgia) community, and most of our graduates stay here, especially with Macon State -- we’re pushing the 90th percentile mark. We really are a huge economic work force engine. ... We’re combining into, if you will, one big super-region, and we’re making an impact to be heard throughout the state, to reach out and draw in students from all over, and it leverages the faculty to say, “What new programs can we add?”
Think of it as a marriage. Probably the best analogy I can create. You both bring with it all your family baggage and all the pieces that you bring to a marriage, and it ain’t pretty sometimes. ... But, at the end of the day, you hope for the best and try to get to that right point.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.