Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Leaving Disgusta.......
The talk of a branch medical campus in Athens has many in Augusta worried. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:Augusta bristles over talk of a UGA-med school link

Augusta —- With its sprawling campus, hundreds of medical students and millions in research dollars, the Medical College of Georgia has long been a jewel for this city east of Atlanta.

People in Augusta want to keep it that way.

For weeks, lawmakers and politicians here have waged an increasingly vocal turf war over plans to open an MCG campus in Athens, fearing the Augusta school would play second fiddle to the flagship if a joint UGA/MCG program goes forward as planned.

The expansion to Athens is based on a lack of space in Augusta. The largest classrooms can only hold about 200 students, and there are plans to expand beyond that number.

University system Chancellor Erroll Davis, along with MCG president Daniel Rahn and dean Douglas Miller, tried to calm fears in this community, answering questions about what the Athens campus would —- and would not —- be.

"The medical college is going nowhere," Davis told the crowd. "The focus will remain here."

On Friday, Gov. Sonny Perdue reiterated that point during his own trip to the city. He was in Augusta to announce a new T-Mobile customer service center, but instead was asked to respond to those who worry the expansion to Athens is the beginning of the end for MCG.

"We've invested hundreds of millions of dollars here in the last few years. We'll continue to do that," Perdue said. "One of the challenges of a medical education is the patient load. We've already overextended our capacity for patients here in this area. We're already exporting some of our residents out to other areas to get that clinical training. So it's a natural extension. The Medical College of Georgia is going to thrive right here in Augusta."
MCG is limited by geography as well, as this map shows:

The yellow area contains University Hospital and physician's offices. The red area contains public housing, green commercial, and blue is Payne College. MCG is contained fairly well.

The view from above:

Compare to the site in Athens:

The red line outlines the Navy School property, the yellow line to Athens Regional Medical Center. While the area may be smaller, what you cannot see is the close to 800 acres of land in Clarke county alone that the University owns, and the additional facilities there.

More reaction from Augusta:
Barbara Simms, an Augusta state representative, said she worries medical students will chose Athens over Augusta if given the choice. The expansion proposal has "been met with sheer terror," she said.
Having grown up in one of those places, and attended school in both, I can state that Ms. Simms' concerns are well-justified. The history between MCG and UGA has always been contentious, with MCG playing the role of the stepchild:
MCG's past to understand the skittish reaction of Augustans.

Since MCG's founding in 1828, the scrappy college has fought off numerous attempts by lawmakers to close the school or move it to Athens, he said.

In 1909, a Northerner named Abraham Flexner, who was sent around the country by the Carnegie Foundation to inspect medical colleges, recommended the Augusta campus close its doors.

"If the University of Georgia were to break the slender thread that connects them," he declared at the time, "the school could not survive the amputation."

Augusta residents and school officials balked, promising to make the school an integral part of UGA. The Legislature passed a bill giving UGA sole control over the Augusta school's property and assets and, over the next 20 years, the college operated solely as the medical department of UGA.

In the 1930s, the Board of Regents shut it down, citing a lack of classroom space and funding, and Augusta residents again rallied around their school, sending telegrams, letters and petitions to the regents. Gov. Eugene Talmadge, a regent, went to Augusta and, after seeing the public support for the school, promised to reopen it. But it wasn't until the 1950s that the medical college finally shed its ties to UGA and became a free-standing school, the only public health sciences college in the state.

So the apprehension is well-placed.

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