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Closing Liberty Center would be 'crazy'
Linda Bleicken
Linda Bleicken is the outgoing president of Armstrong State University. - photo by File photo

The Armstrong Liberty Center campus will not close with the consolidation of Armstrong State University and Georgia Southern University.

Armstrong’s President Dr. Linda Bleicken, who will retire in June, said Jaimie Hebert, president of Georgia Southern University, is aware of how "vibrant the Armstrong Liberty campus is."

"You would have to be crazy to close down that place," Bleicken said. "Although he has not visited the Armstrong campus in Liberty County, I know he will be impressed by it and he’s committed to supporting it."

The announcement of the merger of the schools last week has raised more questions than answers.

During the Armstrong State town hall meeting Jan. 12, Hebert said he does not see the Liberty Center diminishing in any way and commended Armstrong for its work with veteran students and the military community.

Hebert said Georgia Southern "pales in comparison to what Armstrong does for veterans."

The meeting also featured Bleicken, Shelley Nickel, executive vice chancellor of the University System of Georgia, and John Fuchko, vice chancellor.

Bleicken believes the current programs at the Liberty Center, such as Move On When Ready for high school students, and the campus’ location make the branch a necessary benefit which will continue into the future.

What new or different programs will be offered at the Liberty Center are uncertain at this time, and the same goes for the consolidation overall.

Consolidation committees will be formed with 20 representatives from Armstrong and 20 from Georgia Southern, to decide what the new institution will look like, where programs are offered and the new title of the Liberty Center.

Bleicken said people are committed to preserving the Armstrong named and that believes any name change will be done carefully.

The reaction to the consolidation from faculty, students and staff at the Liberty Center has been mixed.

"I’ve got some input yesterday from one of our faculty members," Bleicken said. "The sentiment is mixed and I think that’s probably not surprising. There are some that are sad, some are anxious because we can’t answer all the questions and then there are some who are cautiously optimistic, thinking about the possibilities of the future."

She described everyone at Armstrong as being very dear to her.

"When the people, who are the institution, are feeling uncertain and anxious, it makes me sad and makes me want to answer and solve their question," she said. "However, on the other hand, if I look beyond my own current emotions there is potential to create even greater opportunities, not just for Armstrong students but also Georgia Southern students. I have mixed emotions."

Alumni diplomas will still bear Armstrong’s name because it was received from an accredited institution.

Nickel said at the town hall students graduating December 2017 will graduate from Armstrong and in those graduating in May will have a choice to either graduate from Armstrong or Georgia Southern.

In September, Bleicken said, the plan is to submit the prospectus of the new Georgia Southern to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

SACS committees will study the submission, ask questions, then either approve or disprove the new institution. Then the matter will go before the Board of Regents for a final vote February 2018.

"From now until the end of 2017 we will remain Armstrong State University," she said.

Bleicken encouraged Armstrong students to get involved with the consolidation committee to provide input and voice their concerns.

For the Liberty Center, she hopes the campus will not lose its "vibrant" quality.

"It is such a vibrant place. It really is. When you go there it is a feeling of family," Bleicken said. "The faculty, students are all there to support everybody. So it’s a marvelous place. My hope for the students, staff and faculty at the Armstrong Liberty Center would be that the same atmosphere continues because that is a great atmosphere to feel supported, learn and share learning."

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