Bloodworth reflects on presidency and return to teachingAfter 19 years at the helm of Augusta State University, a time where he oversaw $103 million in new construction that transformed the institution from a drab commuter college to a modern campus to a consolidation with Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU), Dr. William Bloodworth will give his final commencement address on Saturday, May 12, at 10 a.m.
“What am I going to say?” he anticipated, sitting down at a side table in his first floor office in Rains Hall. “I don’t know.”
That’s not to say he hasn’t given it any thought, just that he hasn’t settled on what he wants to say. But given the fact that he teaches a public speaking course, you don’t expect him to be stymied for long.“You think about the audience,” he continued. “They are there to walk across the stage. Maybe they will listen and maybe they won’t, but it’s primarily an audience of people that are earning their first college degrees, and they’re entering a kind of difficult world. That degree doesn’t guarantee a job and the world is no less free of conflict now than it was 10 years ago or 50 years ago. But I hope that what our students have gained through their experience at Augusta State University makes that a little easier to meet those challenges.” While most people think of graduation as an ending, the commencement ceremony is actually about beginnings, and Bloodworth, like those he’ll be addressing, is looking at a new beginning himself. He steps down as president June 30, and after a few months writing his history as president and being on call for Dr. Shirley Kenny, the interim president, he’s starting off as a professor of English and American Studies beginning in January. “It feels different than I thought it would,” he admitted. “I would think — okay, I’m going to walk around campus and I’m not going to be seen as the president anymore. I’ve been seen in this very particular and special way.” He stopped and searched for the right words “I have — not ownership — but this sense of privilege that’s been granted to me as president,” he said. “It gives me the right to be known by other people. It gives me the right to take responsibility for a lot of things around here, and I knew that would go away. “So now it’s going to be different,” he said. “I’m not going to have certain things. I’m no longer going to have a key that opens up almost any building on campus. I won’t have a lot of people around me taking care of me, worrying about my schedule and so forth. I’ll be back to the kind of person I used to be, but that was a long time ago.” Bloodworth has taught a course each year for the last four years, but while he enjoyed it, he knows that’s a far cry from what he’ll be doing come January. “I’m still the president,” he said. “I walk into a class and the students think, ‘Oh, my god! It’s the president of the university — let me out of here.’” Bloodworth has been in a role with some kind of administrative support since 1982, and while he sounded excited at the prospect of becoming just another academic, there’s no denying the difference. “For me, it’s also a matter of focusing myself,” he said. “When you’ve got a job like being a college president, there’s a multitude of things to do all the time, and you sometimes don’t know what they are until they appear — you may think you’re going to take care of something for the next 15 minutes and something else will come up. When you’re a faculty member, you have different kinds of choices to make about your time — you can actually spend 30 minutes working on one thing.” While teaching after a presidency isn’t all that unusual, most retired presidents usually return to very small and highly selective classrooms made up of graduate students. Not so with Bloodworth, who wants to be involved with undergraduates — particularly freshman and sophomores. “That’s the big question,” he said. “Can I, acting simply as professor of English and American Studies at this university, be really useful? Do I have something to offer to the students in my classes? I think I do, but the jury is still out. The jury will be all those students.” Bloodworth, who earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Texas Lutheran University, a master’s degree in English from Lamar University and a doctoral degree in American civilization from the University of Texas at Austin, came to Augusta in October 1993 after spending time at East Carolina University and Central Missouri State University. Both were fairly large campuses in fairly small towns. “In those two places, you never really got outside the university,” he said. Augusta, of course, was different, and the difference suited him. “What I liked here was the fact that this was a relatively small institution compared to the size of the community, which means the community had a life of its own and a history and traditions of its own,” he said. “I liked the fact that I was going to be at a college that became a university in a community where you could, in a sense, step off campus. You could remove this institution from the community and some things would change for the worse, but the community would still be here. And I like that a lot, and that’s probably one of the reasons why I stayed here so long.” While he may have liked the community surrounding the school, the campus that he inherited was far from refined and the atmosphere was far from hospitable. The previous president had died in office more than two years before Bloodworth was hired. When he arrived, there were some problems with the accreditation of the then School of Education and problems with the registration process. “What I thought the school needed was someone who could help make a lot of improvements in the way that we were trying to get things done and could grant some assurances to faculty that they were in a good place,” he said. “But I didn’t come here with a sense that the institution should be transformed into something that it wasn’t already. I thought that it needed to find itself, understand itself and get more self confidence so it could continue to do good work.” Though he may not have set out with a vision — he actually scoffs at the whole “vision thing” — Bloodworth’s ideas nevertheless became the realities he leaves behind. Back then, there were six warehouse-style buildings in the center of the campus that had been built as part of the United States Arsenal as the country was gearing up for WWII. Those buildings were used by the arsenal during the war for repair and retrofitting of small arms and other things, and when the property became available for use by the Junior College of Augusta in 1957, which became part of the University System of Georgia the next year and became Augusta College, those buildings housed classrooms and offices. Very few of the offices had windows, the rooms all had low ceilings, the hallways were dark and the roofs were made with asbestos, which in an odd way turned out to be a good thing, since media pressure and a lawsuit eventually generated some interest among the Board of Regents to do something. The school got approval for a science building in 1994 — the first new building built on campus in close to a quarter century — and that was followed in 1997 by the approval of two more buildings, Allgood Hall and University Hall. “This was a huge step forward as far as facilities were concerned,” Bloodworth said. “Once Allgood Hall was built, it meant faculty members actually had offices with windows and students had decent places to attend class. We finally made this place look like the kind of college it had always been internally.” That internal academic foundation has not always been appreciated, due to the school’s relaxed enrollment policy, a policy Bloodworth said was quite intentional. “It’s been a place where the internal academic standards are actually high,” he said, “but the external standards for admission are not high, so it’s been a place that has created an opportunity for a lot of people to go to college or try to go to college. And it’s been my view over the years that that is a good thing.” One of the benefits of college, he said, is seen in the flowering of the next generation. Campus, he said, is full of students whose parents spent a semester or two but didn’t finish. “You’ve got people who come to schools like this who were not born to come to school, who may come from backgrounds with very little exposure to higher education,” Bloodworth said. “A lot of those people do not do well starting out. Sometimes, they come back and sometimes their children come back, but it’s still a benefit.” Since the Board of Regents decided to consolidate its Augusta campuses, bringing ASU together with GHSU to form a new kind of comprehensive research university, some have questioned whether that mission will continue, and while remaining optimistic, Bloodworth acknowledged the worry. “When I thought about stepping down, I thought that I would be leaving this institution in pretty good shape,” he said. “Now, it’s quite different because we’re going to be part of this different kind of university than we’ve been. It’s not just hoping that the things that we do well here, the kind of attention we give to undergraduates, the way that we have at least tried to be of assistance to the students who came in without the sort of backgrounds that make them a guaranteed academic success, can carry over into the new university. I think it can, and I think it will. I think Dr. Azziz wants to see it carried over.” He pointed to the state’s other big research schools — UGA and Georgia Tech — both of which take pride in their commitment to undergraduate education. “I think it will all work out, but it will be a different kind of institution ultimately,” he said. “It will be a comprehensive research university. The goal now is to become a university that attracts more students from other areas, and that holds a lot of potential benefits for this community.” Benefits, yes, but in an entirely different way than before. “There’s a lot that has to happen for that to become a reality, but it’s a new future for us,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting. It’s a different kind of future than I thought we would have here, but it’s where we’re headed and a lot of people will be quite exited about it.” By stepping down when he does — he announced his decision long before the consolidation — he avoids the awkwardness of handing the school over to a local president who used to be his peer and the inevitable administrative headaches that will certainly go along with the transition. Compared to that, maybe freshman composition doesn’t look so bad.You Might Also Like: