Earlier this semester the faculty had the opportunity to venture outside of our cocoon on campus and familiarize ourselves with some of the exciting work taking place in our community. While we all took something away of value, I found the day especially useful. Unlike most of my colleagues, I’m new to Albany. The opportunity to engage with other individuals and institutions in the community provided me with a chance to visit new places, to meet new people, and most importantly, to familiarize myself with new learning opportunities for our students. My visit to Albany State University fulfilled each.
ASU is the only four-year university in Dougherty County, and with its impending merger with Darton, it stands to become the leading institution for higher-education in southwest Georgia. Change, however, rarely comes easy, and to say that this merger has been contentious would be an understatement. We met with Dr. Art Dunning, the University’s president, who provided us with a sense of how the new Albany State can become a point of pride, unity, and economic development within our city and region. Dr. Dunning was frank and sincere as he addressed the challenges that ASU, Darton, and the community as a whole will face during the next year. Merging two institutions with such divergent academic and institutional missions is no small task, especially when we consider that this is all taking place under what the historian C. Vann Woodward has called “the burden of southern history.” Indeed, the region’s social, cultural, and economic challenges are not insignificant. That the merger is taking place within the context of these challenges is unmistakable, as is the reality that the cumulative history of the region will undoubtedly color how many in our city view the merger. Nevertheless, Dr. Dunning suggested that we use the merger as a chance to transcend these challenges. He underscored the point that the success of southwest Georgia and the success of the merger are inextricably linked. In order for the new Albany State to be an institution that can act as a catalyst for the economic development and social betterment of our region, it will have to embrace the community just as the community will have to embrace it.
As teachers, we have the opportunity to enroll in graduate classes at Albany State and to possibly serve as adjunct instructors. Each can strengthen our faculty and provide invaluable opportunities for professional development. The University’s representatives also highlighted the opportunities available to our students who want to earn college credit through concurrent enrollment and online courses. This has the potential to prepare our students for the intellectual rigors of college and to heighten the level of erudition here at Deerfield. This merger will undoubtedly be a challenge, but so too will it provide new opportunities for the community.
Jake Clawson, Upper School Humanities