Paine College President Jerry Hardee announced his resignation last week, citing ongoing health concerns as the reason for his departure just over a year after his arrival in Augusta.
The Augusta Chronicle Editorial Board credited Dr. Hardee as a change agent for the school, who helped the embattled private HBCU to navigate accreditation loss and restoration, raised money and boosted applications to the college.
But there's one part of the board's editorial which stands out.
Property adjacent to the campus is ripe for development as income-producing retail space. He’s floated the idea of a “leadership academy” in conjunction with Richmond County schools, with a goal of turning more African-American students into teachers who then could become positive role models for future generations. Paine also is part of a cybersecurity consortium with other historically black colleges and universities, to help stake a claim in the local cyber revolution enveloping the Augusta area.
A short walk across the street from Paine is Augusta University; a fast-growing public medical teaching and training college which grew out of a 2013 consolidation between Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University and is currently at the center of debate about the merger of two area healthcare operations.
A week after Dr. Hardee's retirement, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp visited Augusta U to discuss the school and city's role in anchoring healthcare and cybersecurity job growth in rural areas.
Augusta U is also in the midst of an aggressive strategic plan to expand facilities, recruit more students and broaden economic development in the area. The name of that plan? Beyond Boundaries.
Paine appears to be better off today than it was a year ago, and Dr. Hardee led the school during this improvement. We've seen another HBCU leadership transition like this in recent months, as former Saint Augustine's University President Everett Ward was forced out of his position months ahead of his announced retirement date, and just months after he proclaimed that the university had been saved from accreditation loss.
Dr. Hardee's sudden departure coincides with aggressive growth and acquisition activity from Paine's next-door neighbor. In a state looking to consolidate a lot of fairly-middling colleges into a handful of academic and economic giants throughout its territory, financial struggles and leadership instability at Paine could give Augusta U the strategic opening to absorb its HBCU counterpart.
Here's to good health for Dr. Hardee. Clearly, the man's eyes and brain are working fine enough to get out of the way of what is coming soon in Augusta.