First Ogeechee Economic Forum

By Richard John Stapleton

The first Ogeechee Economic Forum took place Saturday, July 21, 2018, from 10-11 a.m. in the Stapleton Learning Company offices at 32 East Main Street in Statesboro, Georgia, USA.

The day of the forum started for the moderator at eight o’clock with a steak biscuit and a cup of coffee paid for at Daylight Donuts on his way to his office (Lewell Akins’s bookkeeping office in the old Akins Hardware Store), consumed at his desk, which is at the back of the now Parker Realty Building, across a side street from the Sea Island Bank parking lot, which is donated for a Farmer’s Market some Saturday mornings, offering locally grown farm produce, home cooked delicacies, and arts and crafts.

Soothing folk music produced at the Farmer’s Market, heard around the town square and the Bulloch County Courthouse, helped create an upbeat peaceful atmosphere in the early hours of a sunny Saturday morning.

A farmer delivering to the market a full load of ripe watermelons stacked in the bed of his small 1960s-era Chevrolet pickup was reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.

The Ogeechee Economic Forum is conducted free of charge to the public.

The forum is designed to provide open, free, fair, democratic face-to-face discussions of relevant economic problems and opportunities as explained in “De-Gaming and Saving Democracy,” by Richard John Stapleton, the forum moderator and the founder of Effective Learning Company.  

Effective Learning Company is a holding company for Stapleton Learning Company, a provider of mathematics tutoring and economic education services, and Effective Learning Publications, an international publisher of economic, entrepreneurship, small business management, business policy, and transactional analysis books, blogs, and articles.

The ventures were started by Richard and Deborah Stapleton at 32 East Main Street when they retired from GA SO Univ in 2005, Debbye retiring as an assistant professor of mathematics and Rick as a professor of management.

The Ogeechee Economic Forum is non-partisan politically and theistically, neither advocating nor opposing any political party or religious denomination. The purpose of the forum is to discuss the causes and cures of economic problems, and related political, social, educational, and military problems in a fact-based manner. On the other hand, forum participants may express their religious beliefs on a first come first serve basis with no interruptions in a collegial manner.

The local Democratic Party had a meeting of their own a few blocks away at twelve noon on the same Saturday as the first Ogeechee Economic Forum meeting at ten o’clock.

The problem discussed in the first Ogeechee Economic Forum was caused by recent events affecting Georgia Southern University, starting with the surprise business decision by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents over a year ago to merge Georgia Southern University in Statesboro with Armstrong State University in Savannah, which has caused considerable consternation, stress, anxiety, and uncertainty in the academic communities of both universities, especially since the unfortunate departure of the well-liked and well-qualified Dr. Jaimie Hebert, the last president of GA SO Univ, who lasted almost two years, and the appointment by the University System of Georgia’s Chancellor’s Office of an acting GA SO Univ president, an employee in the Chancellor’s Office, not holding a doctorate, an MBA in accounting, with little or no faculty input at GA SO Univ.

Faculty at Georgia Southern still do not have their contracts for the 2018-19 academic year and it’s uncertain when they will learn whether they will get a raise for the year.

There is a plan in place involving over one hundred committees to complete the merger of GA SO and Armstrong that was overseen by Dr. Hebert.

Hopefully this top-down corporate-like merger of two universities will be consummated somehow in the near future without seriously increasing the existing levels of stress, uncertainty, consternation, and anxiety in the GA SO Univ academic community. If this peremptory top-down administrative behavior continues unabated most likely fully-qualified competitive GA SO Univ faculty with excellent academic credentials, like Dr. Hebert, will be migrating to more democratically managed universities, if they can find open positions there.

As a two-year member of the GA SO Univ Retirees Association Council, it was obvious to me that retired faculty were not pleased that the traditional GA SO Univ Retiree’s Luncheon, funded by GA SO for decades, was unceremoniously cancelled with no excuses this past spring.

I was also surprised to learn this spring that over one hundred thousand dollars of principal and accrued interest deposited in a bank account by the Georgia Southern Faculty and Staff Club, mostly contributed by the members of the original GA SO Faculty Club, of which I was an active dues-paying member for some thirty years, which had not been active for over a decade, had been recently given by a committee to GA SO Univ for a program that would give the money away in $500 grants to individual GA SO faculty and staff members who experience unexpected hardships in their lives.

No attempt was made to contact the living members of the Old Faculty Club, and younger members who joined after the club was renamed, to explain why it had suddenly become imperative to do something with the accrued Faculty and Staff Club money, rather than let it continue to accrue interest in a bank account as it had been for ten or more years, and secure their input about what to do with it. The committee processes were not made public and the decision about what to do with the money was of questionable appropriateness. While giving the money away in charitable $500 grants to individual faculty and staff members would be laudable in some cases, it seems to me the money would be more appropriately spent in support of the collective interests and activities of all retired faculty and staff of GA SO Univ, or in support of students in the form of merit-based academic scholarships.

It seems to me the principal and accrued interest of the Old Faculty Club, which had been renamed the Faculty and Staff Club, should be returned to the bank account in that name and all living club members that contributed monetarily to building the account balance should have an opportunity to vote on what to do with the existing balance, which at the time it was turned over to GA SO, according to some estimates, was about $140,000.

Unfortunately we cannot know with certainty what is the true state of affairs in this case, as is true in most economic and business cases. Have the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and the Chancellor’s Office acted inappropriately deciding to merge GA SO and Armstrong? Did the Chancellor’s office inappropriately appoint one of its own employees with an MBA the acting president of GA SO? Is the economic situation of GA SO so uncertain that faculty could not be issued contracts as usual, at least by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year?  Did administrators at GA SO inappropriately disperse Faculty and Staff Club funds?

There are no provably true right answers for any of these questions since we do not have sufficient facts to know the true state of affairs, and for sure we do not know what are the true causes. Facts are costly and few people have sufficient time, money, and expertise to dig up enough of them to achieve certainty in real world cases. So most of the time we have to admit the higher ups may know more than we do and may have done the right thing.  It may be the economic situations of GA SO and Armstrong have deteriorated more in recent years than most people realize and top down austere arbitrary measures are justified to deal with them.  It may be the wages and salaries of some faculty and staff people are now so low that GA SO Univ needs a slush fund such as the Old Faculty Club money to help those in dire need.  Time will tell in some cases, as more facts naturally come to light.

The next meeting of the Ogeechee Economic Forum will be Saturday, August 18, 2018 at the same location and time, 10-11 a.m., again the third Saturday of the month.

Hope to participate with you then and there face-to-face.

 

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Richard John Stapleton, Editor & Publisher, Effective Learning Report, Effective Learning Publications, Statesboro, Georgia, USA, July 23, 2018