part one

Georgia State University’s Panther from GSU.edu

Now that the Board of Regents have decided to merge Georgia State University with Georgia Perimeter College, GSU will soon total more than 50,000 students, and will be the largest unit of the University System of Georgia.

Not only that, but it is an urban university, as well as a research university, bringing in $58 million in 2011 in grants for study. It has conferred 192,785 degrees since its founding.

TIMELINE
Ga. State University formation1913: Began as Evening School of Georgia Tech Commerce School, with 44 enrollees.1917: Women admitted because of decline in male students in WWI.1920: Enrollment up to 364.

1932: Director George Sparks promotes arts and sciences; sees school as major institution.

1933: University System of Georgia created; removed Evening School from Georgia Tech. Operated under USG as “Atlanta Center.”

1935: Became three year business school, but lacked accreditation.

1940: Operated as University of Georgia Center in Atlanta. 3,000 students.

1947: Merged under UGA as Atlanta Center. Difficulties with operation under UGA.

1952: Gains SACS Accreditation.

1955: Regents create Georgia State College of Business Administration. 8,000 students.

1957: Noah Langdale becomes president, pushes for expansion.

1958: GSU Foundation established, to gain more financial support.

1962: Name changed to Georgia State College.

1969: With 13,000 students now, becomes Georgia State University

1982: GSU gains law school.

1992: Carl Patton becomes president, defines mission as research institution.

2009: Mark Becker becomes president. Up to 30,000 students.

2014: Regents plan to merge Georgia Perimeter College with GSU, to have 54,000 students, and be largest unit of University System.

That’s a long way from its start in 1913 as the evening school of Georgia Tech, which administered the program until 1933. Then for years it was almost invisible before coming under auspices of the University of Georgia.

GSU’s life under UGA was a rough ride, as UGA officials did not want the Atlanta campus to distract from the flagship university in Athens. For many years, the Athens administrators worked tirelessly to keep the Atlanta campus from growing and thriving. Yet it seemed no matter what, the Atlanta campus kept adding students and growing in importance.

It all began with 44 students in 1913. By 1940, it had 3,000 students; was up to 8,000 in 1955, 13,000 in 1960, and more than 30,000 students in 2009. Many people came to Atlanta for a job, enrolled in night courses to improve themselves, gained a degree, and got a better job.

One person who had a first-hand knowledge of what went on in the formative days of GSU is Dr. Paul Kolter, 93, who is retired today in Sandy Springs. He first came to GSU in 1952, teaching biology, anatomy, zoology and other sciences. He was originally from Ohio, served in World War II, got two degrees from Maryville College and his Ph.D. from Emory.

“I was making $2,400 for nine months teaching at Maryville. Georgia State offered me $3,300 for nine months, so I came. Every summer I taught for extra money.

“Back then, the Athens campus controlled us tightly. I even had to send my test papers to Athens to have them graded. They treated us like step-children.”

When Dr. Kolter came to GSU, the entire faculty and staff (down to janitors) “…totaled 85 people. We only had about 3,000 students then. We knew everyone. We didn’t have much money for operations. They promised me a raise, saying they would try to give me $50 a year more, and several years later, they did.”

Georgia State had problems with space, Dr. Kolter continues: “Finally George Sparks, who directed the school and did more for the school than anyone else, got a former parking garage on Ivy Street for us, and we taught classes there in Kell Hall. It still had the ramps for automobiles, and old elevators. Many people used the ramps to get to class, since it was faster. George found all sorts of surplus equipment for the college from the military bases and from the Bell Bomber plant in Marietta. I remember one classroom where we had mix-matched doors, all different. But we at least had a place to teach.”

There was no doubt that George Sparks was the key to the school. “He scrimped and saved, and even put in Coke and candy machines, and used that money for operations. He bought buildings on Decatur Street, including a black theatre, and that’s where Georgia State has expanded so much today.”

Much of the problems between GSU and UGA, nearly a feud, has been chronicled by Dr. Merl E. Reed in the Georgia Historical Quarterly in 1996.

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Editor's Note: This story also appeared at GwinnettForum.com. Image: Georgia State University’s Panther from GSU.edu (no attribution provided - promotional/fair use)
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County, http://www.gwinnettforum.com, and Georgia news, http://www.georgiaclips.com.