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Georgia State University with Chase Williams, Kevin Espinoza, Eli Epstein, Joshua Carter and Jordan Daley.

Back when states were planting institutions of higher learning, these universities were not always located in what became the state’s major city. As a result, problems have arisen between forces in the major city wanting a state university and the major university located in a smaller town wanting to enhance their school’s prestige.

It’s that same old story of jealously, while seeking to keep the state’s university as the major campus of the state.

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.

In Wisconsin, the state has seen this problem as Milwaukee officials have fought with the University in Wisconsin. And while the University of Illinois in Urbana isn’t located in big-city Chicago, still its officials in Urbana worried about Eastern Illinois University seeking to have a pharmacy school in downstate Charleston, Ill.

University of Georgia administrators fought for years to keep what-is-now Georgia State University from succeeding. Such fights are going on even today, as Georgia Regents University in Augusta (particularly the Medical School) is working against the success of the UGA campus having its own medical school, though the program was kicked off two years ago.

There’s no fight like a fight between educators: all so polite and gracious, but so diligent and harsh.

What seemed natural in Georgia, an evening school so those working in the jobs of Atlanta could learn at night, was never easy. It all started in 1913 as the Evening School of Georgia Tech, when Georgia State began as a program for those working in Atlanta to get a degree. In 1933, the Regents separated what would become GSU from Tech, yet that Evening School continued to grow, even while it had lost its accreditation in the separation, soon getting a new name, “the Atlanta Center.”

By 1944, to gain accreditation, the Regents placed the school under the University of Georgia administration. This proved nothing less than an invitation for a fight, as the Atlanta and Athens campuses were constantly at odds. The Athens administrators would not fund the Atlanta school adequately, and sought all sorts of administrative controls, including restricting its degree programs and hiring.

Dr. George Sparks had been with the Atlanta campus since 1924, and had major contacts throughout the state. He is considered the Godfather of the middle years at the Atlanta campus. As his enrollment grew after World War II with returning servicemen and people from throughout Georgia flocking to jobs in Atlanta, he acquired a “large but unlovely” Bolling Jones Building on Ivy Street, a parking garage, two blocks from Five Points, revamping it into a classroom building. He stocked it with free or low-cost surplus war materials from nearby military bases. Merl Reed called it an “unpretentious and utilitarian quarters in a commercial setting (which) presented the appearance and atmosphere of a ‘knowledge factory’ more than a college.” That building, Kell Hall, was occupied in the spring of 1947.

Dr. Martha JohnsonDr. Martha Johnson, formerly of Lithonia, who for years was on the botany faculty at what is now Georgia State University, donated 140 acres in her will to Gwinnett County, in what will be an undeveloped county park. The land includes 2,400 feet along the Yellow River, and borders another 56- acre county park. For more information on her, click here.

The GSU web site says: “Sparks also promoted the arts and sciences, although his major contributions grew out of his superb financial management; his acquisition, renovation, and occupation of three different buildings between 1931 and 1946; and his vision of the school’s future as a major state university.”

When the University of Georgia gained oversight of the Atlanta campus, UGA sought to create a “dual system of responsibility” between the two campuses. The Athens academics for the most part controlled what went on at the Atlanta campus, allocated its finances, and hampered its recruitment of faculty. At least one Athens department dumped marginal faculty on the Atlanta campus.

So until 1955, acrimony blossomed between these institutions of higher learning in Georgia.

Editor's Note: This story also appeared at Image: Georgia State University with Chase Williams, Kevin Espinoza, Eli Epstein, Joshua Carter and Jordan Daley from Georgia State University’s Facebook page (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,, and Georgia news,