UGA merges with Skidaway oceanography institute; Tech, other schools hope to benefit

The University of Georgia will take over the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography this summer. The move, effective July 1, is one of several mergers recently approved by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.

Skidaway, on an island 16 miles southeast of Savannah, is an autonomous marine science research institution in the system, and though it has no students of its own – and doesn’t grant degrees – students and academics from around the world visit to conduct research.

Faculty members at Skidaway are interested in the chance to take on a larger teaching role in the future, said director James Sanders, but he doesn’t expect Skidaway to turn into an instructional campus.

“We’re really set up well as a research institution, where students and faculty can come and really immerse themselves in their research,” he said.

There will be simple administrative changes and opportunities for greater interaction between the UGA campus in Athens and Skidaway Island.

The faculty at Skidaway will be placed on the UGA payroll, said UGA Provost Jere Morehead, and Sanders will report to Morehead instead of to the University System directly. The institute will also have access to university funds and resources.

But UGA isn’t going to hog Skidaway. The institute is open to students from many institutions and will remain that way, said Morehead. He hopes access to Skidaway will increase.

“Skidaway will become a part of the University of Georgia,” he said. “But it will become a part of UGA in a unique fashion that will build the dialogue and the partnerships with other institutions in this state, particularly Georgia Tech and Savannah State.”

In a letter to Savannah State University President Cheryl Dozier, Morehead said he recognizes that other institutions in the system have excellent marine science programs and should be included in future collaboration.

“Our overarching goal is to build a system-wide network in marine sciences,” he said in the letter. “Together, we will be able to reach even higher goals in instruction, research, and service than any one institution can do alone.”

Georgia Tech provost Rafael Bras said in an email that the school intends to maintain its “working relationship” with Skidaway and shares the system’s “desire to ensure the long-term viability” of the institute.

“Our interests in the oceans, coastal areas, and the environment are complimentary,” he said in the email.

Georgia Tech and Savannah State aren’t the only institutions paying attention to the merger: The College of Coastal Georgia has a hopeful eye on Skidaway, too.

The Brunswick college became a four-year institution in 2009, said spokesperson John Cornell, and is focused on growing its marine science program.

“That’s a degree that we think is going to make us a destination college,” he said. “We’ve got a geographic advantage. We’re on the coast; we’re on the marshes.”

The college doesn’t have any formal plans to pursue partnership with UGA and Skidaway but hopes to take advantage of opportunities the merger might provide.