When Martha Nesbitt retires from Gainesville State College this summer, she'll likely be stepping down as its third — and final — president.
Pending approval Tuesday by the Board of Regents, the college where she spent the past 14 years of her career is set to join forces with North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. The merger is one of four proposed by the University System of Georgia
And with consolidation, there's only room for one president.
"When it's finally consolidated, the president of North Georgia (Bonita Jacobs) is supposed to be president of the whole consolidation," said Rep. Amos Amerson, R-Dahlonega. "What happens for that year, who knows."
The merger, expected to be completed by 2013, will join the two main campuses, Gainesville State's satellite campus in Watkinsville and the joint instructional center in Cumming under one umbrella.
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said he believes this might be the best time for Gainesville State to merge with North Georgia, so the University System of Georgia does not have to hire a new president to replace Nesbitt.
"Of course I won't be replaced, but they will appoint somebody to head this campus. It just won't have the title of president," Nesbitt said. "When you have campuses this far away from each other, you have to have someone in charge."
The same is true for one other proposed merger: Waycross College has an interim president. If it consolidates with South Georgia College in Douglas, South Georgia's president, Virginia Carson, will lead the new institution, according to a joint news release from the two schools.
When Nesbitt announced her retirement in August, she and the college's vice presidents were contacted for search committee nominations, said Sloan Jones, director of public relations and marketing for Gainesville State.
"It's my understanding that nominations went forward and before anyone was even contacted, that was put on hold in light of the (University System) chancellor's discussions of consolidation starting," she said. "Basically everything was put on hold. No search committee was even formed. There are no candidates to contact, to consider or anything."
Bullock said it was possible the leadership position at Gainesville State will become similar to that of Margaret Venable, who heads the Watkinsville campus as its chief executive officer and vice president.
"That makes sense from my perspective," Jones said. "(In Watkinsville) we initially had a situation where there was just a small presence, and it grew and grew and we finally realized we needed someone there on site who could be that liaison back to the main campus."
She said the position title and job description would be determined by the implementation committee, a group of representatives and students from both colleges that will be in charge of much of the logistics of a smooth consolidation.
"With something like this, it would be — speaking on other experience — a lengthy, consuming process to get the right person," Jones said.
When Venable was hired in 2010, the search committee was made of faculty, staff and students. Jones said more than 50 people applied for the position.
"It's a pretty formal process, not something that's taken lightly," Jones said. "They formulate a job description if one's not already written, and then they carry out the search process based on the rules and guidelines in place through human resources."
She said a search for an executive level position such as Venable's would take about six months.
If the position that replaces Nesbitt is like Venable's, the job description could include being responsible to the college president for campus operations; providing on-site supervision of facilities, academics and security; proposing the annual operational budget for the campus; representing the campus faculty and staff on appropriate college committees; carrying out public relations in the community; serving as liaison with local school systems; and anything else the president requires, according to documents from Gainesville State.
Another difference, aside from title, will be the salary, Jones said. The presidential salary at Gainesville State is about 37 percent higher than a position like Venable's.
"That might change structure, becoming part of a university versus a state college," Jones said. "There are still some unknowns in that aspect of it."
Jones said representatives from both Gainesville State and North Georgia are working to build a job description for the person who will lead their joint instructional center in Cumming, which could become a satellite campus of the merged university.
"At this point, it's being called a university center, and I'm sure through the implementation process that may or may not remain the same," she said.
Jacobs said it would be interesting when she becomes the face of three more campuses.
Though Jones said the Gainesville State community is still "reeling" from the sudden news, she said most are anxious and excited about the possibility of new leadership.
"The fact that (Nesbitt) had already announced her retirement and we were in the process of thinking about the fact that she wouldn't be our leader after June, that gives us an opportunity to already have our minds wrapped around the fact," Jones said.
No matter who the leader is, or what the name will be, the Gainesville State community wants the campus to stay true to its mission of being student centered and learning focused.
"Whoever the leader is, we will follow their direction. We feel certain based on what we know about the University System, we're about the student," Jones said. "It's the goal of everybody involved that we continue to serve the students in the greater community of Northeast Georgia."