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Fight Plan: Richard Simmons, Dean Hardgrave, and the future Auburn Aviation

“The future of Auburn’s Aviation Management Program is up in the air.”That was going to be my first line a month ago, back when the uproar over the possible shuttering of America’s “oldest continuously operated aviation program”—since 1941!—first took flight via Twitter, Facebook, everywhere, back when the puns were still so fresh. I was primed to do something, primed to scoop! I even dug around a bit. But then Selena blocked the runway. And then Toomer’s, Toomer’s, Toomer’s. And now we’re last.

The Plainsman, al.com, WSFA… (and those are links to stories from yesterday alone… there’s another week’s worth before that).

Lord, even Richard Simmons beat us to the story.

So moved was Simmons after what was apparently a borderline spiritual experience aboard a recent flight (“It was like a Frank Sinatra song”) piloted by an Auburn aviation grad (“he sort of looked like John Boy from ‘The Waltons'”), the flamboyant fitnessario lent his voice and jazz hands to the cause of saving Auburn Aviation, which pretty much anyone who’s anyone says needs saving.

But in doing so, he actually helped us realize that we, like him, could still bring something unique and linkable to the table. That, ahem, “Deany Weenie” he’s talking to? That’s Auburn College of Business Dean Bill Hardgrave, the unlikely heavy in this heavier-than-air saga, the man everyone thinks holds the future of Auburn’s friendly skies in his hands.

I say “unlikely heavy,” because Hardgrave seems so light, like such a likeable dude, at least he does in that video we posted of him a few days before learning of Auburn’s flight plight. And you know, that’s probably why he took my call a few weeks back—he may have thought we were checking in on his bracket—because best we can tell, no one else has been able to get him on the phone or wrap quotation marks around him, not with this.

And so it is that we’re now proud to finally present, in the noble spirit of journalism, whatever other side of the story exists, at least AU College of Business Dean Bill Hardgrave’s take on it, at least as it existed on April 5, before anyone other than the Auburn students and alumni it ultimately affects even knew it existed.

So have you heard anything this whole thing, Dean Hardgrave? Is Auburn’s aviation program in danger? What’s up, as it were?

“Yeah, I’ve seen some of it. I’m not sure what started all of this. There’s been no decision made to eliminate the program. I think some people jumped to conclusions. We have a very unfortunate set of circumstances. It’s a small program. One faculty member passed away. The second faculty member has decided to retire at the end of this semester. So we certainly didn’t anticipate either of these two things happening. We’re working very hard to get a sufficient number of qualified faculty back for fall to continue on with the program. I think people took that and assumed we were eliminating it, but at this time there has been no decision to eliminate the program.

“… we’ve been looking at the long term viability of that program, but really every program is under review for us. But that is a program we’re looking at the long term viability of but we haven’t made any decisions about it at all. We hope to have a plan in place by late spring or early summer… there have been no recommendations for a plan for that program.

“I sent an email to the students. I certainly don’t want our students… they’ve heard a lot of rumors. Our concern first and foremost is for the students in the program and to help them understand that we have an obligation to help them. We’re going to help these students get through that program. I don’t want them upset or concerned about this.  We’re going to make sure they have a program. But until we have a long term plan in place, there’s not a lot I can tell anybody about this except that we’re working on the plan right now. Again, it’s that set of circumstances with the two faculty that forced us to look at the near term very quickly and now we’ve got to really scramble to get faculty for the fall. But we’ll have something.”

Is an “Auburn’s aviation program has been grounded” pun in our future? Or “Richard Simmons is win beneath Auburn’s wings?” We’re still waiting on word from the (Samford) tower.  You can learn more at FlyAuburn.com in the meantime.

Related: ‘Baller’ AU College of Business Dean issues March Madness bracket challenge ‘to demonstrate my superiority.’

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About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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