Georgia’s public university regents voted unanimously Tuesday to name former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as the sole finalist to become chancellor overseeing 26 universities.
Regents will likely confirm Perdue’s choice to lead the 340,000 student system after a 14-day waiting period required by state law.
Board chairman Harold Reynolds of Greensboro said Perdue was the best choice because he has “extensive experience in public service” including “leadership at the highest level” and “has a passion for higher education, and in particular for the public colleges and universities of this State”.
Reynolds said the Regents received applications from “many highly qualified candidates” and interviewed “a list of excellent candidates”. A board spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions from The Association Press about how many candidates were interviewed or when. The board met in executive session all day Friday.
Perdue served as Georgia’s first Republican governor in more than a century, serving two terms from 2003 to 2011. He then served as United States Secretary of Agriculture under President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2021.
Perdue, 76, said in a statement released by the board that serving as chancellor would be “a wonderful cornerstone of a career in public service”. He said it was a second chance to shape the state’s university system.
“Higher education is where I wanted to make a real impact as governor, only to be stranded by two recessions. That’s what I’ve benefited from as agriculture secretary, where I I have seen the benefits of academic research daily,” Perdue said in a statement. “I want to make a difference by providing leadership and resources so that faculty can thrive in their teaching, research and service and that students are inspired and supported to graduate, find rewarding careers and become productive citizens.
Perdue could be nominated at an extremely awkward time, with his cousin, former U.S. Senator David Perdue, challenging Kemp in the Republican gubernatorial primary. David Perdue told Axios last year that his cousin did not approve of him and was “in an awkward position” due to his candidacy for chancellor. “But I stayed out of it, and I think he stays out of my little dogfight here.”
The 19-member council has been revamped by Governor Brian Kemp in recent weeks, adding four new regents. It may have paved the way for Perdue’s name after the search for a permanent successor to former chancellor Steve Wrigley was stalled in May amid divisiveness between the regents.
Kemp called Perdue “extremely skilled” in a statement.
“As a cabinet-level official who was confirmed with overwhelming, bipartisan support, he managed a budget approximately 15 times that of the USG and weathered difficult times of disruption that required innovative thinking,” Kemp said.
“Georgians will benefit from his decisive and creative leadership on a system that now serves more than 340,000 students.”
The American Association of College Teachers, which represents some instructors in the system, said professors were unfairly excluded from selection and that Perdue was unqualified because he had never worked in academia.
“There is still time to save the university system,” tweeted Matthew Boedy, president of the Georgia State Conference of AAUP and professor at the University of North Georgia. “Regents should not trade their courage for the gift of being a regent. Vote for the system, not the governor’s political demands.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits the 26 universities and colleges, asked in April whether there had been undue political pressure to nominate Perdue, but may be less interested this time. Belle Wheelan, the association’s president, wrote in an email to Boedy on Wednesday that the association had no intention of intervening to try to block Perdue’s nomination.
“The fact that the terms of two board members ended in December, allowing the governor to appoint new members, was coincidental,” Wheelan wrote in an email provided by Boedy. “While they may have also endorsed Mr. Perdue’s candidacy, they were also able to interview all applicants and hopefully made their own decision for the most qualified candidate.”
Perdue nominated Kemp for Secretary of State in early 2010, assisting Kemp’s lead candidacy for the position. And Trump said Perdue convinced him to endorse Kemp in a Republican runoff for governor in 2018, helping Kemp win over Casey Cagle.
Teresa MacCartney has served as interim chancellor since June 30, when a deadlocked board appointed her to lead the system while saying it would continue to seek a permanent leader.
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