Georgia Regents pick Sonny Perdue for system chancellor
Facing widespread opposition, Georgia’s University System Board of Trustees voted on Tuesday to nominate former two-term Georgia governor Sonny Perdue as the sole finalist for open system chancery.
“USG and its institutions have an international reputation for innovation, workforce readiness, and student success, which has attracted an outstanding pool of candidates for the board to explore,” said Harold Reynolds, chairman of the board, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Ultimately, Governor Perdue stood out for his impressive experience and leadership in public service, as well as his broad understanding of not only Georgia and its communities, but also the issues facing the university system. confronted as we progress.”
The board still has to approve Perdue’s nomination later this month, but Tuesday’s vote says the former US agriculture secretary is the likely successor to former Chancellor Steve Wrigley, who took his retirement in June. Since The Atlanta Constitution-Journal revealed last March that the board was considering Perdue for the position, his journey to lead the 26-institution system has been hampered by objections from students, faculty members and other stakeholders.
Students Against Sonny, a group fighting Perdue’s impending nomination, organized protests, phone banks and petitions urging the regents to drop Perdue as a candidate. Students across the state are concerned that Perdue is funding the university system and contributing to growing political interference in academia, said Alex Ames, a sophomore at the Georgia Institute of Technology and organizer of the group.
“My parents are public school teachers. I am a public school student. I grew up dealing with the aftermath of having a governor and a state legislature that cut funding to our education system by over $10 billion in two decades,” she said. While Perdue was governor, he cut funding for public education, was sued for underfunding the state’s historically black colleges and universities, and supported the reinstatement of a state flag with a large symbol. confederate.
Despite their efforts, student activists have heard nothing from the Board of Regents for the past 10 months. The lack of communication is disappointing, Ames said.
“It’s truly terrifying to imagine that this nomination process is completely out of our hands, no matter if we protest, no matter if we prove his record unworthy,” Ames said. “They’re still going to name it anyway.”
Faculty members say Perdue is not qualified for the position. They are also concerned about his history as a climate change denier and his political background.
“Lost did not [sic] absolutely no experience leading higher education,” the American Association of College Teachers said in a statement Monday. “Furthermore, during his tenure as Secretary, the Department of Agriculture allegedly buried publicly funded, peer-reviewed research showing the dangers of climate change to agriculture and public health, and selected for further study. promotional campaigns that have favored the meat industry, damaging the credibility of the ministry and allowing politics to interfere in what should be nonpartisan scientific research.In interviews, Purdue has expressed skepticism about the causes of climate change despite overwhelming global scientific consensus.
In a statement on his selection, Perdue touted his experience at the US Department of Agriculture under former President Donald Trump.
“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 see the benefits of academic research daily,” said Perdue. “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.”
In June, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges raised potential red flags about the search process. A letter from President Belle Wheelan explained that the board would not be compliant – and therefore risk losing its accreditation with the agency – if it allowed political interference in the chancellor’s search process or selected applicants without appropriate qualifications. The letter followed initial public outcry over Perdue’s candidacy, a decision by the board to temporarily suspend his search, and the abrupt departure of the firm the board had first hired to conduct the search.
Matthew Boedy, president of the Georgia AAUP chapter, wrote Wheelan on Tuesday and asked him to send a second “warning letter” to the board.
But Wheelan said Inside Higher Education she was satisfied with the council’s search process. Agency standards do not dictate specific qualifications for chancellors or presidents, she said, and she noted that people with varying career backgrounds have held leadership positions in higher education.
“They developed and implemented a process that included interviewing multiple candidates. We are pleased that the Board of Directors nominates the finalist,” Wheelan wrote in an email. “I’m sure the board will be able to document Mr. [Perdue] to show that he is qualified to lead the AG’s university system.
Boedy was primarily concerned about several recent appointments Governor Brian Kemp has made to the Board of Regents. Last month, Kemp, a longtime Perdue ally, recruited three new board members: Richard “Tim” Evans, Jim Syfan and Tom Bradbury. The three new members support Perdue, the Journal-Constitution reported.
Erin Hames, vice chair of the board, also has ties to Perdue — she served as Perdue’s director of policy and chief of staff at the Georgia Department of Education while he was governor.
Perdue’s appointment appears to be an “attempt at political interference,” said Jill Derby, a senior consultant with the Association of Boards of Trustees advisory group. She worries about the consequences of growing political involvement in higher education.
Susan Resneck Pierce, higher education consultant and president emeritus of the University of Puget Sound, said she hopes the regents of Georgia’s university system will listen to faculty input on leadership decisions.
“While the notion of Citizens Councils is typical of colleges and universities, I have long been concerned that less than 10% of trustees or regents nationwide have had professional experience on campus, many of them in areas non-academics,” Pierce said. “Yet it would be unimaginable for corporate boards to be made up primarily of academics rather than people with expertise in the work of the company. The University of Georgia System Board of Trustees is fairly typical in that it has no members with expertise in higher education. For this reason, I hope it genuinely takes into account the collective wisdom of the faculty on issues that affect academic programs, such as the selection of a president.
Students remain concerned that Perdue’s tenure as system chancellor will echo his tenure as governor. Abeeha Bhatti, a Pakistani American high school student from Snellville, Georgia, plans to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering. She hopes to attend one of the institutions of Georgia’s university system, but fears that the Perdue chancery will make it difficult for her to attend the state university.
“I’m a low-income first-generation college student, and I’m a minority, and Sonny Perdue doesn’t really support people like me,” Bhatti said. “He has a history of funding schools, so I would be afraid my chance to go to college and stay in college for the full four years might be taken away.”