AJC On Campus: More regents changes; bill targets critical race theory

Georgia lawmakers introduced and discussed several bills last week that could impact the state's higher educational systems.

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia lawmakers introduced and discussed several bills last week that could impact the state's higher educational systems.

The current legislative session is in full swing, and lawmakers spent a lot of time last week focusing on higher education.

This edition of AJC On Campus looks at proposed legislation that could impact higher education, more changes to the state’s Board of Regents, the latest numbers on COVID-19 cases on Georgia’s largest campuses, the latest on the post-tenure review battle and new initiatives at the University of Georgia aimed at helping students.

Changes to Georgia’s Board of Regents

Gov. Brian Kemp’s office announced late Friday that he’s replaced one member on the powerful state Board of Regents and will soon replace another.

Rachel Little and Sachin Shailendra are no longer on the 19-member board because they now live outside the congressional districts they were previously appointed to serve, the governor’s office said. State leaders recently redrew the district boundaries. Civil liberties groups have filed lawsuits against the new district lines, saying they’re racially discriminatory.

Kemp named homebuilder Tom Bradbury to one of the positions. He has been a contributor to the governor’s reelection campaign.

The governor said he’ll announce his pick to fill the other vacant slot at a later date.

The changes could grease the wheels for the board to pick a new University System of Georgia chancellor, possibly former two-term Gov. Sonny Perdue, who has said he’s interested in the job. Kemp and Perdue, both Republicans, have political ties that date back to the early 2000s. Last year, the board was at an impasse over Perdue’s candidacy. Critics say he is unqualified for the job, noting the lack of higher education leadership experience on his resume.

Kemp, who is up for reelection this year, hasn’t spoken publicly about the chancellor position, but he’s probably eager to permanently fill the job. The terms of 10 regents members expire over the next four years.

Lawmakers, colleges and race-based curriculum

Race and curriculum has been a hot topic at the Georgia state Capitol since the legislative session began a few weeks ago. Republicans have introduced several bills focused on limiting critical race theory in public education.

“We must stop divisive concepts from being taught in Georgia colleges and universities and seeping down into our K-12 schools, concepts that an overwhelming majority of Georgians outright reject,” said Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, the main sponsor of Senate Bill 377, which would withhold up to 10% in state funding from violating school systems. “The bottom line is this: We must ensure that no student is taught to feel guilty or ‘less than’ because of how they were born.”

Combined ShapeCaption
State Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, speaks in favor of a bill during the 2021 legislative session. He's the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 377. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: BEN@BENGRAY.COM

State Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, speaks in favor of a bill during the 2021 legislative session. He's the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 377. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: BEN@BENGRAY.COM

Combined ShapeCaption
State Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, speaks in favor of a bill during the 2021 legislative session. He's the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 377. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: BEN@BENGRAY.COM

Credit: BEN@BENGRAY.COM

University System of Georgia officials have kind of been here before. Last year, they compiled a report for a GOP lawmaker who asked if they’re teaching courses that identify white, heterosexual, Christian men as “intrinsically privileged and oppressive.”

No, system officials said in the report.

State Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin, chairman of the Higher Education Appropriations subcommittee, asked system officials for an update on that report. System officials told us last week they’re gathering information from its schools for the update.

More from the Gold Dome

In other legislative news involving higher education last week:

  • Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, introduced a bill that would impose up to a five-year prison sentence for anyone convicted on felony hazing charges.
  • The House of Representatives’ Higher Education Committee held a hearing on House Bill 1, a Republican-led effort its sponsors say is aimed at protecting speech rights for students and guest speakers. Several students, though, spoke against the bill, saying it could make it easier for extremist groups to speak on campus.

COVID-19 cases remain high at Georgia’s largest schools

Georgia’s largest public colleges and universities are continuing to report high levels of COVID-19 cases on their campuses.

Georgia Tech reported 104 cases on Wednesday, and more than 1,700 this month. By contrast, it reported 421 cases in December. The University of Georgia reported nearly 920 cases during a recent seven-day stretch. That’s actually down from the prior seven-day total of 1,003 cases. Georgia Southern had more than 500 cases between Jan. 17-23.

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia Tech students and employees are getting tested for COVID-19 at its Economic Development Building on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. The school has had a spike in reported cases in recent weeks. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia Tech students and employees are getting tested for COVID-19 at its Economic Development Building on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. The school has had a spike in reported cases in recent weeks. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia Tech students and employees are getting tested for COVID-19 at its Economic Development Building on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. The school has had a spike in reported cases in recent weeks. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

New cases were up last week at Georgia State and Kennesaw State universities.

In most instances, the positive cases were self-reported.

University System of Georgia leaders have stressed calm, saying they anticipated an increase in new cases when the spring semester started earlier this month. Many faculty members, though, continue to push for mask and vaccine mandates.

The new SAT: No pencil required

With more colleges and universities going test-optional for enrollment, the College Board last week announced some big changes to the SAT in an effort to maintain its relevance.

The long-standing pencil and paper college admissions exam will shift online in 2024 when U.S. students will take the SAT on computers or tablets. It also hopes to get results back sooner to students.

Big check for Georgia Tech

Combined ShapeCaption
AJC file photo

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

AJC file photo

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
AJC file photo

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Georgia Tech has received an $11 million grant to hire a half-dozen software engineers to write software for scientific research.

Tech will hire a software engineering lead, as well as three senior and two junior software engineers. A faculty director and an advisory board will help guide the group’s work.

The money is coming from Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative to solve societal problems through science.

The post-tenure review battle continues

Faculty members at several public colleges and universities remain at odds with University System of Georgia officials over its efforts to change the post-tenure review process.

The latest skirmish began last week when system officials sent out more guidance about the changes.

The United Campus Workers of Georgia have concerns about several aspects of the guidance. They say faculty members who serve on review committees would have less input in the appeal process. They also say faculty members under scrutiny will have less time to demonstrate improvement.

The campus workers group said it plans to submit feedback this week.

USG’s finances

The University System of Georgia’s finances stayed steady during the last fiscal year through significant coronavirus pandemic support, a bump in its investment accounts and cutting some expenses, particularly travel, an audit report released last week shows.

Total revenue for a 12-month period that ended June 30, 2021, was about $9.2 billion, a slight increase of $2.8 million from the prior fiscal year. The system received more than $675 million from the federal government to defray pandemic-related expenses and an additional $152 million for its historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.

Combined ShapeCaption
The University System of Georgia’s finances stayed steady during the last fiscal year, an audit report released last week shows. (Credit: Pixabay)

Credit: Pixabay

The University System of Georgia’s finances stayed steady during the last fiscal year, an audit report released last week shows. (Credit: Pixabay)

Credit: Pixabay

Combined ShapeCaption
The University System of Georgia’s finances stayed steady during the last fiscal year, an audit report released last week shows. (Credit: Pixabay)

Credit: Pixabay

Credit: Pixabay

Investment income increased by 59%, to $94.3 million, the report showed. Travel expenses declined by 88%, a $54.8 million decrease.

System officials found a handful of schools had issues, such as inaccurate or untimely reporting of financial information. They said the problems won’t impact students.

Some of the schools will discuss remediation efforts at the February state Board of Regents meeting.

UGA commits more support for grad students, mental health

Combined ShapeCaption
University of Georgia President Jere Morehead makes a remark during a ceremonial ringing of the Chapel Bell to honor the 60th anniversary of desegregation at UGA in Athens on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. In his annual State of the University address last week, Morehead spoke about new efforts to address student mental health and help graduate students. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

University of Georgia President Jere Morehead makes a remark during a ceremonial ringing of the Chapel Bell to honor the 60th anniversary of desegregation at UGA in Athens on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. In his annual State of the University address last week, Morehead spoke about new efforts to address student mental health and help graduate students. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
University of Georgia President Jere Morehead makes a remark during a ceremonial ringing of the Chapel Bell to honor the 60th anniversary of desegregation at UGA in Athens on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. In his annual State of the University address last week, Morehead spoke about new efforts to address student mental health and help graduate students. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The University of Georgia is planning some new efforts to address student mental health and help graduate students.

UGA will spend $1 million in private funds over the next two years to increase access to mental health services and support students in being more active and healthy, President Jere Morehead said in his annual State of the University address last week.

Morehead said UGA is also launching a fundraising initiative aimed at generating more endowed scholarships for high-achieving graduate students. The UGA Foundation Board of Trustees has committed $1 million in matching funds for this initial effort.

Coming up

The state Senate’s Higher Education Committee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday. The Technical College System of Georgia’s board meets on Thursday, starting at 8:30 a.m. Emory University is holding six community sessions, starting Thursday, to gather community input on its plans to build twin memorials on its Atlanta and Oxford campuses that honor enslaved individuals who helped build its original campus and others who have historic ties to the community.