Georgia regents name Sonny Perdue chancellor of University System

Sonny Perdue reacts to a question during an event at the Spring Hollow Farm in Claxton, Ga., in 2021. On Tuesday, March 1, 2022, he was selected as the new chancellor of the University System of Georgia. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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Sonny Perdue reacts to a question during an event at the Spring Hollow Farm in Claxton, Ga., in 2021. On Tuesday, March 1, 2022, he was selected as the new chancellor of the University System of Georgia. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

The Georgia Board of Regents voted without opposition Tuesday afternoon to name former two-term Gov. Sonny Perdue the chancellor of the state’s public university system.

The appointment concludes a contentious yearlong search process that divided many faculty members, students and some former regents members on the idea of putting Perdue at the head of the University System of Georgia, which includes the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State and Kennesaw State universities.

The chief criticism was Perdue lacks administrative experience in higher education. Supporters countered his stewardship of state government, along with serving four years as U.S. Agriculture Department secretary, made Perdue, a Republican, well-qualified for the job.

“This may be the most important job yet,” Perdue said Tuesday after the vote. “I can’t think of a better way to make a difference than to help prepare the next generation – educating them for prosperity, themselves, their families and ultimately our state. I’m excited to get started.”

Perdue is scheduled to start on April 1.

Perdue, 75, faces many challenges in his new role. The system’s 340,000-student enrollment declined slightly last fall for the first time since 2012. Experts predict college enrollment will continue to drop in future years as fewer students graduate from high school due to declining birthrates nationwide.

Perdue arrives at a time college leaders, locally and nationally, are facing demands to make tuition more affordable as a higher percentage of students come from lower-income households. The regents typically approve tuition and fees for the fall semester at their April meeting.

The new chancellor will encounter increasingly disgruntled faculty. The American Association of University Professors’ governing council is scheduled to vote this weekend to censure the Georgia system over an ongoing dispute with administrators over recent changes to the post-tenure review process, a move experts say could hurt faculty recruiting efforts.

Meanwhile, the system is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. Even with the omicron surge subsiding, its five largest universities reported 125 positive COVID-19 cases in the last week.

And there’s the constant pressure for the system and its schools to produce students prepared to fill jobs in high-demand, high-paying and emerging industries. The system’s six-year graduation rate is about 62%, but below 50% at seven state universities.

Perdue will have some financial help, thanks to Gov. Brian Kemp, who supported Perdue’s candidacy for the job. Kemp’s proposed budget increases state funds to the system by about $400 million, to about $3.1 billion.

Seven regents members lauded Perdue in brief remarks before the vote, citing his gubernatorial experience, his business background and his time leading the state Senate’s Higher Education Committee when he was in the Georgia Legislature.

“Gov. Sonny Perdue is extraordinarily well-equipped to lead the University System of Georgia,” said Don Waters.

Acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney will stay in the system and work as executive vice chancellor for administration, the board said.