Opinion: If regents pick Sonny Perdue, Georgia’s colleges will suffer

Brian Kemp and Sonny Perdue, shown with his wife Mary, go back a long way as political allies. In 2010, the Perdues watched as their official portrait was unveiled by then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp. (John Spink / AJC file photo)

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Brian Kemp and Sonny Perdue, shown with his wife Mary, go back a long way as political allies. In 2010, the Perdues watched as their official portrait was unveiled by then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp. (John Spink / AJC file photo)

Professor emerita: Accrediting agency already warned about experience issue

In a guest column, Christine Gallant, a professor emerita of English at Georgia State University, warns against the selection of Sonny Perdue to lead Georgia’s public college system.

The AJC reports that the Board of Regents is set to vote today on whether to name Perdue as the sole finalist as the next leader of the state’s university system. The board is not expected to give final approval on appointing the former governor as the chancellor until later this month.

By Christine Gallant

Sonny Perdue’s chances of being named University System of Georgia chancellor have suddenly rocketed with changes to the Board of Regents.

While the Board of Regents has the legal authority to select the chancellor, governors appoint the 19 members, typically choosing loyalists and big donors. In the last few weeks, Gov. Brian Kemp has appointed three political allies to the board and announced two other members could no longer hold the office due to shifting political boundaries.

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Christine Gallant

Credit: CUs

Christine Gallant

Credit: CUs

Combined ShapeCaption
Christine Gallant

Credit: CUs

Credit: CUs

Kemp has expressed strong support for Perdue. Yet, the consequences of selecting Perdue could be disastrous for the University System of Georgia. Georgia’s 26 colleges and universities could lose their professional accreditation as a result.

On April 27, 2021, then-Regents chair Sachin Shailendra received a warning letter from the president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, referred to as SACSCOC. The University System could be found “out of compliance,” which would mean loss of accreditation, if the chancellor’s search is politicized. “Members of a governing board … appointed by the Governor … (must) remain independent in their work, or they place the accreditation of the institution(s) they govern in jeopardy.” Higher education systems should select candidates with “appropriate experience and qualifications” to lead institutions. A former two-term Georgia governor who served as Donald Trump’s top agriculture official, Perdue has no experience in higher education leadership.

Further, the regents should not be controlled by “organizations and institutions separate from it. …This would include the Governor.”

It is not wise to mess with SACSCOC. The organization is connected with the U.S. Department of Education; it is one of seven regional institutional accrediting agencies serving as gatekeepers for federal financial aid. Withdrawal of accreditation would have terrible financial consequences for all USG schools.

Enrollments would immediately plunge as present students transferred to accredited schools in other states. Furthermore, federal and state funding is only granted to students at accredited schools. The economic mainstay for many schools is federal Pell Grants, need-based grants to low-income undergraduates, particularly the USG’s third- and fourth-tier state universities and colleges that educate many first-generation college students.

So, Kemp’s political decision to so wholeheartedly back Perdue for chancellor could seriously damage the University System of Georgia. It certainly would not “put parents and students first” as Kemp claims to do. I predict that if Perdue is appointed chancellor, Kemp’s political career will be seriously damaged, too.

Georgia’s University System Chancellor

The University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents has named former Gov. Sonny Perdue as sole finalist to be its next chancellor.

The job: The chancellor oversees an organization with 26 state universities and colleges, plus the state archives, with about 48,000 employees and some 340,000 students. It is considered one of the most powerful positions in state government.

At issue: Critics say the chancellor should have experience in higher education leadership, which Perdue does not. Supporters say Perdue’s experience as governor and as U.S.Agriculture Secretary will benefit the system and its relationships with state and federal lawmakers and donors.

Here are some opinion articles about the issues:

Opinion: Sonny Perdue is ideal choice to lead Georgia’s University System. By Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber of Commerce

Opinion: In standing with Trump, Sonny Perdue rebuked science and truth. By Randy Malamud, professor at Georgia State University

Opinion: If regents pick Sonny Perdue, Georgia’s colleges will suffer. By Christine Gallant, professor emerita at Georgia State University