Regents pick finalist for Georgia State’s next president

M. Brian Blake, who has been an administrator at several large U.S. universities, is the finalist to become Georgia State University's next president. (Photo courtesy DREXEL UNIVERSITY)
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M. Brian Blake, who has been an administrator at several large U.S. universities, is the finalist to become Georgia State University's next president. (Photo courtesy DREXEL UNIVERSITY)

Candidate M. Brian Blake is in line to become its first Black president

A Georgia native with administrative experience at several top universities is in line to become the president of the state’s largest public university and the first Black person to hold the position.

The Georgia Board of Regents announced Thursday that M. Brian Blake is its finalist to become Georgia State University’s next president. The board also agreed Thursday to select T. Ramon Stuart, previously provost and vice president of academic affairs at Fort Valley State University, as the next president of Clayton State University.

Blake is currently the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at George Washington University, located in the nation’s capital, a position he’s held since October 2019. He has Georgia roots, earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech and a master’s degree in the same subject from Mercer University. Blake has a doctoral degree in software engineering from George Mason University, located in Virginia.

Blake was a finalist to become the University of Rhode Island’s president in April, but withdrew his candidacy, choosing to stay at George Washington, according to the university’s student newspaper. After discussions with his family and colleagues, “there is much important work yet to be done at GW, especially as we emerge from the pandemic,” Blake said at the time.

Georgia State, apparently, changed his mind.

“With the incredible progress made over the past decade, Georgia State has an outstanding reputation combining excellence in both research and accessibility,” Blake said in a statement. “It’s built for the next generation of students, scholars and practitioners, and I would be delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the next chapter of the institution.”

The Regents are likely to vote on Blake’s appointment within the next week.

Regent Neil Pruitt Jr., a Georgia State graduate who chaired the board’s Georgia State search committee, said in a statement Blake “will serve its campuses well.” Regents Chairman Sachin Shailendra said during Thursday’s meeting he believes they’ve selected “two strong presidents” in Blake and Stuart.

ExploreGeorgia State University's president announces departure

Georgia State’s current president, Mark Becker, announced plans last year to leave by June. Becker has been in the job since January 2009.

Georgia State University President Mark Becker (right) talks with Traci Curney as her son and linebacker Ed Curney (center) looks during the 2019 Football Kickoff Luncheon at Georgia State Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM
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Georgia State University President Mark Becker (right) talks with Traci Curney as her son and linebacker Ed Curney (center) looks during the 2019 Football Kickoff Luncheon at Georgia State Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM

Georgia State has about 54,000 students, the largest enrollment in the state, and roughly 5,500 employees. Under Becker, the university has ramped up academic research, its football and basketball programs and efforts to use data analytics to improve graduation rates. Black students make up about 40% of its enrollment and by some accounts, more Black students earn their bachelor‘s degrees from Georgia State than any university in the nation.

The university’s work on increasing graduation rates has drawn visits for many educators in recent years, including then-U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. The university is working on a National Institute for Student Success scheduled to open this fall that will train educators to resolve institutional barriers to equity and college completion at their schools.

Georgia State’s next president will be tasked with completing its $85 million convocation center, continuing to increase faculty research and improving its three-year graduation rates on its perimeter campuses, which was 15% in 2019. That rate is up from 6.5% three years earlier. Georgia State’s overall six-year graduation rate is 62%.

Students navigate Georgia State University's main campus in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, around the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Georgia.  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
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Students navigate Georgia State University's main campus in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, around the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Georgia. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Kenneth Lockett, 21, an undergraduate political science major who is managing editor of The Signal, the university’s student newspaper, said classmates want more engineering programs on the downtown Atlanta campus and for Georgia State to find additional ways to help the homeless who live near that campus. Lockett wrote an article for The Signal last year asking that Georgia State’s next president be Black, but didn’t think it would happen.

“I was kind of shocked,” Lockett said of Thursday’s announcement. “It’s a pleasant surprise.”

Many Georgia State students and faculty say the university needs to increase its racial and gender diversity on the graduate student, faculty and administrative levels. While non-white students make up about 75% of the university’s enrollment, they are roughly 18% of its administrators.

ExploreGeorgia State faculty demand greater diversity and inclusion

Tanya Washington Hicks, a Georgia State law school professor who is president of the university’s Faculty of the African Diaspora Association, said her group is willing to help Blake tackle some of these issues.

“I hope he embraces that Georgia State is poised to fully embrace this idea of being an industry leader in diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said.

M. Brian Blake

Here’s a breakdown of Blake’s academic and professional credentials:

  • Served in administrative roles at Drexel University, the University of Miami, the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University.
  • Authored or coauthored more than 200 journal articles, books or book chapters and refereed conference or workshop papers.
  • Earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech, and a master’s degree in the same subject from Mercer University; a doctoral degree in software engineering from George Mason University.
  • Served on five National Academies’ studies or committees and on the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate.

Sources: University System of Georgia, George Washington University