Georgia higher ed board set to vote on Sonny Perdue

In this photo from Jan. 5, 2021, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue speaks during a run-off election night party at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Buckhead in Atlanta. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

In this photo from Jan. 5, 2021, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue speaks during a run-off election night party at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Buckhead in Atlanta. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

The state Board of Regents is set to vote Tuesday on whether to name former Gov. Sonny Perdue as the sole finalist to be next leader of the state’s university system, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

The board is not expected to give final approval on appointing the Republican as the chancellor of the University System of Georgia until later this month, according to three senior officials, but the members are expected on Tuesday to clear the way for him to secure the job. The regents have scheduled a 4:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday to announce the finalist.

A staunch ally of Perdue, Gov. Brian Kemp has replaced four members of the 19-member board, including the former chair, with political allies who are expected to be supportive.

The governor has backed Perdue, a former two-term governor who served as Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary, despite the fact that he is first cousin of Kemp’s top Republican rival for re-election, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

As awkward as the situation is, Kemp and Sonny Perdue have a long relationship that outdates the governor’s rivalry with his cousin.

The former governor supported Kemp’s 2002 run for state Senate, tapped Kemp to fill the open post of secretary of state in 2010 and helped talk Trump into giving Kemp his endorsement in the race for governor in 2018. Several of Sonny Perdue’s top allies are backing Kemp over David Perdue.

After months of delays, Sonny Perdue conducted a formal interview for the job Friday with Regents officials and was said to be “bullish” about his prospects, according to someone with direct knowledge of the discussion.

The search for the next chancellor has been an unusually fraught process since former chancellor Steve Wrigley announced his retirement from the job a year ago.

After the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported Perdue’s interest in leading the 340,000-student system, backlash from students and faculty – and concerns from an influential accrediting agency – brought the search to a halt.

Veteran state administrator Teresa MacCartney was appointed to temporarily lead the system’s 26 universities and colleges, while Kemp’s deputies decided to overhaul the Board of Regents rather than try to convince skeptical members to change their minds.

Though the regents have the legal authority to select the chancellor, the governor appoints its members and has broad influence over the process. And Perdue’s selection could invite more scrutiny of the process.

Already, the Southern Associations of Colleges and Schools has raised concerns that the system could be found “out of compliance” if it concludes the process is overly politicized.

And the American Association of University Professors issued a lengthy statement Monday that denounced the lack of “meaningful faculty participation” and raised concerns about Perdue’s qualifications, given that he has no administrative academic experience.

“I’m outraged at a closed-door process that has hidden political shenanigans,” said Matthew Boedy, a University of North Georgia professor who is president of the organization’s state chapter.

“The regents are set to ignore a warning about political influence from USG accreditors to name a political kingmaker the chancellor -- and make the governor a benefactor.”

November 5, 2018 Atlanta - Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp share a smile ahead of Putting Georgians First Fly Around a day before the election day at Peachtree DeKalb Airport on Monday, November 5, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM


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Perdue has said little publicly about the job beyond an interview with the AJC in which he said he wanted to bring more conservative values to the job and highlighted his experience in the governor’s office and Trump’s Cabinet.

Kemp, for his part, has criticized the regents for a process that “has gone on way too long” while leaving the system in limbo.

“I don’t think that’s good for our state. I don’t think it’s good for the future of the university system,” he said in a recent interview. “And I’m hopeful that because we’re in a new year, and other things, that the board will just move forward and go through the process and talk to the candidates and then decide who they think the best fit would be.”