Search firm cites ‘misinformation’ in decision to quit hunt for new Georgia chancellor

CLAXTON, GA - JANUARY 7, 2021: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue speaks at an event at the Spring Hollow Farm in Claxton, Ga. about bringing high speed internet to two rural Georgia counties. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Caption
CLAXTON, GA - JANUARY 7, 2021: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue speaks at an event at the Spring Hollow Farm in Claxton, Ga. about bringing high speed internet to two rural Georgia counties. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

The head of a search firm cited “misinformation” as her reason for quitting a contract to help find a new leader of Georgia’s higher education system, a process dominated by a concerted effort to tap former Gov. Sonny Perdue to the coveted post.

Laurie Wilder of Parker Executive Research detailed the decision in a letter Wednesday to Chancellor Steve Wrigley that outlined the hours the firm spent working with faculty, students and others to help find the next leader of the system of 26 public colleges and universities.

“We believe misinformation throughout the search no longer allows us to fulfill our obligation, and it is with great disappointment we resign from the Chancellor search going forward,” she wrote in the letter, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through a public records request.

Wilder has declined to comment, as have several Regents contacted this week. The search firm’s decision to quit, reported by the AJC on Thursday, was the latest development in the behind-the-scenes effort to name Perdue to one of the most powerful positions in state government.

It’s not immediately clear whether it would further delay a search for a permanent chancellor that was already put on hold last month after the AJC reported there wasn’t enough support among the state Board of Regents to tap Perdue for the job.

A few days later, the AJC disclosed that a regional accrediting agency warned the system could be found “out of compliance” if the process was politicized. Losing accreditation could mean that students won’t be able to qualify for federal financial aid and could struggle to transfer to other colleges.

210427-Atlanta- Hannah Gebresilassie with Protect the Vote GA leads a protest in front of the University System of Georgia offices in Downtown Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon, April 27, 2021, against former Gov. Sonny Perdue becoming the new chancellor. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
210427-Atlanta- Hannah Gebresilassie with Protect the Vote GA leads a protest in front of the University System of Georgia offices in Downtown Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon, April 27, 2021, against former Gov. Sonny Perdue becoming the new chancellor. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Though Perdue and his aides have never commented publicly on the chancellor search, education circles have buzzed with talk of the possibility since the AJC revealed in March that he was a serious contender for the job.

The former two-term governor recently finished a stint as President Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary and was one of the few Cabinet secretaries who remained in their jobs throughout the Republican’s stint in the White House.

Perdue’s critics say they’re concerned about the conservative stances he took while in office and want a veteran administrator is needed to shepherd the system. His allies point to his eight years as the state’s top executive and his leadership of the sprawling USDA and its roughly $140 billion-a-year budget.

Read the letter here:

Chancellor Wrigley,

We have always valued our relationship with the University System of Georgia and its member institutions. We appreciate the many opportunities we have had to work directly with you as you have continued building the University System into the world class organization it is today.

We have worked diligently with Board Chairman Shailendra and Regents Search Advisory Group Chairman Stelling at their direction. We spent hours with the University’s many constituency groups, including faculty, staff, students, and community members who all were passionate about the role of the Chancellor and its importance to the future success of education throughout the state.

We believe misinformation throughout the search no longer allows us to fulfill our obligation, and it is with great disappointment we resign from the Chancellor search going forward. We will not be discussing this search publicly.

We wish you great success in your retirement.

All the best,

LCW

Laurie C. Wilder

About the Author

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