Search firm quits in hunt for new Georgia higher ed chancellor

Regents paused search amid Sonny Perdue pushback

The executive firm charged with searching for the new leader of Georgia’s higher education system withdrew this week amid mounting questions about whether former Gov. Sonny Perdue will be selected for the coveted job.

Parker Executive Search is no longer involved in the process, officials said, and has taken down a page on its website seeking applicants. The company’s president, Laurie Wilder, declined to comment. Several members of the Board of Regents also declined to comment Thursday.

Multiple people with direct knowledge of the search process confirmed the company bowed out but declined to speak publicly because they were not authorized to speak on confidential matters.

The firm’s withdrawal is the latest development in the behind-the-scenes push to name Perdue as the leader of the system of 26 public colleges and universities, one of the most powerful positions in state government.

The search for a permanent chancellor was put on hold last month after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported there wasn’t yet enough support among the state Board of Regents to name Perdue to the post.

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 would not be able to qualify for federal financial aid and could struggle to transfer to other colleges.

The Regents met briefly Thursday in a telephone meeting, but did not publicly address the search for a new chancellor.

Though Perdue and his aides have never commented publicly on the chancellor search, education circles have speculated about 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 term as President Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary and was one of the few Cabinet secretaries who remained in their jobs throughout the Republican’s tenure in the White House.

Perdue’s critics say they are concerned about the conservative stances he took while in office and say 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.

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

icon to expand image

Credit: Ben Gray