Georgia university regents restart search for new chancellor

Regents who oversee Georgia’s 26 public universities and colleges are restarting the search for a chancellor, saying they are still trying to find a permanent replacement for outgoing leader Steve Wrigley before he retires June 30.

Regents voted Tuesday after a nearly three-hour-long executive session to hire a new search firm after the previous search firm quit. The resolution by regent Neal Pruitt Jr. said the firm will consider current applicants and recruit new ones. If no permanent replacement is chosen by June 30, regents voted to appoint an interim leader for the 340,000-student system.

Regents had paused the search last month, and then got a letter from the agency that accredits all the schools on April 26 asking whether there has been undue political pressure to appoint former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as the system’s leader. Then, Parker Executive Search, which had been helping the regents find candidates, resigned citing "misinformation."

It’s unclear if regents have a search firm in mind, or how many new candidates any new firm might be able to recruit before a June 30 deadline. University leadership searches typically take months when outside candidates are being considered. Usually, a search is only restarted and new candidates sought when regents can’t agree on any of the candidates in the original pool.

Sachin Shailendra, the chair of the board, walked away from an Associated Press reporter who was trying to ask him about the search. Regent Neal Pruitt Jr., who made the motion, referred comment to Shailendra.

Last week, speaking to faculty leaders, Wrigley said regents have "run into a few bumps in the road" in the chancellor’s search, but expressed confidence that "they’ll get it figured out," said Matthew Boedy, a University of North Georgia professor and head of the state chapter of the American Association of University Professors who participated in the call.

Hiring a chancellor is always a political act. The system’s leader is both an administrator and a politician who deals with the governor, lawmakers and regents. But accreditation rules prohibit undue outside influence on the board, trying to make sure that trustees truly run a college, and not some outside group.

Perdue was a two-term governor and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Donald Trump. A group called Students Against Sonny launched last month, promoting a petition urging regents to reject him and holding a pair of anti-Perdue rallies.

Critics say Perdue had a bad record as governor of reducing student access to higher education. Perdue’s efforts to help Trump fight his 2020 electoral loss to Democratic President Joe Biden also prompted questions.

Tuesday’s vote came as the board saluted Wrigley, who has been chancellor since 2017, in the last regularly scheduled board meeting before his June 30 retirement date. In a speech, Wrigley urged regents to remain focused on student success. One of his major pushes as chancellor as been to encourage more students to complete their degrees.

"I will offer this unsolicited advice to you: that in the coming years, you regularly ask of each other, ’How are students doing? Are they starting? And are they finishing? And are they learning what they need to?’" Wrigley said.

A lack of a chancellor could also delay selections of new presidents for six schools that now or will soon have vacancies — Georgia State University, Georgia College and State University, Kennesaw State University, Clayton State University, Savannah State University and Georgia Highlands College. Regents voted Tuesday to reappoint all current school leaders for another year, voting that interim leaders would remain in place until the board appoints permanent successors.

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