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AAUP Denounces Lack of Transparency, Politicization of Georgia Chancellor Search

Last Friday, the University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents reportedly met in secret to interview former Georgia governor and Trump-appointed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue for the position of chancellor. Aside from a small number of “listening sessions” in March 2021, the entire search process has been hidden from public view. The American Association of University Professors condemns the closed nature of the search and calls for meaningful faculty participation in the chancellor search.

The University System of Georgia comprises twenty-six institutions, including research universities, historically black colleges, comprehensive universities, state colleges, and state universities, with nearly 350,000 students. The chancellor serves as the chief administrative officer of the system. Similar to a search for a university president, the search for a chancellor should seek an individual qualified to lead both administratively and academically. Similar to a search for a university president, the search for a chancellor should be transparent, open, and cooperative, and it should include robust faculty participation at all stages.

There are reasons to be concerned about Perdue’s qualifications to lead an institution of higher education. First and foremost, Perdue has no absolutely no experience in higher education leadership. Moreover, during his tenure as secretary, the Department of Agriculture reportedly buried publicly funded, peer-reviewed research showing the dangers of climate change to agriculture and public health, and cherry-picked for promotion studies that favored the meat industry, damaging the credibility of the department and allowing politics to intrude into what should be nonpartisan scientific research. In interviews, Perdue has expressed skepticism about the causes of climate change despite overwhelming worldwide scientific consensus.

A chancellor must understand that higher education serves the common good, and that public higher education is vitally important in its service to democracy. A chancellor must be prepared to push back against inappropriate political interference into any aspect of higher education. The University System of Georgia system faces several challenges. State lawmakers are advancing educational gag orders that trample on academic freedom and recent board actions gutting academic due process leave academic freedom essentially unprotected. Already, the apparent political motivation behind these decisions has garnered negative attention from the USG's accrediting body and the AAUP. Appointing an inexperienced chancellor after a closed search will only exacerbate the concerns, and will almost certainly have a negative impact on recruitment and retention of faculty and students.

The search for a chancellor must be conducted in the open and must include meaningful faculty participation. The USG system deserves and demands a chancellor who understands higher education, who has the confidence of the faculty who work in the system, and who will work to enhance the entire Georgia system to ensure Georgia students have the best educational experience.

Publication Date: 
Monday, February 14, 2022