Governor Deal Exerts Control Over Georgia University System

Governors in Georgia have long harbored a desire to exert more control over the Board of Regents charged with overseeing the state’s Public University System. Much to the chagrin of administration after administration, the high political price — and then a constitutional amendment that made the Board almost entirely autonomous — made this task difficult. [...]

Governors in Georgia have long harbored a desire to exert more control over the Board of Regents charged with overseeing the state’s Public University System. Much to the chagrin of administration after administration, the high political price — and then a constitutional amendment that made the Board almost entirely autonomous — made this task difficult. Since 1941, when excessive interference with that autonomy cost then-Governor Eugene Talmadge his reelection, the Board has been considered a “$7 billion government unto itself.”

Current Governor Nathan Deal, however, might have more luck. The only influence that governors have exercised over the Board has been their power to appoint the regents. Regents typically serve a longer term that the governors, so the impact of that power has been diluted. Therefore, typically the regents have been close associates of or large donors to the current administration.

Consider that one of Deal’s first official acts in office was the appointment of Philp Wilheit Sr. from Gainesville, one of his largest contributors. The two have been political allies since the governor ran for his first public office, and Deal even appointed Wilheit’s son to the Board of Natural Resources. But regents tend to be accomplished executives, attorneys and doctors who are accustomed to professional independence. So Deal went beyond appointing trusted regents by quickly installing a new chancellor, the man who runs the University System day to day.

Deal’s second appointment finally gave the Governor a seat at the university system’s table. Hank Huckaby, appointed as the new chancellor, was previously a freshman legislator from Athens, but his connections to Deal go back many years. In his capacity as chancellor, Huckaby has responsibility over the university system on the day-to-day basis.

Consider that one of Deal’s first official acts in office was the appointment of Philp Wilheit Sr. from Gainesville, one of his largest contributors. The two have been political allies since the governor ran for his first public office, and Deal even appointed Wilheit’s son to the Board of Natural Resources.

But regents tend to be accomplished executives, attorneys and doctors who are accustomed to professional independence. So Deal went beyond appointing trusted regents by quickly installing a new chancellor, the man who runs the University System day to day.

Together, Deal and Huckaby have been able to make their presence felt by getting the presidents of all the colleges and universities in the Georgia system to accept graduation rate targets for their schools. In another victory, the University System was not able to get around Deal’s order to cut 3% from its budget by eliminating low-priority programs. In the past, administrators had purposely chosen  the  most popular programs for cuts to inspire public outcry and, as a result, not have to cut anything at all. During previous administrations, this maneuver harnessed public outrage to get a budget deal more favorable to the schools, but not this time.

“Unfortunately, a number of plans simply offer to return allocated funds that were deemed to be high priorities or continue the practice of cutting a little from all programs,” he wrote the presidents in a memo he personally released to the press. “In the days ahead, (University System) Fiscal Affairs staff will be in touch to discuss plans that fail to adhere to previous instructions.”

Tuesday

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