Feb 7, 2022 - News

Sonny Perdue could become chancellor of Georgia's university system

Sonny and David Perdue shaking hands and laughing
Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

It seems counterintuitive: Brian Kemp appears to have paved the way for his opponent, former Sen. David Perdue’s cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, to be named chancellor of the University System of Georgia.

Why it matters: The person running the University System of Georgia oversees 26 public colleges and universities, 48,000 faculty and staff, more than 341,000 students and a budget of nearly $10 billion.

What’s happening: Kemp, who appoints the Board of Regents that oversees the university system and selects its chancellor, has replaced four regents skeptical of Perdue’s nomination with four who could be more supportive.

Catch up quick: The AJC first reported Perdue’s possible candidacy for the job almost a year ago.

  • Perdue, who served as agriculture commissioner in the Trump administration told the paper last summer he’s “always been interested in higher education" and wanted to bring more conservative values to the position.

Yes, but: The idea sparked student protests. And SACS, the university system’s accrediting agency, sent a letter to the regents warning about the risk of political interference in the chancellor search.

State of play: A Kemp ally who agreed to speak anonymously said Perdue is “uniquely qualified” to run a large organization like the university system and that Perdue aligns with the governor on keeping a tight budget and streamlining the system's operations.

  • Of note: Sonny Perdue appointed Kemp to the role of Georgia secretary of state in 2010 and successfully lobbied former President Donald Trump to endorse Kemp in 2018.

Philip Wilheit, a recently retired regent who did not seek reappointment tells Axios he likes Sonny Perdue, but said “I don’t think he’s qualified to be chancellor of the university system.”

  • Wilheit said he’s worried about the effect Perdue’s appointment would have on curricula, funding and personnel.

The intrigue: A source close to both Kemp and Sonny Perdue tells Axios that the former governor is not actually supportive of his cousin David’s campaign.

  • Another source close to Sonny Perdue pointed out that above all Perdue cannot get involved in the race if he wants to become chancellor. “His desire to serve the state of Georgia, if asked, supersedes any political calculation,” the source said.

What he’s saying: David Perdue tells Axios his cousin “is in an awkward position” because of the chancellorship search. “But I’ve stayed out of that, and I think he’s staying out of my little dog fight here.”

What’s next: A formal interview process with the chancellor candidates, including Perdue, which is expected to begin this week.

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