- The University System of Georgia on Tuesday approved a new policy reducing the role of faculty in presidential searches, escalating tensions between the Board of Regents and educators on its 26 campuses.
- Previously, a faculty member would chair presidential search committees, except for those at the system’s four research institutions, which a regent would lead. Faculty also needed to comprise a majority of committee membership at all institutions.
- Now, a regent will chair all search committees, regardless of institution type, and the board will continue to have sole power to name finalists from a list of candidates selected by those committees. Faculty can still sit on search panels, but not in any mandated number. System officials say not having a separate process for research institutions creates consistency, but the American Association of University Professors argues the change strikes at shared governance principles.
The AAUP has been at war with the regent board for many months, notably when the board rewrote tenure policies last fall, greenlighting institutions to fire poorly-performing tenured professors without an adjudicative hearing before a faculty panel.
The faculty organization railed against the new system and said it undermined shared governance. It also criticized the regents for exiling faculty from the search for a new system chancellor, which it called opaque and politicized. The chancellor job ultimately went to Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor and Trump administration cabinet member who lacked any higher education administrative experience.
In March, the AAUP censured the Georgia system, a move intended to publicly signal an erosion of academic freedom. The system at the time said the AAUP had ignored its commitment to academic freedom and due process.
A regent committee unanimously approved the presidential search changes at its meeting Tuesday.
At that meeting, Christopher McGraw, vice chancellor of legal affairs, said the system wanted to streamline executive search procedures. He said that faculty could still make up the largest slice of search committees in some cases, even though it's no longer required.
“This is to bring about a consistent process for all 26 institutions,” McGraw said.
System faculty had no warning the regent board was mulling changes to search processes before its meeting agenda was recently released, said Matthew Boedy, president of the AAUP's Georgia conference.
Boedy said regents were always welcome to sit in on search committee meetings and meaningfully participate. He questioned why they had to “gut faculty voice” from the process.
“The regents want to run the system from the top down from their perch on high and they will find many ways to do that,” Boedy said.
System spokesperson Lance Wallace did not directly respond to the criticism but said in an email the “updated process allows the board and chancellor to be engaged in all levels throughout the presidential search process.”
Faculty involvement in presidential searches has dwindled over the past two decades, according to an AAUP report released in October. Twenty years ago, about 94% of institutions reported that faculty served on presidential search committees, a share that fell to 88% last year.
Other states and public systems have moved to make searches less transparent, with leaders saying they value confidentiality and the ability to attract strong candidates.
The governing body of Mississippi’s public colleges last month created a new policy that anonymizes groups that provide feedback on presidential candidates. The identities of those group members are secret even from each other. In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed legislation making public college searches in the state confidential until their final stages.