Campus Visits, friendly interviews, speeches to Ag and ALEC gatherings: what Sonny Perdue’s calendar reveals about his first 4 months as Chancellor.
After a controversial, yearlong effort to appoint former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, he assumed office April 1st.
Calendar listings obtained through Georgia’s Open Records Act give a glimpse into his first four months as Chancellor.
The period covered includes Perdue’s first media interviews as Chancellor, the May primary election between Brian Kemp and Perdue’s cousin David, and an appearance in July at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual meeting held, this year, in Atlanta.
The Georgia Republican primary loomed large over Perdue’s appointment with local and national news outlets repeatedly depicting it as a savvy move by Gov. Kemp to neutralize the former Gov. and Trump cabinet secretary at a time when the former President was backing David.
Sonny Perdue did make a campaign-like appearance with Kemp in Perdue’s traditional base of Perry, GA.
The day after GA’s primary, in which Kemp trounced David, the College Board met with Sonny.
Perdue’s first day in office was overshadowed somewhat by the release that week of his statement of interest in the job, which I had a hand in.
April saw his first Chancellor’s report at a Board of Regents meeting and a keynote speech at an agriculture forum in Kansas City. Perdue served as Secretary of Agriculture in the Trump administration.
The month also saw his first media interviews as Chancellor with three given April 20th and three more the 28th.
The headline and early paragraphs frame the story as the new Chancellor’s mission to improve declining enrollment numbers for the USG. Later down the controversies surrounding Perdue’s appointment are addressed.
His interview with the Georgia Gwinnett College student newspaper The Globe was much more challenging even while acknowledging Perdue’s significant role in the establishment of the school.
Perdue’s first day as Chancellor was spent at Georgia Gwinnett College for the investiture of its new President.
The Globe asked about GGC specifically but also Gov. Kemp’s manipulation of Regents appointments before Perdue’s selection, why the Ag Secretary didn’t resign from Trump’s cabinet after Jan. 6th, what specific conservative values he’ll push as Chancellor, and past statements about climate change, of interest given debates about academic freedom and the politicization of science research.
Later that day Perdue gave a radio interview with Gainesville’s WDUN radio.
It included the lingering political question with Perdue insisting Kemp didn’t appoint him Chancellor, the Board of Regents did.
It’s a distinction made intermittently with even the New York Times dropping it in its Kemp vs. Trump coverage. Stories that cited Georgia Republican sources both on the record and “familiar with” Sonny Perdue’s plans.
“Mr. Kemp has worked to line up key Republican leaders — or keep them on the sidelines. Earlier this month, he appointed Sonny Perdue chancellor of the state’s university system. The former governor intends to remain neutral in the primary, according to people familiar with his plans.”
On April 26 Perdue appeared with Gov. Kemp at an economic development announcement in Perry that could substitute as an endorsement.
In all three early interviews Perdue says he’s in favor of free expression and civil discourse. That critics might not always agree but that’s what higher ed is for, deliberation and debate.
But the fact that he was confirmed by a unanimous vote suggests a lack of free thinking and intellectual diversity on the Board of Regents. If not one out of nineteen Regents were willing to vote against Perdue as Chancellor, despite the controversy and objections from student, faculty, and staff groups, it showed the Regents voting in lockstep and may not be representative of the state.
Even one out of five dentists surveyed usually dissents.
Of the three interviews Perdue gave April 20th, the student journalist asked the toughest questions.
The WALB interview had a staged feel to the extent that the anchor pretends he’s interviewing Perdue live that morning when it was a zoom call done the Thursday before.
“’I know that you probably want to make sure that the University System of Georgia is the top in the nation. Would you say that is one of your goals?’
‘Absolutely, the undisputed best is the way I like to say it. …’”
The Fox Business interview was about food prices and shortages resulting from the war in Ukraine but included questions about the need to market degrees to young people, echoing the AJC interview.
Interestingly, the interview was done from an Atlanta studio at Inertia Films, not Georgia Public Broadcasting. Fox News began renting bureau space and studio time from GPB in 2004 during Perdue’s governorship.
The first of several entries related to P3 projects appears April 11. P3 refers to Public-Private Partnerships.
Perdue gave his second Chancellor’s report at the Board of Regents’ May 10th meeting. In it he described a meeting with the USG Faculty Council and “appreciated members’ willingness to engage in dialogue. … He said they may not always agree but he will always work to share why he makes the decisions he makes.” “Chancellor Perdue likened his leadership style to that of a coach. He will be encouraging but also direct if something is not working.”
May 12–17 entries say “Kansas and Nebraska” suggesting more Ag-related travel.
May 24th was Georgia’s primary election day. Perdue’s calendar lists speaking at the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and a zoom call with the Missouri Farm Bureau.
7–9 in the evening is listed as “Event.”
Gov. Kemp trounced David in the Republican primary avoiding a runoff. The following day, the Chancellor met with the College Board.
May ended with a call to conservative media radio host and pundit Martha Zoller and a meeting with Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and Georgia State University President Brian Blake. Perdue also met with former GSU President Mark Becker on May 4th.
On June 8th, Perdue attended his portrait unveiling at the USDA in Washington. The summer months included campus visits.
In late July, the American Legislative Exchange Council met in Atlanta for its annual meeting. Perdue attended a July 28th meeting of Capital Ministries and led a morning devotional on the 29th.
“On Friday, Sonny Perdue, chancellor of the University System of Georgia’s 26 higher education institutions, spoke at an ALEC/CapMin-sponsored morning devotional. Chancellor Perdue and Brooke Rollins participate in the ongoing Bible study that Drollinger leads to former White House Cabinet and senior staff that CapMin began when President Trump was in office. That study is held weekly via the internet.
Chancellor Perdue is also former secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and former governor of Georgia.
Chancellor Perdue told the 50 legislators who attended the devotional how important the Bible study had been to him when he was in office and how crucial it continues to be to him today. He acknowledged the reality of intense spiritual warfare occurring all around us. He encouraged lawmakers in the Word of God to make policies and live their lives in a way that would show they are walking with Jesus (as did Peter and John in the book of Acts). He explained that the only way to do this was to faithfully study the Word of God.”
In his early interviews Perdue said he was “in listening mode” and by my count he visited at least sixteen of the USG’s campuses from April through July.
If Sonny Perdue’s appointment as Chancellor was to shore up support for Gov. Kemp in a primary race than his mission is already done.
But if Perdue’s mission is something larger, to reshape the USG as an even more vocational-oriented system or towards conservative-friendly positions in the culture wars, than those debates may depend on the outcome of Kemp’s race against Stacey Abrams.
The question now would be if Stacey Abrams would seek Perdue’s resignation if elected and call for a new, national search.
Or is the pressure now somehow for Georgia Democrats not to politicize the office of Chancellor?