Chancellor Sonny Perdue wants to create a university system that moves nimbly to educate students for the jobs of the future—and where faculty members don’t share their political views, he told state legislators gathered in Athens on Monday.
“We educate all people, period,” Perdue said in describing his vision of college as a place where people from different backgrounds learn from each other and collaborate.
“We expect our gifted faculty to use their academic freedom to educate, not indoctrinate,” he said.
The University System Board of Regents voted to hire Perdue in March despite criticism from faculty and students over the former member of President Trump’s cabinet and Georgia governor’s political views, lack of an academic background and support for weaker tenure protections. While throwing his hat in the ring for the job running the state’s 26 public colleges and universities, he told the AJC that he was doing so to bring “conservative values” to higher education. He took office in September.
Perdue said he wants to restore public confidence in higher education, which he said has fallen by 14% over the past two years, without citing a source.
“People worry about cost, they worry about accountability, and they want to know if we’re a good return on investment,” he said.
Perdue credited Zell Miller, the originator of the HOPE Scholarship, as the first governor to understand the link between higher education and economic development. As such, he said that employer demands will be a factor in deciding whether to create new degree programs—health care, data analytics, artificial intelligence, regenerative bioscience and agriculture technology were a few fields he mentioned.
Creating more online degree programs is another of Perdue’s priorities, and the system needs to prepare to welcome students who took well-paying jobs after high school but now find that they can’t get promoted.
“While people may question the value of a four-year degree, the fact remains, it’s a million-dollar deal,” he said. That’s how much more money he said the average college graduate will earn over a lifetime compared to someone without a degree.
Perdue was Monday’s keynote speaker at the University of Georgia’s Biennial Institute, a two-day training conference for newly elected incoming lawmakers. Gov. Brian Kemp is scheduled to speak Tuesday, and legislators are attending sessions on transportation, mental health and other issues the legislature will likely deal with when it convenes next month.
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