The Board of Regents voted today to name former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue the sole finalist for the position of chancellor of the University System of Georgia (USG).

Sonny Perdue Credit: USG

The decision follows a national search over the past year to lead one of the top public university systems in the nation. USG’s 26 public colleges and universities enroll more than 340,000 students and employ more than 48,000 faculty and staff to fulfill the system’s teaching, research and service mission across the state. 

“USG and its institutions have an international reputation of innovation, workforce preparation and student success and that attracted an outstanding group of candidates for the Board to explore,” said Board Chair Harold Reynolds. “Ultimately, Gov. Perdue stood out for his impressive experience and leadership in public service as well as a vast understanding not only of Georgia and its communities but of the issues facing the university system as we move forward.”

A former two-term governor of Georgia, George Ervin “Sonny” Perdue III served as Agriculture Secretary from 2017 to 2021. There, he managed a workforce of 110,000 employees in the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the stated objective of being the most efficient, effective and customer friendly agency in the federal government. Perdue led the USDA to stabilize and secure the food supply chain during the pandemic and launched the Farmers to Families Food Box program to ensure the most vulnerable Americans were fed.

A veterinarian and agribusiness owner, Perdue served as Georgia governor from 2003 to 2011. He reformed the state budget, and focused on eliminating wasteful spending. His efforts created 200,000 jobs and helped stimulate the state economy, turning a budget deficit into a substantial surplus. During his term, high school graduates in posted the highest graduate rates and SAT scores in the state history. Perdue also served in the Georgia Senate from 1991 to 2001, including as Senate President Pro Tem from 1996 to 1998.

Born in Perry, Georgia, on Dec. 20, 1946, and raised on a farm in Bonaire, Perdue graduated from Warner Robins High School and earned his doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the University of Georgia. He is also a veteran, serving four years in the U.S. Air Force. He is married to the former Mary Ruff. They have four children, 14 grandchildren and have served as foster parents for eight children awaiting adoption.

“I consider being named the finalist as the Chancellor of the University System of Georgia to be a wonderful capstone to a career of public service,” Perdue said. “Education is the most important issue at the federal, state and local level and it’s why, as a legislator, I sought to be chair of the Senate Higher Education committee to work on important initiatives with Gov. Zell Miller and former USG Chancellor Steve Portch.”

“Higher education is where I wanted to have a real impact as governor, only to be stymied by twin recessions. It is what I benefited from as Agriculture Secretary, where I saw daily the benefits of university research. I want to make a difference by providing leadership and resources so that faculty can thrive in their teaching, research and service and students are inspired and supported so they graduate, find rewarding careers and become productive citizens. I am honored to be considered for such an important role.”

Winner of the 2019-2020 Exceptional Agency Award from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, USG has been cited nationally for its excellent leadership, academic innovation, state government support and rise in student achievement.

Among its accomplishments, USG has embarked on seminal institutional consolidations that over the past decade reduced the number of institutions from 35 to 26 while improving services and outcomes for students. It pioneered intervention and support systems to increase student access to college, close performance gaps and improve graduation rates as a member of Complete College America. And the system’s groundbreaking Momentum Year initiative has drawn national attention for its use of data-driven analysis and increased support of all first-year USG students, driving up retention and completion rates as more students stay on track toward degree attainment.

Along the way, USG has experienced an almost 33% increase since 2011 of students earning degrees annually. In 2021, it awarded an all-time high of 72,929 degrees despite the COVID-19 pandemic — the most in system history. It has also received approval from accreditors to create the first-of-its-kind Nexus degree, a targeted degree of 18 hours for students at any stage of their career who seek skills in high-demand careers including cybersecurity, financial technology and film production – all areas which play an important role in Georgia’s economy.

The Board began its national search in January 2021, following an announcement by Chancellor Steve Wrigley that he would retire July 1, 2021. In the interim, Executive Vice Chancellor for Operations Teresa MacCartney has served as acting chancellor.

The Board will take action on the Chancellor position at a future board meeting, no sooner than 14 days from naming a finalist.