ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Augusta philanthropist and real estate developer James M. Hull to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia on Thursday.
Hull, a member manager of Hull Storey Gibson Companies LLC, serves on the boards of the Community Foundation of the CSRA, the Medical College of Georgia Foundation, the Augusta State University Foundation, the Georgia Regents University Board of Visitors and the Augusta Warrior Project, where he was a co-founding member and president.
Deal said in a phone interview with The Augusta Chronicle that he’s confident Hull’s past contributions to education and community service will work toward the long-term goals for the state’s public colleges and universities. That’s especially true for Georgia Regents University.
“He understands the importance of making GRU one of the top 50 medical schools in the country,” Deal said.
Hull didn’t contribute to Deal’s election campaign in 2010. Instead, he gave $7,100 to Democrat Roy Barnes.
The governor shrugged that off when asked about it, adding that now that Hull knew him, it might be different for next year’s campaign.
“I want to appoint qualified people to the University System and have a quality higher-education system,” Deal said.
Hull will be the first Augusta appointee to the 19-member board since businessman Tim Shelnutt’s departure in 2007. He replaces George Hooks, who resigned earlier this year.
He becomes one of five regents representing at-large posts while each of the remaining 14 represent a congressional district. Regents Chairman Dink NeSmith said all of them are responsible for deciding what’s best for the whole state, including all 300,000 students and 42,000 employees.
“I think one of the key things a regent can do, besides give their time, is to be a listening post for the residents in the communities they represent,” said NeSmith, who was had delivered a speech to the Augusta Exchange Club earlier Thursday.
“GRU is one of our key economic drivers in the state. So Jim can play a big role for us in what is going on in Richmond County.”
Hull said Thursday he was overwhelmed and honored to have the appointment and had a lot to learn about his new role. He said his experiences of seeing the success of cities with universities compared to the shortcomings of those without, has only solidified why the state needs a strong educational foundation.
“I am just so honored,” Hull said. “Education is so linked to prosperity and really that is just the whole thing, isn’t it, to get educated so we have a more prosperous state?”
GRU President Ricardo Azziz said he was excited to see Hull’s talents coming to Board of Regents, which has authority over admissions, hiring, curriculum and tuition of the state’s 30 public colleges and universities.
Azziz said he’s grateful to now have direct representation in Augusta but stressed GRU has always received strong support from Regents members from across the state.
“(Hull) will continue to allow Georgia Regents University to remain at the forefront of the Regents’ minds as we develop the next great American university,” Azziz said.
Deal, who grew up in Sandersville in the shadow of Augusta, has steered $100 million in new state funds to GRU, the largest commitment to any public school during his administration. On Wednesday, he was at GRU’s newest campus in Rome, which is the latest in a series of sites around the state for medical students to gain hands-on training with local hospitals and physicians.
“The opportunities that are being afforded in these satellite campuses is truly impressive,” he said. “It will not only allow our enrollment in medical education to grow but it will also allow us to have doctors in these more remote parts of the state.”
While Augusta civic leaders have expressed gratitude for the investment in GRU construction, some harbored resentment that the name chosen for the merger of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University did not include the city’s name. Many appealed to Deal to override the regents’ choice of Georgia Regents University, and the governor negotiated a compromise in which GRU would feature the city name in its promotional materials.
Asked if a factor in Hull’s selection was to mend fences with local leaders, Deal said selecting quality appointees was his main concern.
“I’m looking for the best people I can find for these very important positions,” he said.
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he is looking forward to having Hull represent the area as the city prepares a massive plan to renovate two former textile mills on the Augusta Canal into student housing and facilities for GRU.
The Board of Regents must approve the university’s plan, which Copenhaver said he hopes to submit to the state by year’s end.
“To have somebody from Augusta to be a voice for Augusta and to work with the rest of the Board of Regents, I don’t think you can overstate how good of a thing that is,” Copenhaver said.