What would you do if a state suddenly handed you the reins of one of the nation’s great universities?
Well, if you were doing it right, you’d probably do it much like Jere Morehead is.
The University of Georgia’s former provost and senior vice president for academic affairs – and a UGA alum – was put in the president’s saddle July 1. And he’s already making his presence felt around the state.
Speaking at an Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday, President Morehead seemed to say all the right things. He talked up the school – particularly its 94 percent retention rate and all-time-high 83 percent graduation rate. He lauded the Augusta area’s contribution – including 738 current UGA students and 5,000 alumni. And while noting existing partnerships between UGA and Augusta, he promised to focus UGA and its high-powered faculty even more on helping the entire state’s economic development efforts.
But if he’s saying all the right things, he appears to be doing them as well.
One of his first actions was to create an economic development liaison office in Atlanta, and to implore the faculty to work hard outside the classroom to reach out to as many Georgia communities as possible to help them grow and thrive. Morehead himself has taken an agricultural tour of the state.
In short, he wants to invest more of the university’s intellectual capital across Georgia. He quoted the president of the University of Minnesota, who talked about the school serving as a “partner for the public good.”
President Morehead’s words and demeanor Tuesday may seem unremarkable at first blush, but not when you consider the context in which he uttered them.
For years, and in particular in the past decade or so, the ambitions and motivations of state educational leaders have often been viewed with skepticism in these parts. And that cast a cloud of suspicion and even fear over relationships. This was especially true when UGA established a satellite of the Medical College of Georgia in Athens. People here wondered, quite rightly, what the future might hold for the deep-rooted Augusta-based institution.
Augusta leaders likely came away from Tuesday’s luncheon with no such hesitations or suspicions. President Morehead came off sounding more like a partner than a controlling one.
Fans of UGA like to chant “Go Dawgs!” But today, that sounds far too limiting.
How about “Go Georgia”?