Originally created 08/12/05

Interim chancellor is 1st minority to lead regents

ATLANTA - For the first time, a black chancellor will head the University System of Georgia's network of colleges and universities.

The Board of Regents named Corlis Cummings its interim chancellor Thursday. Ms. Cummings, who as senior vice chancellor of support services oversees the University System of Georgia's legal, human resources and special projects departments, will take over for Chancellor Tom Meredith, who is expected to leave in September.

Mr. Meredith, whose tenure in Georgia was marked by praise for raising academic quality and by turmoil over tuition and university foundations, is taking a similar job in Mississippi.

Ms. Cummings, 42, was named to her position at a special Board of Regents teleconference. She takes over a system preparing to present its budget to the General Assembly; launch an ambitious program announced by Regents Chair Timothy Shelnut; and search for Mr. Meredith's permanent successor.

"I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the system for a while," Ms. Cummings said. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done. ... I think I've got a pretty full plate."

Though she will have the job only until a permanent replacement takes over - likely sometime early next year - Ms. Cummings said she wouldn't let the system tread water.

"We can't take a four-month or five-month or six-month hiatus," she said. "I won't just be a caretaker."

An Atlanta native, Ms. Cummings has a bachelor's degree and a law degree from the University of Georgia. She has worked with the system for 10 years as an attorney and an administrator.

She said that is one of the main differences between herself and former chancellor Stephen Portch, who is assisting in the search for a new chancellor, in addition to Mr. Meredith. Mr. Meredith and Mr. Portch were recruited from outside the state.

And she acknowledged her appointment is distinct in another way.

"I, as an African-American female, think that it is a historic moment," she said.

To compensate for Ms. Cummings' new position, regents boosted her $166,094 salary by 10 percent beginning Thursday and ending whenever Mr. Meredith leaves. He is set to begin his new job Oct. 1.

Ms. Cummings will then receive Mr. Meredith's salary of $278,955 a year and get $28,000 added to her two retirement accounts once her term as interim chancellor ends. After a replacement is named, she will continue to receive the extra 10 percent to her regular salary for up to three months as she helps the new, permanent chancellor assume the office.

"The board has indicated that the interim chancellor will not be a candidate for the permanent position," Mr. Shelnut said.


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