ATLANTA – The Georgia Board of Regents has announced that a retired University of Georgia administrator is the lone finalist to become the new chancellor of the University System of Georgia.
State Rep. Hank Huckaby is a Georgia native who retired in 2006 as the senior vice president for finance and administration at UGA, where he oversaw the university’s $1 billion budget. In November, the regents launched a national search to replace Chancellor Erroll B. Davis, who retires June 30 after five years at the helm of the 300,000-student system.
By state law, the board must wait 14 days after naming finalists to officially vote on an appointment.
Board of Regents Chairman Willis Potts said Huckaby is the right man for the moment.
“This nation and this state are both suffering through some extremely difficult financial times, and the university system has been right in the middle of it,” Potts said in a telephone interview on Friday.
“As we were evaluating what we have to be able to do as a board in taking care of our institutions and students, obviously financial management rises to the top of the list right now. Our mission is teaching, research and service, but all of that has to be done in the context of available resources. Whomever we select as chancellor needs to clearly understand how this financial puzzle fits together and at the same time, understand higher education. That’s a tall order.”
The Watkinsville Republican would take over a 35-campus system grappling with several years of deep budget cuts that have led to layoffs and slashed programs.
Huckaby also served under two governors: as head of the state Office of Planning and Budget for former Gov. Zell Miller from 1991 to 1995 and as the chief financial officer for former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s transition team in 2002. He headed the Georgia Housing and Finance Authority from 1980 to 1991 and served as commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs.
Huckaby was chosen after a national search to replace Davis, a retired utility chairman who has drawn fire from state lawmakers over how the university system has responded to potential budget cuts with what some have called scare tactics. One was to say he’d eliminate the 4-H program to cut costs. Another was saying that tuition would have to increase dramatically to make up for the lack of state funding.
Davis also was an outsider to Georgia and higher education. He was a businessman and former chairman of a multibillion-dollar utility who had never worked at a college. With Huckaby, the board gets a Georgia native who has worked in the university system and in state government for years. This year he served on both the House Higher Education Committee and the committee that oversees colleges’ budgets.
Huckaby also served as one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s floor leaders in the House. What’s more, he’s seen as a leader who can heal the strained relationship between state lawmakers and the university system.
Legislators criticized the system for steep tuition hikes that, in part, led to the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship program nearly going broke. Critics say the university system is slow to respond to budget cuts and quick to put more financial burden on students.