The AJC has an article about a possible constitutional amendment proposal by Representative David Stover (R-HD-71) to “give control” to Georgia voters by turning appointed positions on the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia into elected ones. Increasing tuition at Georgia universities is spurring this proposal to allow Georgians to “weigh in”:
“We’re in the top five in the country” for tuition increases, Stover said from the floor of the House. “Thirty-one percent. We’re pricing the poorest of our students out of college. We’re driving HOPE scholarship to become insolvent. Thirty-one percent. We’re forcing our kids to leave college when they lose the HOPE scholarship.”
The current structure and function wasn’t created on a whim.
There is some history and justification behind why the Board was set up to be nearly autonomous apart from the executive and legislative branches of state government. Back in the early 1940s, Governor Eugene Tallmadge, who was an ex-officio member of the Board of Regents, railed against and fired professors, administrators and Regents who he believed advocated racial equality or were influenced by communism. This flood of firings led to the Cocking Affair in which Governor Tallmadge believed that the then-Dean of the College of Education of the University of Georgia Walter Cocking wanted to demonstrate integration in Athens. The purging eventually led to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to pull the accreditation from Georgia’s state-supported white colleges because of what it believed was “gross political interference” in the University System of Georgia. The loss of accreditation caused Tallmadge to lose his re-election bid, but accreditation was restored, retroactively, the following year after Tallmadge’s loss.
Integration in the ’60s and ’70s tested the University System of Georgia when the University of Georgia denied admittance to two African-American students, Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, in the late ’50s. The case landed in federal court where state officials were set to defend admission practices. The state lost with federal Judge William Bootle ordering the University to admit the two students three weeks before the trial was to start. Public opinion was against integration, and there was pressure placed on state government officials to close the University to prevent integration. This was even attempted by Governor Ernest Vandiver who promised to close UGA if the the plans to integrate were carried out. He was unsuccessful, and the University, and other state institutions, began the process of integrating.
Education is an unfortunate political pawn. Scare tactics, like proclaiming that uniform standards like Common Core are a vector for Sharia Law, can have serious consequences on the quality of education. There are things that the Board of Regents do that don’t seem wise (like naming a school after yourself…thankfully that was undone). No institution will be perfect as long humans are in charge of them, but institutions within the University System of Georgia are respected and produce quality graduates. The cost of higher education is growing beyond affordability, but I don’t believe further politicizing the Board of Regents will do anything to solve the problems surrounding college affordability and the sustainability of HOPE.