After the passing of journalism professor Conrad Fink a year ago, there’s no one at the University of Georgia I know better than Jere Morehead. I think he’s a terrific choice to be the university’s next president.
Morehead was the head of the Honors and Foundation Fellows programs for my last two years as a student in them (fall 1999 to spring 2001). He not only turned around — quickly and with little fuss — these programs which had been divided and in somewhat of a state of disarray after a breakdown in leadership the year before he took them over. He also built lasting relationships with the students he advised: I’ve lost count of the number of my classmates’ weddings where I’ve seen him in attendance. I do know the most recent one was in December, more than a decade after our mutual friend, the groom, had graduated. As a former professor, he has also, to my knowledge, been a good and respected friend of UGA’s faculty.
Morehead has built these relationships by being good at asking questions, listening closely to the answers and, when there’s a problem to solve, building consensus around a solution. These qualities will serve him well as UGA’s president. I will be interested to see how he adapts to being squarely in the spotlight, as he inevitably will be on a regular basis as president. I’m confident he’ll adapt well, even if he will bring a very different personality to the job than that of the man he’s replacing.
Which brings me to Michael Adams, now entering his final months as president after a nearly 16-year run. Adams certainly has butted heads with some other big personalities at UGA; former football coach and athletics director Vince Dooley is the most famous example. I would expect Jere Morehead to take pains to resolve such conflicts before they erupt publicly — although university politics can be a bitter thing, I don’t believe him to be naive enough to think others won’t sometimes see a benefit in taking the grievances beyond closed doors.
In the end, though, it is hard to dispute Adams’ legacy as one in which the university tremendously improved its academic profile, the quality of its student body and faculty, its financial condition, and its physical campus (with an impressive building boom, particularly during the past 10 years or so). Some people will point to the HOPE scholarship as the primary driver of many of these changes, and they have a fair argument to make. But it would sell Adams short to deny that he very capably capitalized on that external asset.
With the value of HOPE in a seemingly inexorable decline — as I’ve written before, this is true regardless of the different kinds of limitations one might try to put on it — one of Morehead’s most pressing challenges will be ensuring that UGA remains one of the “best buys” in public higher education without eroding its attractiveness to some of the best high-school graduates in Georgia and the entire Southeast. Another will be seeing that UGA, as a trainer of many of Georgia’s k-12 teachers, plays a significant role in lifting up that system and more of its graduates to the standards we’ve achieved in higher education. (Hank Huckaby, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, mentioned both of these goals during his remarks last week to the Legislature’s budget writers.)
I look forward to watching Jere Morehead tackle those challenges as UGA’s president.
– By Kyle Wingfield