Writing about Sonny Perdue’s never-say-die campaign for the University System chancellorship, Atlanta Journal-Constitution higher education reporter Eric Stirgus writes that it “comes down to one question. Should someone without higher educational administrative experience lead a system of 26 colleges and universities?”
That’s a great question, and as a USG faculty member for 33 years, my answer is emphatically no. My clear sense is that virtually all my colleagues and students agree.
But can I suggest an even stronger reason why we should fear and resist the prospect of Chancellor Perdue?
He stood with Donald Trump.
For a full term, and even after other Cabinet members with a shred of honor resigned after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Perdue stayed the course. He lent legitimacy to a president and an administration that attacked so many of the principles that undergird the USG, including science, truth, knowledge, intellectual honesty and multicultural inclusivity, to name just a few.
Perdue refused to invoke the 25th Amendment, designed to protect the American people from the dangers posed by an unfit president, even as Trump attacked journalists, Muslims, women, public health institutions, the dignity of the White House itself, the rule of law and, finally, the peaceful transition of power.
Perdue was a foot soldier in this profoundly dysfunctional presidential administration. He was an enabler, a yes-man, a co-conspirator. The complex process of assessing Trump’s transgressions is still unfolding. We cannot yet fully know exactly how deep his guilt extends, but it is not hard to see that his closest supporters, especially his Cabinet, will be seen to have stood on the wrong side of history.
If Perdue did not embarrass himself quite as flagrantly as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, EPA chief Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, or National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, that’s just because the bar was set so low.
But make no mistake: The autocratic demagoguery that characterized the Trump administration was facilitated by a coterie of accomplices among whom Perdue stood proud and tall. He was one of only four Cabinet members who carried the flag through the whole agonizing administration. The other paragons of virtue were Ben Carson, Wilbur Ross, and Steve Mnuchin.
As Trump was leveraging the power of his office to enrich his family’s coffers, protect his political power, and distance himself from the pandemic, Perdue was standing back and standing by.
It would be an insult to the dedicated and talented faculty, staff, and students of Georgia’s public universities to let Perdue take the helm of our system. It’s worth noting that most members of Trump’s inner circle have not had a very impressive second act since the end of his presidency; mostly, they have withdrawn from the public sphere and have gone off to lick their wounds.
We deserve better, and Perdue deserves a quiet retirement where he can reflect upon the ramifications of his career in public service.