On Community: Fall Reflections

Earlier this week, twenty nine USG presidents met for our annual Fall retreat. On a week in which hurricane Matthew caused havoc and suffering for so many in Georgia and across the hemisphere, it turned out to be the right moment to come together and consider that we really do rely on each other and are called to think both institutionally and as a community of institutions.

Not long before we met at Georgia College, three sister institutions—Savannah State, Armstrong State and Coastal Georgia—each were faced with closing their campuses and evacuating their students and employees.  During those critical hours, other institutions offered accommodations, clean-up crews, law enforcement officers and other practical support.  We truly can say that the University System of Georgia is one in which our strength is found in our relationships with each other, as well as through individual efforts.

The retreat was timely also in allowing for dialog and reflection at a time of great stress and social unrest in our nation. Campuses are places that reflect many of the divisions and frustrations of our society. Yet amid the noise, and occasional fear of voice, we are universities that celebrate a universe of ideas and plural voices.

Indeed, we are called to inject reason, dialogue, listening and thought into issues which often become clouded and divisive, rooted in misunderstanding or ignorance. One hundred years ago John Dewey, the American philosopher, showed us that education is the means by which democracy grows and navigates the problems of a changing society.  At this time, we would be wise to remember that role.

Finally, the presidents had an opportunity this week to share our affection and gratitude for the five years of leadership of Chancellor Henry “Hank” Huckaby, who retires at the end of this calendar year.  At a dinner at the Old Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville we shared memories and thanks for his thoughtful, humane and wise leadership at a time of huge changes in higher education.

I have only worked for three years with Chancellor Huckaby, but he will be a model of leadership for me for the rest of my career, and we all can be grateful for his diligence in making the case and leading the charge for Georgia’s public higher education these past years. We can also look forward to a new era of leadership for the system under incoming Chancellor, Dr. Steve Wrigley, whose performance over five years as Executive Vice Chancellor gives us every reason to be confident in the future direction of public higher education in Georgia.

As we enjoy the beauty of encroaching autumn I wish our students, faculty and staff that sense of the importance and nobility of our work, in this season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness.”