Georgia Southern University announced Tuesday that President Jaimie Hebert would be stepping down effective June 30, 2018. He will have served exactly two years as president; he took over for interim president Dr. Jean Bartels on July 1, 2016. University System of Georgia (USG) Chancellor Steve Wrigley named Shelley Clark Nickel as the interim president. Nickel is the current USG executive vice chancellor for strategy and fiscal affairs and treasurer for the Board of Regents (BOR). The USG will conduct a nationwide search for the next president.
The Georgia Southern community expected this news. Word came out last month that Hebert was a finalist for two jobs: Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and Provost at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. The fact that Hebert was interviewing for not only other jobs but jobs that are lower on the university hierarchy, made it clear to onlookers that he wanted out. It’s rare to see someone give up a position as a university president to pursue a provost position somewhere else.
One can only speculate as to why Jaimie Hebert decided to depart. Hebert is a native of Louisiana and is a three-time alumnus of UL-Lafayette. Perhaps he wanted to work at his alma mater. Also, he has spent a large part of his professional career at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, TX. He is very familiar with the Houston metro area. One way or another, he’s moving back home. Anyone can understand that impulse.
A competing theory is that the difficult task of consolidating Georgia Southern and Armstrong State sapped all his enthusiasm for the job. The consolidation was thrust upon him by the Board of Regents less than six months into the job. Sowing together 27,500 students across three different campuses, each an hour apart from one another, was not an easy task.
The consolidation had its fair share of detractors. The move was not popular among Armstrong State students and alumni. Many Georgia Southern students remain confused about which courses will be offered in Statesboro and which will be offered in Savannah. There were rumors of tuition hikes. Faculty on both campuses had their own set of complaints. Wrangling all these stakeholders and pointing them in one direction would sap the energy out of just about anybody.
Despite President Hebert’s brief stint at the helm, he presided over one of the most important periods in the history of the institution. Hebert did as well a job as one could do given the circumstances. The consolidation has changed Georgia Southern forever. The university now has a solid foothold in it’s closest media market (Savannah) as well as right on the doorstep of Fort Stewart (Hinesville). It is a regional economic power. The ramifications are immense.
Where does Georgia Southern go from here?
The USG will conduct a national search for the next full-time president. This will be Georgia Southern’s 5th president (including interims) since Dr. Brooks Keel departed in 2015. Since Dr. Bruce Grube departed after ten years at the helm in 2009, the president’s office has been a revolving door. Unfortunately, Eagle Nation is far too familiar with this process by now.
A presidential search committee will be assembled by Steve Wrigley and BOR Chairman James M. Hull that will include representatives from faculty, staff, the student body, alumni, and the community. Nominations will then go back to the BOR. A Regents’ Special Committee will be formed to screen what should be three to five candidates. From this pool, the BOR will choose the next president.
The next president will be tasked will have to deal with the aftermath of the consolidation. The potential remains for further mergers/consolidations in the future with the College of Coastal Georgia (Brunswick), East Georgia College (Swainsboro), and South Georgia College (Waycross) in the cross-hairs. A school that jumped from 20,000 to 27,500 students could grow even further. Cutting administrative costs has been priority #1 for the USG over the past decade.
In the meantime, the interim president, Shelley Clark Nickel, oversaw the consolidation of USG institutions from 36 to 25. She’s an effective technocrat, with 17-years of experience with the USG that includes a stint as interim president of Gordon State College. She has plenty of experience and knowledge about what consolidations entail to make this a smooth transition.
The effect this will have on the athletic department is hard to determine. Dr. Brooks Keel remains the gold standard in the eyes of Eagles fans regarding how he handled athletics. The athletic director Tom Kleinlein has his fair share of detractors. The football team has had its worst two years in the modern era, going 7-17 during that span. Basketball and baseball have been merely above-average since joining the Sun Belt, and only a handful of non-revenue sports are competitive at the moment. It’s possible that a new president would want to bring in his or her people to run the athletic department.
But that’s what they said about President Hebert. Hebert, by all accounts, took a laissez-faire attitude towards athletics. Too wrapped up in the minutiae of consolidation to pay much attention to it. Many Eagles fans are clamoring for a president that treats athletics like Dr. Brooks Keel did, as the front porch for the university, the marketing arm of the school. Whether that happens remains to be seen. It’s in the hands of the Board of Regents now, all the rest of us can do is sit, wait, and hope for the best.
Read more about the consolidation in my three part series: