white man walking and waving with American flags blowing in the background
In this Dec. 10, 2020, photo, then Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue arrives at a campaign rally in Augusta, Ga. The University System of Georgia Board of Regents voted unanimously on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, to name Perdue as chancellor of the system and its 26 universities and colleges. (John Bazemore/AP)

Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue will take the reins of Georgia’s university system on April 1, with regents affirming his appointment unanimously on Tuesday after multiple regents sang his praises.

The 19-member Board of Regents had nominated Perdue as their sole public finalist for chancellor two weeks ago, but had to wait two weeks under state law before finalizing his selection to become chancellor overseeing 26 universities.

The meeting saw multiple regents, several with long connections to Perdue, express their gratitude to Perdue for accepting the highly paid post, illustrating how Perdue’s supporters pushed for him to lead the 340,000-student system for more than a year.

“He is the right person at the right time and I’m grateful for his willingness to continue to serve Georgia,” said Harold Reynolds of Greensboro, the board’s chair.

Regent Tommy Hopkins of Griffin, who was appointed by Perdue, also expressed his thanks to the person he hired.

“I deeply appreciate what he did putting me on this board and I look forward to working with him in the future and moving the university system forward.”

Perdue was the first Republican governor of Georgia in more than a century, serving two terms from 2003 to 2011. He then served as U.S. agriculture secretary under President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2021.

“This may be the most important job yet. I can’t think of a better way to make a difference than to help prepare the next generation — educating them for prosperity, themselves, their families and ultimately our state. I’m excited to get started,” Perdue, 76, said in a statement. He did not appear as part of the online meeting or in person at board offices in downtown Atlanta.

University system spokesperson Lance Wallace could not immediately say how much Perdue will be paid.

Perdue could be named at an exceedingly awkward moment, with his cousin, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, challenging Kemp in the Republican primary for governor. David Perdue told Axios last year that his cousin hadn’t endorsed him and was “in an awkward position” because of his bid to be chancellor. “But I’ve stayed out of that, and I think he’s staying out of my little dog fight here.” Last month, David Perdue issued a statement calling Sonny Perdue “the best choice.”

The 19-member board was overhauled by Gov. Brian Kemp in recent months, adding four new regents. That may have cleared the way to name Perdue after a search for a permanent successor to previous Chancellor Steve Wrigley stalled in May amid dissension among regents.

The American Association of University Professors, which represents some instructors in the system, said faculty were improperly shut out of the choice and that Perdue is unqualified because he has never worked in academia. But Don Waters of Savannah said Perdue was “extraordinarily well equipped” to be chancellor.

“Some have asserted that the chancellor’s post is best led by an academic,” Waters said. “I disagree, for the reasons stated. Management and leadership skills are the principal skills of a chancellor.”

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits all 26 universities and colleges, asked in April whether there had been undue political pressure to appoint Perdue. But the association said after his nomination last month that it saw no violations of its standards in Perdue’s appointment.

Perdue appointed Kemp as secretary of state in early 2010, aiding Kemp’s primary bid for that office. And Trump has said Perdue talked him into endorsing Kemp in a 2018 Republican runoff for governor, contributing to Kemp’s win over Casey Cagle.

Kemp hailed Perdue in a statement Tuesday as having “a long track record of success working for the people of our state and its students. He will bring the benefit of his decades of leadership to our top-ranked university system.”

Teresa MacCartney has been acting chancellor since June 30, when a stalemated board named her to run the system while saying it would continue to look for a permanent leader. Reynolds announced Perdue would retain MacCartney as executive vice chancellor, her previous position.

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