University System of Georgia chancellor Henry "Hank" Huckaby, left, receives the chancellor's medallion from Ben Tarbutton, chairman of the University System of Georgia on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011 during a ceremony at the Capitol in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
ATLANTA University System of Georgia Chancellor Henry "Hank" Huckaby was inducted into office during a ceremony Wednesday at the state Capitol, receiving the chancellor's medallion amid the colorful academic robes of the presidents of the state's 35 public colleges.
The former state lawmaker and longtime university administrator called on state leaders to help the university system produce "world-class graduates" while pledging to meet higher expectations even though the state's economy is still shaky.
"The University System of Georgia is strong and vibrant, but never before has Georgia's well-being been so dependent on our ability to offer world-class college graduates, equipped with the knowledge, skills and values to thrive in a very competitive global economy," he said. "To meet this challenge, we must take the university system to the next level. We must foster and promote a culture of high expectations."
Huckaby was appointed in May after former Chancellor Erroll Davis retired. He took over the university system during some of the worst budget cuts on record and was charged with healing the often tense relationship between the Board of Regents and state lawmakers — mostly over what was perceived by state officials as out-of-control spending by the university system as Georgia's economy tanked.
Even so, the state's colleges combined are absorbing $200 million in state cuts this year alone.
House Speaker David Ralston said Huckaby, who served in the Georgia House of Representatives with Ralston this year before being named chancellor, is the best fit to handle the challenges the university system faces.
"Our challenge as a state is to make the best even better. Hank Huckaby is measured well for that task," said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. "With innate good judgment and sound values, wisdom produced by experience and leadership skills honed by years of service, there could be no better fit than Hank Huckaby."
Huckaby has already announced a study to determine whether institutions should be merged to help save administrative costs and has cut back the number of construction projects on the state's campuses.
"We need to improve what we do rather than simply growing the enterprise," Huckaby told the crowd gathered in the state House chamber.
He has visited all but one of the system's campuses, talking with professors, students and staff about issues facing the university system. His focus, he said, will be on improving how the university system performs even amid state budget cuts and strengthening partnerships with the Technical College System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Education.
What's more, the native Georgian is seen as an insider who understands all levels of state government and already has good relationships with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
He has served as head of the state's budget office and retired in 2006 as the senior vice president for finance and administration at the University of Georgia. He's served two governors: as head of the state Office of Planning and Budget for former Gov. Zell Miller from 1991 to 1995 and as the chief financial officer for former Gov. Sonny Perdue's transition team in 2002.
And he headed the Georgia Housing and Finance Authority from 1980 to 1991 and served as commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs.
"I believe Hank Huckaby is the right individual to steward this valuable asset," Gov. Nathan Deal said, referring to the university system. "He will not allow this system to isolate itself in an ivory tower, but will uphold a dual commitment to scholarship and research, and to the idea that our academic institutions must prepare students for careers."
Huckaby will make a $425,000 base salary, along with a housing stipend of $72,000 each year.