published Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

New UGA chancellor faces challenges

ATLANTA — Hank Huckaby spent the last four decades in public service working for multiple governors, running the state’s budget office and handling the University of Georgia’s $1 billion budget.

But at 69, the Watkinsville, Ga., resident is not anywhere near retirement.

Huckaby will become the chancellor of the 35-campus University System of Georgia on July 1. It’s a role he said he never aspired to until he witnessed firsthand the sour relationship between the university system and state legislators — from his seat as one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s floor leaders in the House this year.

“As I got into the Legislature, some of the issues became pretty obvious, particularly legislative relationships,” Huckaby said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I have a great love for the university system. I understand and appreciate how important higher education is to the growth and prosperity of this state.”

Political observers say Huckaby, a quiet, plain-spoken Georgia native, is the right person for the tough job. The university system is facing massive state budget cuts that have slashed more than $300 million since 2009 at a time when enrollment is skyrocketing.

He also has to woo state lawmakers, who have criticized retiring Chancellor Erroll B. Davis for appearing unwilling to do his part as the state’s coffers dwindled and cuts had to be made. Davis, a retired utility executive from Wisconsin, was seen as an outsider who never quite learned to navigate the delicate politics of a recession.

Huckaby has known the leadership in both the House and Senate for years. And he has the full support of Deal, who pushed for the appointment as the state Board of Regents launched a national search to replace Davis.

Huckaby knows the intimate details of state and university budgets after running Georgia’s budget office under former Gov. Zell Miller and serving as UGA’s chief financial officer for six years. He also was the chief financial officer for former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s transition team in 2002.

Huckaby has worked for both Republicans and Democrats in the administrations of Gov. Jimmy Carter, Gov. George Busbee, Gov. Joe Frank Harris and Gov. Perdue. He’s run the state Department of Community Affairs, the Georgia Housing and Finance Authority, the state Senate Research Office and UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

“One thing Hank has shown throughout his staid career is that he can work with people on both sides of the political aisle and with agency heads,” said Mark Cohen, an attorney who served as Miller’s chief of staff. “He’s not strident. He knows his stuff but is willing to work with people.”

Huckaby grew up in Hapeville just south of Atlanta and worked jobs to pay for his bachelor’s and master’s from Georgia State University.

“The best thing my father gave me was an appreciation and respect for education and what it can do for the quality of your life,” Huckaby said. “He wanted me to have a better quality of life than he had. I couldn’t have done that without the University System of Georgia.”

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