The right person, the right time

Students, faculty, alumni and state leaders say Jere Morehead has the experience and skills to take UGA to the next level.

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The right person, the right time

Morehead stands next to Moore College, home base for UGA’s Honors Programs. Behind him seated on a bench is a depiction of Bernard Ramsey, whose transformational gift to Honors significantly increased scholarship awards offered to top students.

Photo by: Dot Paul

July 1, Jere Morehead’s first day as president of the University of Georgia.

It begins early, with a breakfast among a handful of students in the Tate Center. From there, he moves next door to the Miller Learning Center to address his newest constituents: First-year students on campus for Freshman College, a program that brings students to campus early to explore educational, cultural and social opportunities.

He walks the aisles of the auditorium-style classroom as he welcomes them to the university. As he talks he flashes photos on the screen at the front of the room, photos of some of UGA’s most academically successful students in recent years. Among them, Deep Shah (AB, BS ’08), a Rhodes and Truman scholar who earned his medical degree from Harvard and now is back in Georgia doing his residency at Emory; Lucas Puente (BBA, AB ’10), who worked for then-Sen. Barack Obama as a student in the Washington Semester Program in 2008 and now is earning his doctorate in political science at Stanford University; and Tracy Yang (AB ’11), another Rhodes and Truman scholar now studying medicine at Johns Hopkins University. All of them, he points out, were active in organizations and activities on campus while succeeding academically.

Morehead walks the aisles of the Miller Learning Center classroom as he speaks to incoming students on campus early for Freshman College. “You are now entering the best four years of your life,” he tells them. Photo by Robert Newcomb.

“Get out of your comfort zone,” he tells the new freshmen. “This is the next stage of your life. Get involved. Find something at the University of Georgia that you really enjoy. ”

“Find your place on campus.”

Starting his first day as president with students is by design. They are, he says repeatedly, a priority.

“I want to make sure our institution stays focused on its primary mission, to educate students, conduct research and serve the public,” he says. “And I think it will be important to do everything possible to generate resources and shift other resources to support these three key functions.”

He already is taking steps to forward that mission:

• In May he announced a reorganization of the senior administration that would eliminate one level of bureaucracy and provide him with more oversight of the vice presidents.

• With the unanimous support of the University of Georgia Foundation he directed $3.3 million in unrestricted investment returns from fiscal year 2013 to student scholarships and endowed professorships.

On his first day as president, Morehead consults with his chief of staff, Kathy Pharr, who manages his office and his two assistants. Photo by Dot Paul.

• He opened a UGA economic development office in Atlanta, overseen by the vice presidents for public service and outreach, and research. In July, a director was hired for that office, who will provide a direct link between the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the business sector.

And he has made it abundantly clear, from meetings with his staff, faculty representatives and alumni that any expenditure request is going to be heavily scrutinized. If it doesn’t forward the mission of the university and add to the academic experience of students, it will not be approved.

“The core of my message is going to be academic excellence at the University of Georgia,” he told members of the executive committee of the University Council. “It’s not an original notion, but it’s going to be the way I operate. ”

A campaign to raise $1 billion, perhaps more, is on the horizon. The money raised will be earmarked for additional professorships, scholarships and programs.

UGA needs more transformational gifts, like the $34 million given by the late Bernard Ramsey, which created the Ramsey Honors Scholarship, dramatically increasing the number of students on campus who receive money through the Georgia Foundation Fellows Scholarship. Students who interview for the Foundation Fellow but do not receive the award are offered the Ramsey scholarship.

Morehead does not shy away from telling alumni, hundreds of whom gathered to hear him speak in Washington, D.C., in late July, that he will be coming to them for support.

“Support is critical to our institution here and in Athens,” he says to the group, which includes both U.S. senators from Georgia and several congressmen. “We want to be a premier institution. It means we’re going to focus on our students, our faculty and on the future. We owe our students the best education they can have.”

He made the same pitch to faculty representatives from the University Council.

“I don’t think I can do it alone; I’m going to need the support of those of you in this room,” he told them.

One of Morehead’s best and earliest supporters, Earl Leonard (ABJ ’58, LLB ’61), says Morehead will have no problem garnering support from students, faculty, alumni and government officials.

“The harmony between those four major constituents is going to be (his) biggest asset,” says Leonard, a former Coca-Cola Co. executive who created the Institute for Leadership Advancement in the Terry College of Business and provides scholarships to students in his name.

“You don’t always want an insider to be a president,” Leonard says. “But today at this time with this man, the regents and selection committee got it just right.

“If Jere Morehead wants me to climb Stone Mountain at 6 o’clock in the morning and sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ I’ll be there. He’s the ideal (person) for this moment in history.”

Morehead was born in Lakeland, Fla., where his parents met and both worked at Western Union Telegraph. When he was 10, his father was transferred to West Palm Beach. Two years later he was transferred to Daytona Beach. Four years later he was transferred to Atlanta.

His high school years disrupted by the moves, Morehead focused on academics and finished high school at Southwest DeKalb at age 16.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Georgia State University, followed by a law degree from UGA. At age 23, he went to work as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Department of Justice. It was a job he had anticipated since watching the Watergate hearings on television in 1973.

Former Georgia Gov. and U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge (seated, third from left) took the UGA Law School moot court team to the Senate Dining Room following the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in 1979. Morehead, a member of that team, is seated, second from the right. Team coach Griff Doyle (AB ’76, JD ’79), UGA vice president for governmental relations, is standing, far left. Standing far right is Randy Nuckolls (BSA ’74, JD ’77), who was Talmadge’s legislative director and arranged the lunch. Other team members include Audrey Winter (BSEd ’77, JD ’80), seated far left, Betsy Cox (JD ’80), seated, fourth from left, Mike Levengood (AB ’77, JD ’80), standing, second from right, and Peter Quist (BBA ’77, JD ’80) seated, far right.

After six years of prosecuting criminal and civil cases, he felt drawn to academics. He had taught a business law course at Georgia State during the summer of 1985.

“That piqued my interest in being a college teacher,” he says.

A job was available at UGA that would allow him to teach the legal environment of business and international business perspectives in the College of Business and advocacy in the School of Law. He carried a five-course teaching load each year and oversaw the law school’s moot court program.

Peter Shedd (BBA ’74, JD ’77), director of the Terry College MBA programs and UGA professor emeritus of legal studies, recalls the hiring process that brought Morehead to UGA. It was a unique position that required a special candidate, he says, and Morehead was ideal.

“Jere’s academic record was stellar. Then being in the U.S. attorney’s office provided a wealth of experience and knowledge to bring back into the classroom,” Shedd says. “When you present in front of a jury you are teaching all the time.

“He was great from the beginning and he just got better. Over the years he just honed {his teaching experience} to where those kids were winning everything from the state to the regional to the national to a couple of international titles.”

But after nine years of traveling across the country with the moot court program, Morehead decided to focus his teaching in business. He had been active in committee work on campus and in 1996 was asked by then-President Chuck Knapp to chair the task force on the quality of undergraduate education at UGA. Through that process, he realized he had a keen interest in being part of the university administration.

“If I was really going to make a difference I was going to have to become an administrator,” he says.

He calls his time on the task force, which he co-chaired again in 2005, “among the best experiences of my life. I got to spend hours and hours talking to people and thinking about how to make this place better.”

When Michael F. Adams became president in 1997 he asked Morehead to serve as interim director of legal affairs for the university. About 18 months later, Provost Karen Holbrook tapped him to be associate provost and director of the Honors Program. He quickly moved up the chain, from vice provost for academic affairs, to vice president for instruction and in 2010, provost.

He has made a practice of looking at other schools for ideas that would make UGA stronger. When he became provost, one of those was the University of Michigan, where he was a visiting associate professor of business law in 1995.

Morehead talks with another campus leader, Student Government Association President Austin Laufersweiler, during a breakfast with students at the Tate Center on July 1. Photo by Rick O'Quinn.

“I came away with a renewed notion that, if you want to keep recruiting the very best students, you have to recruit the very best faculty,” he says.

He has made significant hires during his tenure as provost, bringing top notch recruits from Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt, the University of Missouri and the University of Texas to serve as deans in engineering, education, journalism/mass communications, and public and international affairs, respectively. He tapped former UGA President Chuck Knapp to serve as interim dean of the Terry College of Business, until a search can be held for that position. The search for a provost to succeed Morehead is underway.

He also has worked to strengthen the academic programs for undergraduates, including adding a seminar program for all freshmen that provides them an opportunity to take smaller classes with tenured or tenure-track faculty during their first year at UGA. Through the First-Year Odyssey seminars, which count as one credit hour, students are exposed to more writing assignments, which Morehead’s team determined was essential in their evaluation of the quality of undergraduate education.

Erin Thomas, an incoming freshman, and her mother, Melonie Thomas (BBA ’86) of Dunwoody, Ga., congratulate Morehead during a reception in his honor on north campus July 9. Thomas’ husband Bill Thomas (AB ’88) is a member of the UGA Alumni Association board of directors. Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker.

Another program that emerged during the task force work was the Office of Service-Learning, jointly run by the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and the Office of the Vice President for Instruction. The service-learning program combines community service with academics to help students better understand how what they do in the classroom relates to the outside world.

“For a number of our students, getting a chance to give back to the community is very fulfilling,” Morehead says. “As a land-grant institution it seems to me we have to have a service-learning component.”

Perhaps the most telling indicator of his presidential style is his ability to build and maintain relationships with students—some from as far back as his early years with the law school advocacy program.

Allison Thornton (JD ’92), who lives in Atlanta, has a standing lunch date with Morehead every year on the day after Christmas when he is in town visiting family.

“You can tell he really cares about you as a person,” Thornton says.

His teaching skills also led her and fellow law student, now husband, Steve Thornton (JD ’92) to win a moot court competition against the University of Florida. He ran a tough program for the future lawyers, she says, challenging students’ positions and making them defend them in every possible way.

“It sounds cliché, but he did not accept mediocrity,” Thornton says. “Everyone at some point felt frustrated that they weren’t going to perform to his expectations. But he drew out the best in his students, and they did perform to his expectations eventually.”

Morehead oversaw his first graduation ceremony as UGA president on Aug. 2, awarding diplomas to 708 undergraduates, 573 masters and specialist students and 218 doctoral candidates. The summer ceremony in Stegeman Colliseum featured speaker Inez Moore Tenenbaum (BSEd ’72, Med ’74), chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. At left is Interim Provost for Academic Affairs Libby Morris. Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker.

Morehead wrote one of David Battle’s letters of recommendation for the MBA program at Harvard University, which Battle (BBA ’00) completed after working in finance in Charlotte and New York.

Now a vice president for Metal Mark Capital in Manhattan, Battle still turns to Morehead for advice and credits him for much of his success.

“I want to do well on behalf of UGA,” he says. “That is because of Jere. He lives by an honor code and sets a good example. You want to do right by him.”

The extent of the relationships Morehead has maintained with former students was evident in the days and weeks following his appointment to the presidency. Students in graduate programs at other universities, doing fellowships or working in foreign countries began posting photos of themselves on the Foundation Fellows and Honors Program Facebook pages, holding handmade signs congratulating the president-elect.

“Congratulations President Morehead,” reads the sign held by Rebecca Corey (AB/AB ’09), who posted her photo from Tanzania where she is a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Matt Sellers (AB/MA ’12) and Tracy Yang (AB ’11), both at Oxford University in England, had their photo taken on the university grounds holding poster boards with the message, “Congrats Pres. Morehead.”

One of those to hear of Morehead’s selection from afar was Trey Sinyard (AB, BBA ’11) who was in his first year of medical school at Duke University.

Sinyard, Morehead’s teaching assistant for his 2011 First-Year Odyssey seminar, “Current Events and Law,” saw the presidential potential then. Morehead established a nonjudgmental environment in his classroom, which put students at ease so that they could share their thoughts, Sinyard says.

“He lets the conversation be student driven. He wanted it to be less about his opinion than teaching students to process theirs,” he says.

“He’s given his life to the service of the university, which is so evident in everything he’s done. That’s the student-centric style that will make his presidency so successful.”

Peter Shedd, Morehead’s long-time colleague and confidant agrees, and adds that his loyalty to the university will breed success as well.

“What Jere will bring and what we will truly appreciate is his true sense of stewardship of the public trust that is the University of Georgia. We have sometimes failed to recognize we have to be stewards of the trust that the state has placed in us.”

Morehead poses with Freshmen Fellows in Oxford, England in this May 2008 photo. The students were in England for a Maymester program and to dedicate the new house for UGA’s Oxford programs. From left: Morehead, Rachel Pocock (BS ’11), Phillip Mote (AB/BS ’11), Mir Inaamullah (AB/BS ’11), Anne Karam (BBA ’11) and Geales Goodwin (AB ’11).