Georgia University System Chancellor Steve Wrigley announced Tuesday that he will be retiring on July 1. With that, he completed a long career in Georgian higher education that ended with a year of a spreading pandemic that disrupted the routines of students and faculty.

Wrigley oversees colleges and universities with more than 340,000 students across the state.

“It has been a great privilege and an honor to serve the people of Georgia,” Wrigley said in a statement. “During my career in education policy and administration, I have worked with many incredible people and made countless valued friendships. The mission of the Georgia university system is essential to our state, the work of its faculty and staff invaluable, and the leadership of its presidents and board of directors extraordinary. “

The news of Wrigley’s departure brought praise from the best Republicans in the state.

“Chancellor Wrigley has been a tireless advocate for our students and faculties throughout the university system. With its dedicated leadership, Peach State is well positioned to continue to provide world-class education to our best and brightest and to produce a workforce that enables them to be role models, ”said Governor Brian Kemp in a statement.

Wrigley was instrumental in creating the state’s HOPE Scholarship, said House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican with Blue Ridge.

“During his tenure as the University Administrator and Chief of Staff to Governor Zell Miller, Chancellor Wrigley demonstrated his commitment to the future of this state and its people. He was a driving force in creating our HOPE scholarship program, which has donated more than $ 11 billion to help well-deserved students afford a world-class college education in Georgia, ”said Ralston.

For students, faculty and staff, Wrigley’s senior semester will be a return to life on campus ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Quarantine dormitories and zoom classes were the semester for many students. During the crisis, Wrigley made a pledge to highlight the personal learning opportunities for students, which puts him at odds with some students, faculties and staff who are concerned about putting themselves at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“DR. Wrigley has indeed had a long and effective career in higher education. He has fought publicly and privately for students and faculty. I wish him well in his retirement,” said Matthew Boedy, Associate Professor of Public Speaking and Composition from the University of North Georgia and conference president of the Georgia Chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

“But the lack of more effective measures by the USG and the Board of Regents to protect students and staff during the pandemic has hurt his tenure as Chancellor,” he added. “By my count, the 14,000+ cases of COVID in USG locations in 2020 and new spikes as early as 2021 will require different tactics.”

When the colleges in Georgia resumed face-to-face tuition last fall, some students and faculty objected when they had to return to campus. In early September, protesters at Georgia State College and Milledgeville University held a “die-in” to express fear and frustration at what they believed to be unsafe conditions on campus.

A small group of protesters, wanting a slower return to the classroom run by the United Campus Workers of Georgia, held a demonstration outside the Regents office in Atlanta during the first board meeting Tuesday morning, while more talked and watched online.

“We just survived the fall semester through the skin of our teeth. We went into the fall semester with guidelines that didn’t make sense. There weren’t even any guidelines or thresholds for when we could teach fully online, ”said Joe Fu, a math professor at the University of Georgia.

Wrigley was positive about the future of this school year at the first regents meeting of the year on Tuesday.

“Overall, the fall was a success in getting students, faculty, and staff back to our campus safely, and I appreciate what our presidents, their teams, and systems people have done to make this a success,” said Wrigley. “We begin the spring semester when 340,000 students continue or begin their college careers at USG. As we know from the fall, interacting directly and safely with students inside and outside the classroom is important for their well-being and educational development. We have taken appropriate steps to highlight in-person tuition as an important part of campus life. ”

The chairman of the regents, Sachin Shailendra, echoed Wrigley’s positive attitude.

“This panel agreed on the importance of further maximizing safe personal tuition, and Chancellor Wrigley has set out very directly why we must do everything we can to provide the best possible and most accessible education to students. This is especially true for personal teaching, ”he said.

Oconee County’s mother, Joy Morin, said she was grateful for Wrigley’s efforts to hold face-to-face classes. She moderates a Facebook group with over 5,000 members who support the Georgia Colleges to be kept open.

Too much isolation is bad for the mental health of young adults, Morin said.

“There’s only so long that you can keep them isolated,” she said. “And they learn better personally. You have to get on with your life. We’re not far from a year where things are really, really unusual for them … Children need to be able to live their lives. “

Morin’s son, a freshman at the University of Georgia, will start school Wednesday after administrators announced a revised timetable in October. The planned start date was January 11th. Other University System of Georgia schools have postponed their first day of classes, including Georgia Tech, Gordon State College, and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

“I don’t know if it would have been a bad idea for them to postpone the start of maybe a week or two, to postpone the start of classes a little further after the flu season itself, which might have given people a little more comfort.” said Morin. “But overall, my son is back on campus and I’m glad they’re open and hopefully they’ll stick with it.”

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.

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