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Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - 2:40am

A Conversation With UGA's New Top 'Dawg

Barely a month into his tenure as president of the University of Georgia, Jere Morehead suspects he already knows the yard stick that will be used to measure his leadership: how much money he raises.

The state’s flagship university is about to embark on a comprehensive campaign – a multi-year massive fundraising effort that will likely collect more than a billion dollars for UGA.

"In large measure, I think I will be judged on whether we've been able to take the next step and close the gap between the size of our endowment as compared to other institutions similarly situated to UGA, like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Florida,” Morehead said.

Morehead talked about the importance of that campaign and other issues in a wide-ranging exclusive interview with GPB last week. He connected the campaign with the growing cost of a college education, something Congress has been talking about as lawmakers rolled back a doubling of student-loan interest rates that took effect July 1.

"I was a first-generation college student myself, and so I think about, would I have been able to afford to pay what someone is paying today to go to college?" Morehead said. "I also think we have a responsibility in our fundraising operations to continue to make the case to those that can help us that it's important that we raise more money for need-based scholarship support."

"I certainly think that also needs to be a major focus of our upcoming comprehensive campaign."

Other highlights from the interview:

On his first major initiative, focusing more on the university's role in economic development, Morehead said the programs and research at UGA need to provide a tangible benefit to the state and its citizens.

"To the extent that our faculty, our staff, can interact with the business community and either transform the research they're doing in a tangible way to build the economic enterprise or provide expertise based on their backgrounds to support economic development, I think that's important," he said. "Particularly for an institution like the University of Georgia that is, remember, a land-grant institution. So it has a responsibility to the people of this state to give back to this state."

On tying university funding to graduation rather than enrollment:

"Those institutions that have a strong track record of very positive retention and graduation rates certainly have to be given some credit for where they already are. Places like the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech have been doing very well in that arena for many years. Our retention rate from freshmen to sophomores is somewhere around 94 percent. Our graduation rate is up to 83 percent."

But: "Let's be fair about it. We enroll very good students. Georgia Tech enrolls very good students. So it's certainly easier for us to have success. I'm not, by any means, indicating that it will be an easy job for other institutions to raise those graduation rates. But I think [University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby] is correct that that ought to be something we all remain focused on."

On his relationship with athletics:

"I served for several years as the university's faculty athletics representative, which is an NCAA-mandated position at every Division I institution -- the liaison between the academic community and the athletic community. So I think I have a great appreciation for the importance of athletics as well as where it fits into the overall picture of the university. Quite frankly, I think the key to having a successful and responsible athletic program is tied to the leaders that you have in the athletic department. I have great confidence in our athletic director, Greg McGarrity. I have great confidence in his senior staff....We have a good relationship with them. We talk regularly. We work through difficult and challenging issues together. So I think UGA has it about right when it comes to the balance between academics and athletics."