The State Board of Regents voted recently to tighten their policies governing illegal immigrant applicants to Georgia colleges and universities and they did it with little discussion.
Funny how those things happen.
It wasn't all that long ago that we were being lectured by Chancellor Erroll Davis, who said, "We have no reason not to allow illegal (immigrants) to attend, any more than the grocer has a reason not to sell them groceries. We offer products for sale like many other entities in society, and we want to make sure people are paying the appropriate price for those."
Davis even suggested that the question of whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to attend schools in the University System was being driven primarily by "politics." He was right as rain. Our public universities and colleges are owned by the taxpayers and when we aren't happy, we let our elected officials know and they, in turn, pass our anger along to the members of the board.
Call it whatever you want. I call it democracy.
Now, the Regents have another hot potato they seem to be handling with the same political acuity as they did the illegal immigration issue.
Short form: Michael Adams, the president of the University of Georgia has long yearned to have both a medical school and an engineering school on campus. He says, "Without engineering and medical schools, UGA has been unable to tap into the expanding federal funds for engineering and medical research, the two major sources of research funds for most academic institutions."
He has gotten his medical school and now is pushing the Board of Regents to get him an engineering school, too.
Walter Jones, the able Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News Service, recently wondered how UGA is hampered by not getting federal grants for an engineering program that doesn't exist.
"What's the point in creating the second-most expensive type of school — engineering is second only to a medical school — just to get research money and status?" Jones asks. "Wouldn't it be simpler to put a fraction of the startup cost into expanding and improving the schools that already teach engineering in hopes that they snag more federal research grants?"
Those schools include Georgia Tech, Southern Polytechnic State University and Georgia Southern University.
Now the Regents have both Gov. Sonny Perdue and State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Cobb, chairman of the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee, asking the same questions as Jones and suggesting the Regents slow down and communicate a little better on why the rush and why in this down economy.
The Regents are quick to point out that they have the constitutional authority to make such decisions. Ehrhart says the legislature has the constitutional authority to fund or not fund their decisions. Checkmate.
Ehrhart can be a formidable obstacle. Regent Dink NeSmith didn't help the cause by referring to Southern Poly as offering "high-demand evening programs for returning students and those who work full time" in a letter to Perdue citing why UGA needs its own engineering school.
Ehrhart says that is an unfair representation of an excellent engineering school. He says for NeSmith's information that the Cobb County institution with more than 4,000 students turns out a host of outstanding young first-time graduates in the daytime, too. Maybe NeSmith should have talked to Ehrhart first or used a better example. His job is going to be hard enough with getting this guy cranky.
Will the University of Georgia get its engineering school? Ehrhart seems to think we can't afford it and says no one has sought him out to convince him otherwise. In a letter to Chancellor Davis, he says, "I am reaching out to you for at least a modicum of communications on the issue."
Our chancellor and the Board of Regents need to understand that they don't operate in a political vacuum. They are doing the people's business and while they must avoid being dictated to by self-serving politicians, as happens too often in the Department of Education, they must also understand they operate with public permission and public approval. These are our tax dollars they are talking about spending.
The public didn't approve of their immigration policies. Their issue now is to convince that same public that they need to fund an engineering school at my alma mater for reasons other than Mike Adams wants one.
Wouldn't it be cheaper if we just bought him a pony?
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. You can reach him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.