University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll Davis Jr. announced Thursday he is retiring next year.
Davis has served as the head of the state’s 35 public colleges and universities since 2006. He said his retirement date fulfills his promise to the Board of Regents that he would stay five years in the system.
Gainesville State College President Martha Nesbitt called Davis a personable leader.
“He really did the system as a whole. He saw the big picture,” Nesbitt said.
His retirement comes as Georgia’s colleges and universities continue to grapple with deep cuts to higher education. Many campuses have been plagued by layoffs, furloughs and program cuts.
Nesbitt said Davis is the state’s first university chancellor with a business rather than academic background. He was the former chairman of a multi-billion-dollar utility.
“He brought a business perspective that made us look at things in a different way,” Nesbitt said.
During his tenure, Davis oversaw a spike in enrollment from 260,000 students to more than 310,000. He also created a plan to expand the state’s medical education programs in hopes of addressing an impending shortage of doctors in Georgia.
Davis’ other major initiatives included improving leadership from within the system and stressing ethics, Nesbitt said.
He helped develop an executive leadership institute to identify and support high-potential staff in the university system, as well as create a new code of ethics for employees.
In the last few years, Davis has taken heat from state lawmakers upset over how the university system responds to potential budget cuts with what some legislators say are scare tactics. For example, officials proposed cutting the popular 4-H program entirely this year.
Kate Maine, a spokeswoman for North Georgia College & State University said Davis had the best interest of the students and institutions at heart.
“He was a very open leader and he stressed customer service,” Maine said.
Davis also cited the inauguration of a new governor as a reason for stepping down. He told the Board of Regents a new governor will need a long-term chancellor.
The board will launch a national search to find his replacement.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.