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5 Questions for for Philip A. Wilheit Sr.
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About Philip A. Wilheit Sr.

Age: 67
Hometown: Gainesville
Length of time: I have spent 63 of my 67 years in Gainesville. I was born in Charlotte, N.C., and moved to Gainesville on April 10, 1949
Education: Graduated from Gainesville High School in 1962 and from the University of the South “Sewanee” in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in English
Occupation: President of Wilheit Packaging LLC; worked here for 46 years
Most interesting jobs: Serving on the Board of Regents is the most interesting and fulfilling volunteer job I have ever had. The most interesting paying job was when a group of businessmen started Gainesville Bank & Trust. We sold this bank to SunTrust in 2008.
Family: Married for 45 years to Mary Hart Wilheit; two children, Hart Payne and Philip Jr.; three grandchildren, Mary Keys Payne, Elizabeth Payne and Turner Wilheit

Each Monday, “5 Questions” asks someone in our community to answer five questions about their lives. If you know someone who would be a good subject for this feature, send their name and contact information to news@gainesvilletimes.com.

Philip A. Wilheit Sr. is well known in Gainesville and Hall County as a successful businessman and community leader. His statewide profile was raised last year when Gov. Nathan Deal, whom Wilheit helped get elected, appointed him to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. The appointment came at a pivotal time for Northeast Georgia, as the system has undertaken four consolidation projects around the state, including the merger of North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College. Today, The Times asks Philip Wilheit five questions about the Board of Regents and the consolidation initiative.

1. Georgia’s low education ratings have become legendary; how do we fix them?

This was a problem that I worked on in the mid-1990s when I was asked to serve on the State Board of Education by Gov. Zell Miller and Sen. Johnny Isakson. During my 3« years on the state board, Chairman Isakson made the statement, and it is still true today, that the biggest problem we have in public education K-12 is PDD. Now you might ask yourself, what is PDD. It’s ”Parental Deficit Disorder.”

I believed it to be the truth then and probably even more today. I don’t see the parental involvement in their children’s education that we once had. Perhaps it is a sign of the times. In so many families today, both parents work in order to make ends meet. There are more single parents than ever before and there seems to be a sense of apathy among so many people today. There are myriad social issues that affect a parent’s involvement in their child’s education.

I know our current governor is looking at and implementing programs that address some of these issues. His latest initiative is the REACH Scholarship Program — Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen. This is a needs-based mentorship and scholarship program that enables school systems to identify at-risk seventh-grade students and provide for them mentoring, coaching and a $2,500 per year scholarship for up to four years. We have three pilot programs in place this year in Rabun, Douglas and Bulloch counties. Preference will be given to students who are first-generation college students, have fewer than three excused absences and no unexcused absences and have no disciplinary infractions.

This program was made possible by a $250,000 grant from AT&T. Many other public and private colleges have become institutional partners.

This is but one program that has been recently implemented. There are many more already in action that hopefully will motivate our young students to become better prepared for a college career.

2. How do you balance the needs of students with supporting teachers?

If you mean balance in financial terms, this is sometimes very difficult to balance. During the last four years, the USG system had lost $1 billion in state funding and has added 48,000 students to our rolls. I am happy to say that under Gov. Deal’s leadership we have reversed that trend and were allocated an increase of about $90 million this year for a total state allocation of $1.83 billion and a bond package for capital investments of a little more than $326 million.

Most of our teachers in the USG system have not received any pay increases in the last several years due to the economic crunch we have been experiencing, and we continue to ask them to do more. And as everyone knows, the legislature had the wisdom to reformulate the HOPE scholarship to keep it viable. This, of course, put some financial pressure on our best students. I am confident that with the state’s level of support to the University System, we will have a relatively low tuition increase for 2013.

3. What has been the most challenging aspect of your appointment to the Board of Regents?

I think the answer to this question lies in question No. 2. The USG system has about 312,000 students and more than 42,000 employees. As you can imagine, there are never enough resources to go around. This is my main focus this year as I have the opportunity to serve as chairman of the business and finance committee.

Every one of our 35 fine institutions have capital needs that would enhance the quality of education that they provide to their students. The regents spend hours and hours as we prioritize these needs in order to best serve our student population. And this is a challenge as each of the presidents of our institutions feels very passionately about their needs. As an example of this, our own President Martha Nesbitt of Gainesville State worked at least seven years to get their latest building, Academic Building IV. We dedicated this building only last year and it is already fully utilized. Every campus has a similar story to tell.

My hat is off to Gov. Deal and our entire legislative body for the support they are giving the Board of Regents to accomplish our mission. Our own Rep. Carl Rogers serves as chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education and does an outstanding job.

4. The Board of Regents gets a lot of flak from college students who do not fully understand it. How would you describe the role and purpose of the board to them?

During my time on the Board of Regents, we had several groups attend our meeting and stage a protest. Several things come to mind when I think of these protests and the protesters. First, if they would dress and act appropriately for the setting I could certainly give them more credibility. The last group that came in were dressed in jeans and dirty T-shirts for the most part. During our opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, they chose to sit and talk. There is an old saying that “you only have one chance to make a first impression.” Well their first impression to me was not very good and I think I can speak for the entire board when I say that.

Secondly, they don’t have their facts straight and in fact usually don’t really know why they are there to protest.

Chairman Ben Tarbutton gave the last group five minutes to speak. It was obvious they had no real leader or purpose, so one young lady began a chant that the others joined. It was laced with profanities and misinformation.

For instance they blamed the regents for cutting the HOPE Scholarship. As you know, this was done by the legislature and although we supported their decision, we had nothing to do with the vote. This group also demanded we cut our pay and of course there is no pay to serve as a regent.

I really think the vast majority, albeit the “silent majority,” understand the role of the Board of Regents and appreciate the goals we are striving to reach together. I think for every protester, we have at least 10,000 students that are focused on their work and understand that everything cannot be free.

5. How do you see the merger of Gainesville State and North Georgia taking place?

I am excited about the potential of “blending” two very fine institutions into one great university. There are so many positive things taking place every day as our implementation teams continue to work. The Gainesville State and North Georgia merger is but one of four mergers taking place, but obviously the one I am most focused upon.

I met last week with President Bonita Jacobs and with President Martha Nesbitt, and they are working hand in hand to create an institution of 15,000 students that will provide a strategic approach to meeting the higher education needs of students in the Northeast Georgia region. The new institution will be able to provide a broad spectrum of academic programs from associate to graduate degrees in a student-friendly, seamless system.

These two fine institutions have two different and distinct missions. Gainesville State is an access institution and will retain its access mission. North Georgia has a full range of baccalaureate and graduate offerings and will continue to grow in this area. Dr. Jacobs has told me on several occasions that the students who presently transfer from Gainesville State to North Georgia are doing exceedingly well. This is a tribute to the hard work President Nesbitt and her staff have done over the past 15 years. Because of this hard work, Gainesville will now have a four-year, full baccalaureate and graduate program. Without this merger, that could have taken years to accomplish and fund.

There already exists a strong foundation of collaboration and partnership between these two fine institutions and we have every reason to believe that this will be a very smooth and efficient transition and will serve our students and area very well in the years to come.

Philip A. Wilheit Sr. is well known in Gainesville and Hall County as a successful businessman and community leader. His statewide profile was raised last year when Gov. Nathan Deal, whom Wilheit helped get elected, appointed him to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. The appointment came at a pivotal time for Northeast Georgia, as the system has undertaken four consolidation projects around the state, including the merger of North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College. Today, The Times asks Philip Wilheit five questions about the Board of Regents and the consolidation initiative.

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