ANALYSIS; Legislator Eyes New Structure for Education Watkinsville's Smith Would Shake Up the Bureaucracy for Better Creativity

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Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - Rep. Bob Smith started getting brickbats tossed his way as soon as he introduced the first of three pieces of legislation to overhaul the way higher education is governed, accusing him of a power grab or acting on a year-old slight.

But the Watkinsville Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education says he's not bothered because his critics are wrong. It has nothing to do with his ego, he said. Instead, he explains his motives as a quest to propel the state's universities and colleges to greatness by shaking up the bureaucracy.

His plan would shift from the governor exclusively to a split with the General Assembly the power to pick the members of the panel that oversees the operation of the post-secondary schools. It would also give one board control over the traditional colleges and the technical colleges rather than a panel for each.

He would even change the name from the Board of Regents to more corporate-sounding Board of Higher Education, retitling the chancellor as the CEO or chief education officer, with vice presidents for four-year colleges, for community and technical colleges, and one for the HOPE Scholarship, public television and public libraries.

A ROYAL CONNOTATION

"Regents" connotes royalty for the few who recognize its original meaning, he said, while most Americans know what a CEO is. "What we're doing is a business model where the taxpayer on the street can understand it."

To improve coordination with public and private K-12 schools, he would add nonvoting seats at the table for each as well as an adviser specializing in emerging technology, the gizmos that are so new no one has any yet.

With many teachers in his family and growing up in the shadow of the University of Georgia, Smith describes himself as an advocate of education. His enthusiasm swelled as a result of meeting individually with the 54 presidents of the state's universities and technical colleges since his appointment as committee chairman four years ago.

The research, innovation and gee-whiz technology on the campuses captured his imagination, prompting him to buttonhole colleagues and reporters in the last few years to share his excitement.

What was missing, he often said, was a unifying mission, like the race to the moon, that would draw together all the intellectual horsepower and harness it to work as one. As late as last year, he was wistfully lamenting the lack of a charismatic leader to make it happen.

Then, he came up with a different idea: Remake the higher-education bureaucracy to unleash its creativity. …