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University system chancellor sworn in

ATLANTA - Academic excellence and affordability will be the twin goals of new university system Chancellor Erroll Davis, the state system's 11th chief administrator vowed during an inauguration ceremony Wednesday.

Surrounded by Gov. Sonny Perdue, state lawmakers, university presidents, faculty members and students, Davis promised to work to strengthen academic programs at the system's 35 colleges and universities.

At the same time, he urged Georgians from the public and private sectors who are committed to higher education to work with him to expand access to a college education to students of all incomes.

"Excellence without access is a wasteful use of scarce resources,'' Davis said during a nearly one-hour ceremony inside the House chambers at the Capitol. "Yet, access without excellence is a fraud perpetuated upon our students.''

Davis actually has been running the university system since February. He is the system's first chancellor to come from the business world, having served since 1978 as a utility executive in Wisconsin.

"Most people in his position would have taken his stock options and hit the beach,'' said Martha Nesbitt, president of Gainesville State College, one of the speakers who preceded Davis to the podium. "Instead, our new chancellor chose a different path ... turning his life's avocation into a vocation.''

Davis also is the first black as chancellor in the university system's 75-year history.

Perdue praised Davis' commitment to working closely with the heads of the state's other education agencies, notably the departments of education and technical and adult education.

"I'm excited about the connectivity we're seeing,'' Perdue said.

In his speech, Davis noted recent reports showing that access to college is a major obstacle for students across the country.

Just last week, a California-based think tank gave Georgia and 43 other states a failing grade for affordability.

Davis said the 13-year-old HOPE Scholarship program and a new initiative adopted by the Board of Regents this year that guarantees incoming students the same tuition rate for four years are helping to ensure access to college.

But he said more must be done.

"We must continue to look for and find ways of increasing the financial options that enable more Georgians to attend college,'' he said. "It is not in society's best interest to lose so many potential students.''

Offering what he called a "small, but symbolic first step,'' Davis announced that a private foundation begun by him and his wife, Elaine, will transfer $100,000 to the university system foundation to establish a college financial aid seed fund in honor of his mother, Eleanor.

"This will require others to build upon this seed fund if we are going to meet the need in ways that are substantive and not just symbolic,'' he said. "So I issue a call and a challenge to those who have reaped the benefits of education to invest in our future by investing in the future of others.''

Board of Regents Chairman Allan Vigil, who presided over the ceremony, presented Davis with a specially designed medallion marking his formal investiture.