Last month, Georgia State University announced that their university president, Mark Becker, will be stepping down as president, with M. Brian Blake replacing him. Blake is an Institute alumni, having graduated in 1994 with a degree in electrical engineering, and later received his masters from Mercer, and PhD from George Mason University.
The search for a new president at Georgia State, the largest university in Georgia, began last September with the announcement that Becker, the current president, planned to take an educational leave.
He planned to leave at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, and in a statement to GSU students, stated, “I want to give the Board of Regents ample time to select the next president, with every expectation the search will attract the strongest pool of candidates in school history.”
He went on to speak about how much the experience has meant to him, and that, “Leading Georgia State for more than a decade, starting in the middle of a global financial crisis and concluding with a global pandemic, has been challenging and stimulating. It has been my most rewarding professional experience.”
The search stretched far and wide, and ultimately resulted in Blake becoming the new president elect of the university, with his official hiring contingent on his approval by the USG school board.
Blake was hired for his efforts at George Washington University, where he served as the Executive Vice President and Provost of the university. His role at the university most notably included transforming the school’s approach to teaching and pedagogy following the COVID-19 pandemic and assisting in ensuring the enrolled student body was still able to learn and succeed amid a less than ideal academic environment.
Prior to that, he served as the Executive Vice President and Nina Henderson Provost at Drexel, as well as the Vice Provost for academic affairs and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Miami. His background will certainly be essential, as Georgia State’s outgoing president was one of the best it has had in recent memory.
Under Becker, the university has increased its graduation rate by 22%, and currently leads the nation in eliminating disparities in graduation rates amongst its minority students. The university has become a member of Division I athletics, increased its research expenditures by 153%, and also merged with Georgia Perimeter College under Becker’s tenure. All in all, enrollment at the university increased to over 50,000, and Becker has demonstrated that he has been more than capable of changing and adapting to the challenge and needs of the school, whether those are presented by the student body, the city, or the nation, as we saw with the emergence of COVID-19.
Becker’s list of accomplishments is staggering given his tenure of 12 years, and it certainly presents Blake with some rather large shoes to fill. But the newly appointed president-elect is no stranger to challenging circumstances, and is certainly over qualified for the position.
When asked about his reception of the president, Blake was clearly aware of what it meant, and how important the position truly is.
“I’m deeply honored to have been selected as Georgia State president,” Blake said in an interview with Savannah Morning News. “I’m keenly aware of what President (Mark) Becker and the faculty, staff and students have accomplished, and I am anxious to build on the university’s great momentum. Working together, I know we can take our university to new heights in the coming years.”
Blake will be the eighth president of Georgia State university, and is notably the first Black president of the school since its founding in 1918. For the first time in its history, a Black man will be leading the school that, just 60 years prior, would regularly publish pro-segregationist opinions and beliefs in its papers and newsletters.
While the school has demonstrated in the past that it is well past these events, as it currently is one of the most diverse and inclusive schools in the state, Blake’s appointment ultimately brings the university’s troubled past and redemption full circle, in the best way possible.