British breed thrives in Bulldogs' country

September 17, 1999

When Stephen Portch, Somerset-born and University of Reading-educated, was named universities chancellor in the southern American state of Georgia, he was welcomed with open stereotypes.

"Will British-bred don survive in Bulldog country?" asked one breathless newspaper headline, referring to the tough, growling mascot of the University of Georgia Bulldogs athletic teams.

Five years on, Dr Portch has not only survived, but thrived, and is credited with nothing less than elevating Georgia's educational system - and, with it, himself - to national prominence. "They thought they were going to have a stuffy, pointy-headed, intellectual, flaming liberal," said Dr Portch.

"When you turn out to be not entirely all those things, it can be helpful."

Dr Portch pushed through ten big initiatives in his first year, accomplishing reforms that have eluded counterparts in other states because of entrenched opposition from staff and others.

One of his first acts was to raise faculty salaries, bringing them from below to above the national average. "It's amazing how much forgiveness you get," Dr Portch says now. He has also toughened admission standards, cut tuition, revamped the curriculum, changed the universities' calendar system - a seemingly minor shift that had nonetheless been the subject of debate for years - and even managed to impose performance reviews of tenured professors.

The biggest challenge ahead for Dr Portch is to continue to enrol minorities, who generally fall below standards for admissions.

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