The controversial proposal angered Georgia Tech officials, who say the state shouldn't duplicate programs when it already has a campus dedicated almost entirely to engineering. The proposal even drew fire from Gov. Sonny Perdue, who spoke at the board meeting last month and urged the regents to move more slowly on starting expensive new programs.
But UGA President Michael Adams said the engineering program will help provide the state with more workers and draw more federal research dollars to the campus. He said the program can be started with existing money and will be phased in over five years.
"Ultimately, it's what's best for the state," Adams said after the meeting. "It's best that a research university have this option."
Despite concerns from many members of the board, the measure passed 9-8 after half an hour of discussion. The vote was delayed last month after Perdue's visit to the board meeting.
At Tuesday's meeting, the Regents also approved expanding an existing engineering program at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.
Georgia Tech President G.P. "Bud" Peterson left the meeting before talking with reporters. The university issued a statement shortly after.
"We respect the Board of Regents' decision. We will continue to work with the Regents, our state leaders and all other institutions in the state to ensure that we are able to serve the people of Georgia while providing the best possible education for our students," the statement said.
UGA could have an uphill battle with state lawmakers come January, especially because more cuts to state funding for higher education are likely as tax revenue continues to lag. The University System of Georgia was cut $227 million this fiscal year.
State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, who heads the committee that oversees the university system's budget, said he will not allocate any new money for the university's new engineering program.
"They obviously are flush with cash," Ehrhart said. "If they do put something up for cuts, this better be the first thing. I better not hear anything about cutting 4-H or any other program."
Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said the board made a "rushed" decision that could ultimately cost them the faith of state lawmakers who approve the university system's budget. "It's concerning they would move forward on a vote when there's so much concern on it."
For UGA, the move means better positioning to get the high level of federal research dollars that flow into Georgia Tech and the Medical College of Georgia, the state's only public medical school. This year the Augusta-based MCG opened a satellite medical program at UGA in partnership with the Athens-based university.