Campus CloseupMarch 2004: Vol. 83, No. 2

State of the University 2004

[Editor’s note: In a wide-ranging State of the University address delivered Jan. 15, President Michael F. Adams discussed how state budget cuts have impacted the University (see his column on p. 5). He enumerated a series of positive developments over the past year, including UGA students’ sweep of the Rhodes, Marshall, Goldwater, and Truman scholarships. Adams also spent a significant portion of his talk on three over-arching themes—community of learners, academic vigor, and goals for 2004—excerpts of which are presented here. The entire version is online at:]

President Adams
President Adams says he will use new tuition revenue to hire instructional faculty to teach core courses to undergraduates.

Community of learners
A community of learners is a place that supports inquiry and generates ideas.

bove all, a community of learners must first have a constant and active student presence. That is why we are building new residence halls and renovating the older ones—to encourage (and require, as we will with freshmen starting in the fall) students to live on campus and become fully immersed in the myriad opportunities offered by a real community of learners. In short, park your car and engage here.

Second, a community of learners requires faculty who are committed to using every available method and technology to improve their teaching. Statistics on WebCT usage show that more than 2,000 faculty and teaching assistants are using that technology in more than 3,800 sections. But there is more that we can do. This is why we are building facilities like the Student Learning Center, and why we are wiring classrooms in the School of Law.

Third, a community of learners must have facilities where students and faculty can live and learn and meet and gather. The Myers Community is in many ways a model for residential life at UGA—centrally located, close to academic facilities and campus transportation, and with a dedicated area of greenspace. These physical qualities are conducive to the academic environment that marks a great university.

Greater academic vigor
The obligation of a selective university is to challenge its students academically. A UGA degree should be a hard-earned prize. There must be a greater focus here on writing skills and critical thinking.

irst, this university needs to be a place of even greater academic rigor where virtually all students accept the challenge of a full course load—at least 15 units per semester. According to the 2003 National Survey of Student Engagement, which UGA took part in, our students are generally more pleased with their educational experience than their counterparts at similar institutions. The survey shows that UGA students also take more foreign language courses, participate in more study-abroad programs and simply get along better with their fellow students. However, my concerns about academic rigor are reflected in their answers to questions about study habits and class preparation. Our students spend less time on class preparation and on homework than their counterparts; they also produce fewer written papers. These are areas where our expectations need to be raised.

Second, we must commit completely to the idea that students ought to leave here prepared to be citizens of the world. We now teach some 25 languages regularly, we are working across all fronts to increase diversity, we have students from more than 140 countries, and we have an aggressive study-abroad program which has pushed us into the top 10 nationally. Residential study-abroad programs like Oxford and Cortona and Costa Rica, along with cooperative programs in Marrakech and Kyoto and other parts of the world, are important components of preparing students for the 21st century.

The new East Campus Village
The new East Campus Village—which opens this fall—is expected to transform residential life in the same dramatic fashion that the new Student Learning Center is changing academic life at the University. All freshmen will now be required to live on campus, which will keep them in close proximity to optimum study conditions at SLC.

Third, we need to continue our quest to move from an automobile-based to a pedestrian-based community of learners. The East Campus Village, the first residence halls on campus in more than three decades with its nearby dining commons, will help us accommodate the freshman residency requirement by providing bed space for 1,200 more students in suites that put my old college dorm to shame.

Fourth, we must continue to expand our research program, which fosters a community of learners. The Coverdell and Complex Carbohydrate Research Center projects facilitate a marriage of UGA’s existing strengths with the clinical capabilities of the Medical College of Georgia and other research universities across this country and around the world. The Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute has organized the variety of UGA research in those areas under a single administrative structure. The Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities makes it possible for UGA’s undergraduate students to work with research faculty. Fifth, we must carry on the UGA tradition of preparing leaders. I have been privileged in my time as president of this university to work with three governors of Georgia. All three are graduates of the University of Georgia, and that is not a coincidence. There is something about the UGA experience that prepares people for leadership. The intensity of the UGA experience—the intellectual, the social, the physical and the spiritual—builds in young people the capacity to lead.

Goals for 2004
Over the past two fiscal years, direct funding to the University of Georgia from the state has decreased some $50 million while enrollment has increased by some 1,400 students.

irst, we must reverse the trend on faculty vacancies. Demand for enrollment at UGA continues to grow; we have hundreds of vacant faculty positions and more and more students to teach. I pledge today that the first priority for any additional tuition revenue will be the hiring of faculty. In particular, we will focus faculty hiring on instructional faculty to teach core courses to freshmen and sophomores.

Second, we will move into the East Campus Village, a facility that will have the same transforming impact on the residential life of this campus that the Student Learning Center has had on its academic life. The benefits of having more students living on campus extend far beyond those students and permeate the community, increasing the academic vigor of the institution.

Third, we will see construction on the Coverdell Center begin in earnest. This facility, financed through a combination of federal, state and internal funds in honor of the late Sen. Paul Coverdell, will bring together the breadth and depth of UGA’s research in the biomedical and health sciences. This university is involved in a wide range of research in this area, in the life sciences, the colleges of Pharmacy and Veterinary Medicine, in communications, and many others.

Fourth, we will complete plans and accelerate fundraising for an alumni and development center. Such a center will bring an elevated level of activity to the central campus area and become a home for UGA alumni and a locus for our development efforts, which generate critical financial support for the range of activities this institution undertakes on a daily basis.

Fifth, departments, schools and colleges must work to increase the number of graduate students and graduate assistants in targeted academic areas. Great universities have strong graduate programs, and strong graduate programs benefit the state intellectually and economically. Graduate students are also the foundation of communities of learning both here and across the nation.

Chemistry professor’s research turns into ‘bonding experience

Greg Robinson’s two great loves in college were football and chemistry. He was all-conference on the gridiron, but his breakthroughs in UGA chemistry labs are making waves the world over.

by Phil Williams (ABJ '72)

irst-time visitors to Greg Robinson’s office on South Campus might be forgiven for thinking they are in the wrong building. For one thing, Robinson doesn’t look like your prototypical chemistry professor—with his athletic physique, he looks more like the top-flight college football player he was two decades ago at Alabama’s Jacksonville State University.

Greg Robinson

But make no mistake. Robinson is one of the top young chemists in America. His name exploded on the chemistry world in 1997 when he and colleagues in his lab reported the first evidence of a new bonding procedure between atoms of the element gallium, a silver-white metal whose compounds are sometimes used as semiconductors in the computer industry. Robinson and his team reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society the synthesis and characterization of the first “gallyne,” a new organometallic compound containing a gallium-gallium triple bond.

Robinson’s ideas about the triple bond began taking shape in 1994 during a nine-month stint in Berlin as a Humboldt Fellow, a program that pairs promising non-German scientists with German full professors. Beyond picking up a smattering of German language and a new outlook about culture, which he admits was previously “myopic,” Robinson’s time at the Technical University of Berlin allowed him to brainstorm his revolutionary idea. “We had no success there,” he says, “but it gave me a chance to think critically about the ways to bind gallium.”

The shock waves from Robinson’s discovery had barely subsided when his lab announced another one: the synthesis of a compound composed of a new way to bond iron and gallium. The two reports drew support as well as skepticism from chemists worldwide, but evidence is growing that the work in Robinson’s lab was not only correct but also path-breaking.

In 2002, Robinson and four other current or former UGA chemists received National Science Foundation funding to continue work in the new field they created. The award was part of a new program to bring together established researchers in the spirit of collaboration. The $2.5 million, five-year grant—longer and more generous than a typical NSF award—is meant to encourage intellectual freedom between experimental and theoretical scientists.

“This is difficult work in the sense that there is no map,” says Robinson. “We are the first ones going down this road and there is high risk but also potentially high pay-offs.”

Robinson discovered a new bonding procedure between
atoms of the element gallium, whose compounds are sometimes used as semi-conductors in computers.

obinson’s excitement when he talks about his work is palpable, but he also seems somewhat amazed at how far his career has come since he was a boy growing up with three older sisters and two younger brothers in the tiny town of Alexandria, Ala.

“Neither of my parents attended college, but my grandfather, Walter Lee Howard, did attend college in Tennessee,” says Robinson. “He was one of the most intelligent men I have ever known.”

In his first few years as a student, Robinson attended segregated schools. After the schools were integrated, he used his size, speed, and natural athletic talent to become a highly acclaimed football and basketball player. He played quarterback on the Alexandria High School football team and was a talented performer on the hardwood as well. Even though his ACT score was marginal, he knew that he wanted to attend college, and he realized early that his main interest lay in science. He left for Jacksonville State in 1976.

Playing football and majoring in chemistry was a strain, but Robinson found that he responded well to the challenge. By the time he had graduated from college in the spring of 1980, he had not only been selected conference defensive player of the year but had also received honorable mention on the UPI All-American football team.

“I really didn’t have a master plan for my future at that time,” he says. “But when I was a senior, a chemistry professor from the University of Alabama, Jerry Atwood, came to our campus to speak on some aspects of aluminum chemistry—and I was really taken with his work.”

So it was off to a new university for graduate school. After earning his doctoral degree in Tuscaloosa in 1984, Robinson’s next move was not clear at first, owing to the fact that chemists who work in industry do challenging work and earn superb salaries. But Robinson felt a clear calling to teaching and university-based research. In 1985, he accepted a position as an assistant professor of chemistry at Clemson. He rose through the academic ranks to full professor at Clemson, then came to UGA in 1995.

While Robinson has worked hard to achieve excellence in his fields, he is acutely aware that relatively few African Americans enter academic chemistry.

“I read an article several years ago that stated of the 1,600 students awarded Ph.D.s in chemistry in the United States that year, only 16 were African Americans,” he says. “I clearly have an opportunity to tell students that with determination and perseverance they can go a long way.”

A 2001 survey conducted by University of Oklahoma chemistry professor Donna Nelson showed that the top 50 chemistry departments in the United States employ just 14 Hispanic, 13 African American, and three American Indian chemistry professors.

Quoted in several stories regarding that survey, including Black Issues in Higher Education and a publication from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Robinson feels that affirmative action has become a bad word and that having a diverse faculty is not a high enough priority—particularly in the nation’s academic chemistry departments. He concedes that “chemistry is a tough road to hoe,” but doesn’t accept the argument that a small talent pool explains the scarcity of African Americans in top chemistry departments.

“In my experience,” he says, “the progressive ideals and positive attributes of a diverse faculty frequently touted by university administrators are rarely observed at the college and departmental levels. However, I remain hopeful that meaningful change will take place.”

Phil Williams (ABJ '72) is editor of The Franklin Chronicle, from which this story was adapted with permission.

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