That morning was pure Georgia summer. Hot, humid and full of anticipation.
A suited-up crowd of alumni, students and administrators stood in the sun at the center of old North Campus waiting for a new leader to outline his vision for UGA’s future. Michael Adams didn’t disappoint. He and the woman he calls his soul mate held hands, walked through the Arch and into history.
A decade’s worth now, and counting.
“It was a magical day,” Mary Lynn Ethridge Adams recalls. She was accompanied that day by sons David and Taylor, then 19 and 17.
“We were overwhelmed by the kindness of everyone.”
At the Chapel steps, Adams talked of academic rigor and quality, of taking things “to the next level.” They were words people would hear again and again—along with others like hope and vision, and heart and soul. Since those days in 1997, when Adams took the helm as president after Charles Knapp had held it for a decade, the focus has been clear: raising the academic bar and increasing opportunities for students; improving and expanding research; restoring, greening and growing the campus; and positioning UGA for the future.
The vision hasn’t always been easy to carry out. Adams is fond of saying he tries to combine the “steel” in his personality with some “velvet.” But the fruits of a decade of work have helped place the University among the top tiers of American public research universities.
• For nine consecutive years, the school has been on the U.S. News & World Report magazine list of top 25 public universities.
• In the last decade, UGA students consistently have won some of the country’s most prestigious post-graduate scholarships, including Rhodes, Marshall, Gates-Cambridge, Goldwater and Truman.
• The number of study-abroad and exchange programs has nearly doubled in the past five years. Today, about three in every 10 graduates have study-abroad experience, and UGA ranks 9th among public universities in this area.
• A decade ago, nearly three-quarters of the students who applied to UGA were accepted. Today, less than 60 percent get acceptance letters.
• The number of students graduating with honors, high or highest honors has increased 78 percent.
• The University has added three new schools: public health; public and international affairs; and ecology, the first such stand-alone school for that subject in the world.
Adams is proud of his successes but makes it clear they were built upon the firm foundation he inherited, and the help of his administrative team. Knapp left a legacy of more than $300 million in capital construction. The former president raised academic standards, supported improved teaching and research and helped propel the development of East Campus, Adams says.
“Clearly, the thing I’m pleased about the most is academics,” he says. “By any measure this is a much stronger place today.”
When Adams was hired in June 1997, his mandate from the Board of Regents was to let the world about UGA’s strengths. “They thought this was a better place than the world recognized,” he says. “They wanted me to make it better but also wanted me to do what I thought I could to make more people around the country know it. I think that has happened.
“For good or ill, I have also been sometimes more visible than I’ve wanted to be,” says Adams, who isn’t known to mince words. “I think there are 9.5 million people in this state who think they own the university. And they do. Over a 10-year period the president of the University of Georgia becomes a pretty well-known commodity.”
Adams is the 21st president in a line that trails back to 1785 and Abraham Baldwin, a chaplain and former Yale professor who convinced Georgia lawmakers to create the nation’s first state-chartered public university. As of July, only seven others have served the university as president longer than Adams.
“It’s a remarkable achievement, both nationally and in the history of UGA. … Longevity among American university presidents is not a common occurrence,” says Thomas Dyer, who recently retired after 35 years in teaching and administration at UGA. He’s written four books, one of which is a bicentennial history of the university.
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