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A decade of progress (2)

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by Lucy Soto


“These are really hard jobs,” says Dyer, who was vice president of instruction. “You just can’t imagine the pressure and the challenges for presidents.”

Political pressures. Alumni pressures. Fundraising pressures. Campus and curriculum pressures. It’s no longer the image of the 1950s ivy-draped college with a president who wears sweater vests, smokes pipes and spends most of his time in the office or walking about campus.

With an enrollment of nearly 34,000 students, more than 8,500 students graduate yearly from the University’s 16 colleges and schools. UGA’s annual budget of $1.3 billion faces a leveling of support from state government, giving rise to always-increasing demands for private fundraising.

Skills as a political communicator and fundraising acumen are more important than ever. Adams also had to be a leader in higher education issues not only in Georgia, but nationally.

He served a six-year term on the executive council of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, including two years as chair. He chaired the American Council on Education [ACE], the umbrella organization for all public and private institutions of higher education. He recently completed a term as chair of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges. And recently he was named chair of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s executive committee.

“Does that have an impact on the reputation of the University of Georgia nationwide? Yes it does,” says Tom Landrum, interim senior vice president for external affairs and former chief of staff for Adams. “It surprised me the many interests that he had in so many aspects of higher education, and how widely read he was in those areas, too.”

Adams is known for being informed and balanced, ACE President David Ward says. “He’s a frequent and active participant, and someone I think who brings a very wise and steady viewpoint. I think people listen to him as not someone who follows the crowd but who thinks independently. That may reflect his political experience or his experience as a small university president.”

There was a time when that past experience wasn’t seen as a plus.

“The biggest rap on me [in 1997] was whether someone coming as president of a small college could appreciate the difference between a small liberal arts college and an aspiring research university,” Adams says. “I don’t hear that anymore.”

He changed minds and turned heads with his ease in traveling the state and the country, talking with farmers in South Georgia about UGA’s work, state legislators about research initiatives or national educators about trends in academics and athletics.

He knows Washington and Atlanta.

The night after he arrived in Athens to be introduced on campus, he was the honored guest at a dinner party hosted by then-University System Chancellor Stephen Portch. At Adams’ table sat the chairman of the state Senate’s Higher Education Committee and the head of the state Education Board. The two men were now-Gov. Sonny Perdue and now-U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

“A lot of people, when they’re the new sheriff in town, want to change things,” Isakson says. “What impressed me is that he got his arms around what the University’s strengths already were, and since that time, after embracing the strengths, he’s enhanced the University.”

It was Isakson who helped connect Adams earlier this year with the head of the Caterpillar machine company in the United Arab Emirates. It was also Isakson who, on a trip to India, recognized opportunities for UGA’s cooperative extension service to take knowledge and better agriculture practices to less populous and rural areas.

So in March, Adams traveled to cities in India and to Dubai, and met with students, professors and business leaders. He came back with even more reinforced views about the need to understand global trends and to emphasize science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“You can’t lead people in this day and age and be an educated person,” he says, “without understanding those trends.”


That’s precisely why he has a special place in his heart for study-abroad programs. He is convinced global experience is a must academically, as well as in creating a well-rounded person.

“I want to see more second-year students doing either a semester abroad or a summer abroad,” he says. “They are much better students when they get back. It helps you grow up.”

Mia Catherine Morgan’s first study-aboard experience was in New Zealand, the summer after her freshman year. This past summer, as she prepared for her senior year at UGA, she went to Uganda to help develop a milk cooler that doesn’t use electricity. It was her second trip there.

“Their focus on study abroad has given me a perspective on engineering,” Morgan says, “that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”

The University offers about 170 study-abroad and exchange programs in 61 countries. Three of those—Oxford, England; Cortona, Italy; and San Luis, Costa Rica—include property purchased for the University by one of the University’s foundations.

Costa Rica’s program offers an actual campus with housing. Adams says he’d like for the university to have German- and French-speaking sites, as well as facilities in both Asia and Africa.

For Morgan, whose parents also graduated from UGA, it’s the school’s focus on excellence that matters.

“I was very impressed with the Honors classes [at Georgia], and one of the classes that made me love it was President Adams’ class freshman year,” she says. “It was a small class, and it was cool.”

The class is a biennial return to the classroom for Adams, who began his career in higher education on the faculty of The Ohio State University. During the fall of even-numbered years, the president leads a group of about 15 freshmen Honors students in a course on Georgia politics, focusing on local, state and national elections.

On election night last November, about 15 students gathered in the basement of the president’s house on Prince Avenue to feast on a buffet of Mexican food and watch results come in from statewide races. Early on, it was clear that Georgia was diverging from most other states, where Democrats were winning.

“Let’s talk about this for a minute,” Adams says, breaking into the students’ chatter. “What we’re seeing is Georgia bucking a national trend.”

For most students, this kind of interaction with the president is rare. “It’s a good contact to have,” says Tamara Poole, a political science major from Loganville. “Not many people can say the president knows them.”

Opportunities like those for Poole and Morgan should be available to all students, Adams says—even those without means and those whose parents aren’t alumni. He says the school has made steady progress to achieve that, even if it’s not exactly where he wants it.

In 2001, after a few years of challenges and appeals, a federal court struck down UGA’s use of race as one of several factors in its admissions decision. “I’m proud that we fought the fight,” he says. “This is what land grant universities are about, access and opportunity for everybody.”

Now, though, the battle to increase diversity and reach out to students who can’t afford college becomes even tougher. The University uses “demonstrated academic achievement,” which centers on grade point average, the rigor of a student’s high school curriculum, and SAT or ACT scores.


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Click on image to enlarge

UGA landscape architecture major Morai Helfen works with the rim of a candle holder during Ted Saupe’s ceramics class.

Students Rayalam Kiran Reddy (left) and Brandon Simmons conduct research in the environmental sciences lab at the College of Public Health, one of three new schools and colleges created at UGA since 1997.
Renovations, stately new buildings and ongoing major projects contribute to a growing campus that better meets the needs of students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Lamar Dodd School of Art

Candler Hall renovation

Paul D. Coverdell Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences

D.W. Brooks Mall