For Adams and his leadership team, one of the clearest ways to deliver is with the development of a health sciences campus on the site of the Navy Supply Corps School, which the U.S. government will close in 2011.
In June, a local committee charged with deciding the fate of the tract near Athens Regional Medical Center voted to give the property to UGA to develop a health care campus in conjunction with the Medical College of Georgia.
Adams believes creating a health sciences center in Athens “will be seen as one of the state’s most important public policy moves of the 21st century.”
That news is the culmination of a decade, and more, of work.
The campus infrastructure to support science and research has improved substantially since 1997, with the addition to the Center for Applied Genetic Technologies on East Campus, the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, and the Rhodes Center in Agriculture, where cloning is done. In March 2006, the university opened the Paul D. Coverdell Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences.
“I have paid a lot of attention to how you put in place good faculty and good facilities, both of which are required,” Adams says.
Karen Holbrook, who just stepped down as president of The Ohio State University after five years, knows full well the amount of work that went into building UGA’s programs in biotechnology and engineering. As UGA provost at the time, she led the initiative to create the Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute at UGA in 2001, and recalls discussions with Adams then about cooperating with the Medical College.
“It was a very important and a very strategic plan for the University and one that capitalizes on the University’s strengths,” says Holbrook, who left UGA for the Ohio State presidency in 2002.
The road to improving academics also often straddles the same road that is the social heart of many a college campus—athletics. It’s often the toughest act for a president to balance—the excitement and pride students and alumni have for their sports teams with the eventual aim of getting a quality education.
“What you’ve seen is steady progress —sometimes spectacular and sometimes difficult,” says Dyer, who has studied UGA history from its inception. “They’re intractable, and they’ve been there since 1910. Earlier presidents would have pulled their hair out, if they had hair, over athletics. The issue of athletics as a major concern is an ancient issue in the sweep of the history of American education, and it should surprise no one that it continues to be.”
It is in the area of athletics that Adams has faced some of his biggest challenges as president. In February of 2003, he faced public criticism for his joint decision with the athletic director to withdraw the men’s basketball team from post-season play after a former player accused the school of NCAA violations. The outcry escalated in June, when Adams declined to extend the contract of Athletic Director Vince Dooley. Soon after, Adams faced allegations of wrongdoing from members of the University of Georgia Foundation. Through it all, he maintained the support of the Board of Regents and the chancellor, who vowed not to let athletics overshadow academics. It was a stand Adams himself adopted when he took the helm of a school with a popular and successful athletics program.
Adams is adamant that UGA provide student athletes excellent academic and student life programs, and he requires that commitment from his coaches. Women’s basketball Coach Andy Landers has taken his teams to 24 NCAA tournaments in his 28 years of coaching—the third-most of any school in the nation. In addition, 96 percent of the four-year letter winners during Landers’ tenure have received degrees from the University.
“I’m amazed at how attentive Dr. Adams is to the individual accomplishments —both academically and athletically—of our student-athletes,” says Landers, who was inducted this summer into the women’s basketball hall of fame. “He regularly takes the time to write and congratulate individuals who have achieved excellence either on the court or in the classroom.”
In December 2003, Adams named Damon Evans to succeed Dooley as athletics director. Evans is the first African American to head a Southeastern Conference program. Adams also significantly changed the way academics and sports interact by making Evans the first UGA athletics director to sit on the president’s cabinet.
That focus on academics is crucial, not only for students but for the people who teach them, says Susan Mattern, an associate professor of history and immediate past president of the University Council.
“We do appreciate that he’s trying to generate a climate where students understand that academic rigor is so important,” says Mattern, who came to UGA nine years ago. “I have been impressed by the seriousness of the students here.”
It’s all an effort, Adams says, to create what Georgians want: a top-notch flagship university, one that stands beside the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina, the University of Virginia and the University of Texas.
“I don’t know what the next stop is,” he says, making it clear in the next breath he doesn’t plan on stepping down anytime soon.
In real terms, UGA is becoming less of a publicly funded institution than a state-assisted one. When Adams first came aboard the state was providing about 46 percent of the budget. Today, the General Assembly funds less than a third.
That means private fundraising has had to take more and more of a central role. For Adams and others who know trends in higher education, that’s nothing new. But it’s more than just a race for money. Endowments equal excellence. The best public universities have the largest endowments.
Next summer the University will complete its seven-year, $500 million Archway to Excellence capital campaign, only UGA’s third capital campaign since the 1920s. The campaign already reached its goal, more than a year before its end. Private giving to UGA has risen in all but three of the last 10 years. Today, it’s more than triple the $33.6 million raised in 1996.
“For the first time in the University’s history, UGA has taken its story to its alumni and friends all over the country, and they are responding,” says Steve Wrigley, vice president for government relations, who as senior vice president for external affairs oversaw the capital campaign. “So these aspects of Archway, the dramatic growth in total funds raised, the increase in major gifts, and the broadening and deepening of the donor base, I think are signature contributions during the Adams era to UGA fundraising.”
Adams told his cabinet this past spring he was committed to seeing the campaign reach the $600 million to $650 million range by next summer.
More money translates most immediately to physical improvements on campus, and then to academics, says Peter McPherson, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.
“The campus structure is self-evident, the buildings and square footage,” McPherson says. “What’s happened in terms of reputation as well as the academic value for the students and the research activity is impressive. I think Mike has been a sensible but strong leader.
“These institutions now are very complicated, very large institutions. They require sophisticated leadership, both knowledge and capacity internally as well as externally, especially for a school like Georgia which is a land-grant institution. The state of Georgia expects Georgia to deliver for the whole state.”
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