Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local News

May 3, 2012

Longtime UGA president announces retirement

Athens — In one of his first speeches to the University of Georgia campus in 1998, President Michael Adams talked about making the campus one of the top public institutions in the country.

He told students, staff and faculty that he wanted to broaden the university’s focus from regional to national, capitalizing on the strengths of the state’s flagship campus.

“We are a far more academically superior institution than is suggested by rankings,” he said. “The people of Georgia deserve a flagship research institution every bit as good as that of the people of California or Michigan or Virginia. This is not a place that will settle for second best.”

Sixteen years later, Adams is retiring having accomplished that. UGA consistently ranks among the top 20 public research universities in the country.

Adams served under four governors and outlasted multiple top administrators at both the university system and on his own campus. He is one of the state’s most visible leaders and has long been the face of higher education in the South.

The 64-year-old announced his retirement Thursday, saying he will be at the helm until next summer and then will join the UGA faculty to write, research and teach.

In a sometimes tearful speech at the UGA Chapel, Adams repeated his line about Georgia deserving a top-ranking university.

“None of these were personal accomplishments, but they were the accomplishments of a strong and dedicated team. Indeed, I consider putting that team together and the quality of people that we have brought to this place to be my single greatest accomplishment,” he said.

Adams said he made the decision to retire in the past few weeks, declining to give more details.

The state’s leaders hailed him as a visionary who transformed UGA.

“He will leave behind a tremendous legacy, and his tenure will have long-lasting positive effects,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement.

Students said though he was often busy, Adams took time to talk to them and get their take on campus issues. UGA junior Marshall Mosher said he often interacted with Adams as a student ambassador at big university events.

“He always took time to come up to us, thank us for working and shake our hands and see how our day was going,” said Mosher, 21. “That’s made a real impact on me, my personal relationship with him, and I’ve always really respected that.”

Adams marks the last of a trio of long-serving Georgia university presidents: Wayne Clough left Georgia Tech in 2008 after 14 years to head the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and Carl Patton, who retired from Georgia State University in 2009 after 16 years.

During his tenure, Adams watched both his sons grow up, go to college, get married and have children of their own. He joked Thursday that his grandchildren would be in the next generation of UGA students.

Under Adams’ leadership, the campus has swelled to 35,000 students, including the most selective freshman class in its history. He has nearly tripled the university’s endowment from $249 million to $745 million.

Donations topped $120 million last year, more than three times what was given to UGA in 1996.

Adams also established medical and engineering programs at UGA, a move that was politically unpopular for years because the state was already paying for Georgia Tech in Atlanta and the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

“I’m not sure there’s anyone in higher education who has earned a retirement more than Mike Adams,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, the leading national group for college presidents. “There are few careers like Mike’s — he has led public and private institutions, has been outspoken on policy issues and has tackled some of the toughest challenges, like fundraising and athletics, with vision, passion, and skill. His retirement will leave a void in American higher education.”

But Adams also weathered storms as head of the campus in Athens about 80 miles east of Atlanta. He was nearly ousted by angry boosters after forcing beloved athletic director Vince Dooley into retirement in 2004.

And he was criticized for reacting too slowly after a rash of highly publicized sexual harassment claims were made against faculty members. In 2008, he overhauled the university’s harassment policy and appointed a committee to handle sexual harassment allegations.

Board of Regents chairman Ben Tarbutton said a national search for his replacement will begin this fall. He said the job is a “plum assignment” and he expects applications from all over the country.

Prior to serving at UGA, Adams held a top administrative job at Pepperdine University in California and was president at Centre College in Kentucky.

Before his higher education career, Adams was the chief of staff for former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker and was an adviser to former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, who now is a U.S. senator.

He got his Ph.D. from Ohio State in political communication, where he served on faculty before beginning his career in higher education administration.

Adams told the UGA community in 1998 that he delayed his decision on whether to apply for two months, finally sending in his application the day before the deadline. Even though he was happy at Centre College, he considered Georgia home and was ready to return to his roots.

“The best days of this institution are yet before it,” he told the crowd. “That belief is not grounded in my own presidency or talents but in the solid and consistent set of accomplishments you and others have provided.”

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