Michael Adams thinks the University of Georgia “feels more academic” after his 16 years as president, but he noted more work remains.
Adams, who is stepping down in June, highlighted his achievements Thursday during his final State of the University speech. He showed less restraint than in the past and shared personal opinions on where the university and the state should put their focus.
Adams warned that the university, the state and the economy will suffer if Georgia’s leaders don’t maintain and strengthen a commitment to medical education. He also called on UGA to have a viable School of Marine Science, noting coastal and water issues will be critical in the decades to come.
And he remarked on the constant battle to maintain a healthy balance between academics and athletics.
“Athletics at UGA is part of the whole, not an entity unto itself,” Adams said. “The academic establishment has to control the athletic establishment, not the other way around.”
Adams also referenced the ongoing national debate over affirmative action. The U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on the issue in a case involving the University of Texas. UGA saw its own policy ruled unconstitutional in 2001 by a federal appeals court.
Adams grew up in the segregated South and said he didn’t understand the separation of the races as a child. As an adult, he saw how “the legacy of that separation” lingered in education, and he wanted to do something to improve the situation.
“The flagship university of the state of Georgia ought to look more like Georgia,” he said. “It does more so today than it did 16 years ago.”
The student body was 13 percent minority in 1998, the year after Adams was named president, and is 25 percent now.
During Adams’ tenure UGA became a more respected academic institution and is now ranked among the top 25 public colleges in the country. The university has attracted strong students and faculty and has expanded prestigious programs in engineering and health.
UGA’s next phase should focus on graduate and professional programs, Adams said, adding the school “must become a more aggressively competitive public research university.”
At the end of his speech, Adams acknowledged that some people found him too tenacious. He said he embraced the qualities of the school’s mascot — the bulldog — animals that latch on and don’t let go until they win.
“If people say of me someday: ‘He was one hell of a bulldog,’ that will be good enough for me,” Adams said. “I hope it will be for you.”