A lightning rod for issues at the state’s flagship university, University of Georgia President Michael Adams talked recently about the school’s – and his – future:
Q: UGA recently accepted another freshman class. How much do you hear from parents of rejected students who say my son or daughter grew up wanting to go to Athens?
A: I hear it a lot. You especially don’t want to be me in April. Unfortunately, we turned down about 12,000 Georgia students this year. But we’ve stretched about as much as we can stretch. In my 13 years here, we’ve grown the freshman class from about 3,800 to roughly 5,000. We’re much larger now than Chapel Hill [University of North Carolina]. We’re much larger than Virginia. We think we have just about optimized the number of students that we can serve.
Q: You still accepted a large percentage of Georgia residents?
A: We have the highest percentage and, also quantitatively, the most Georgia students by far since World War II. We have one of the lowest percentages of out-of -state representation of any flagship, roughly in the 15-percent range in this freshman class. To have any geographic diversity – and we have students from every state and about 140 foreign countries – you have to have some flexibility on admissions. I don’t see it getting any easier for Georgia students to get in.
Q: If not through enrollment, how does UGA grow?
A: I think you will see some evolution in product mix, so to speak, more of a focus on graduate and professional education. I think the regents’ current policy is the right one; that the community colleges and the state universities are going to have to take most of the growth. Right now, at 35,000 [total students, with about 24,000 undergraduates], we are at the outer limits of what the physical plant structure can bear.
Q: New tuition increases in Georgia put more pressure on the Hope scholarship. What can be done to protect it?
A: I believe the essential goal is to protect the core tuition benefit. I think we should be able to do that for several years to come yet. One of the unwritten stories in all of this is that it’s not just tuition that’s putting pressure on the Hope, it’s the growth in the pre-k expenditures as well.
Q: UGA is limiting access to North Campus for football tailgating, to preserve the grounds. What have you heard from fans?
A: We’ve had a little push back from people who don’t want to see their normal patterns change. But it has been much less than what I would have guessed. We had just simply gone as far with persuasion as we could go. This was not any desire to be punitive. We want people to come here and enjoy game days, but we think that’s still possible under the new arrangement.
Q: UGA fared much better, but statistics say 40 percent of Georgia’s public college students don’t make it to graduation.
A: It’s a nationwide problem. I think there is a legitimate debate about whether or not everybody who aspires to go to college needs to go to college. We probably have right now in this state a lot of people in college who are not prepared for college.
Q: Your name came up in the search for the NCAA president’s job. Was that ever close, or a serious consideration?
A: It wasn’t close. I’ve said all along that I wanted to stay here if the regents would have me.
Q: Do you teach a class each year?
A: I teach every other year, in the fall. The last four times I’ve done this I taught freshmen. This year I’m going to teach a freshman class in Georgia history and post-World War Two gubernatorial campaigns.
Q: Do you look down the road for the next job, or are you retiring in this one?
A: What I would like to do is finish three or four things here and then go back to the faculty [at UGA] and teach and write for a few years.
Q: Do you think much about the way you’re portrayed in the media, on the internet?
A: I don’t read a lot of it. I wouldn’t say that I’m unconcerned about image or whatever. Happily, there’s been a lot more positive than negative out there. You just learn it’s one of the prices of admission in this day and age. It doesn’t keep me up at night, I can tell you that.
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