University of Georgia president Michael Adams will step down effective June 30, 2013. Dr. Adams will have been at Georgia’s helm for 16 years when he leaves office and takes on a new role with the University.
Adams, for better or worse, has been very involved in Georgia’s athletics during his 16 years. That involvement has included everything from policy and personnel decisions to putting his tail in a seat and being as much of a fan as any of us. As enrollment and stadium capactity has grown, Adams has also had to be active in areas where the interests of the University collide with the fan experience. Adams has been especially visible in combating Georgia’s party school reputation both on campus and on game day. Those clashes have made Adams a very polarizing figure, and that’s even before we look at the purely academic side of things (which we won’t).
I know there are those doing cartwheels over the announcement this morning, but this is very much a wait-and-see moment. The process to select a replacement will be, as always, as much a political one as anything. The focus will be on the governor and the Board of Regents, and if you trust those parties to approach this decision without considering their own interests, you also likely think that a college football playoff is all about the fans. A polarizing president is one thing, but behind-the-scenes power plays by relatively anonymous and unaccountable regents isn’t a better condition.
I’m not sure a lot of people know what they want the next president to be – other than “not Adams.” At this level of academic leadership, there’s a rather narrow spectrum of possibilities. Certain personalities stand out – think Gee or Machen – but it’s rarely for the better. “Ego” comes with the job. Shrinking violets don’t rise through the ranks to become department chairs and deans and seek out the leadership of a major research university. The next president will have to be a political animal. With budgets constantly under scrutiny and many constituencies inside and outside of campus, he or she has to be ambitious, savvy, and – at times – ruthless.
Maybe folks just want someone who will leave the football program alone, but we know how unrealistic that is considering how many points of contact there are between the highly-visible program and the University. The president will speak for Georgia’s interests in the SEC and the NCAA. The policies he or she supports and implements will affect the student-athlete experience and the future of coaches like Mark Richt. Adams was outspoken and controversial at times, but his departure leaves a very large vacuum. It’s not a given that this vacuum will be filled by some ideal benevolent football-friendly president who instructs the campus police to chauffeur football players home from downtown and who lets you park an RV on the North Campus quad on Wednesday afternoon.