Jul. 6, 2003: No Winners in Civil War at UGA

Wasn’t it just a few months ago that the University of Georgia was enjoying a reputation as one of the finest public universities in the nation while celebrating its first SEC football championship in 20 years? My alma mater seemed to have the best of both worlds — academics and athletics. Now look at us. We are in the middle of a nasty civil war in Athens. Friend against friend. Brother against brother. Adams supporter against Dooley supporter. The only thing unifying the Bulldog Nation these days is that everybody is mad at somebody.

No matter whose side you happen to be on, no winners will remain when the smoke clears. The biggest loser will be UGA President Michael Adams. This war started on his watch and the buck stops at his desk. Adams’ decision not to extend Athletic Director Vince Dooley’s contract ignited the controversy. While his supporters have tried to spin the issue as a stand against the “football crowd,” the issues are more complicated than that. The football crowd may be making the most noise, but a growing number of influential alumni are disenchanted with Adams’ management style and have questions about how he spends donors’ money.

Adam’s supporters don’t seem to appreciate that his job is in jeopardy. His friends have talked about a “two month controversy” that will “run out of steam” and about the rightness of his decision not to extend Dooley’s contract, ignoring the predictable firestorm that a first-year PR student could have told him would occur as a result of that decision. In short, his supporters have been giving Adams bad advice — assuming he is taking any advice — and as a result, he finds himself squarely on the defensive, not a good place to be in a political fight.

Another loser in this war may well be Vince Dooley. While he enjoys extraordinary popularity in the state as a Hall of Fame coach and administrator, Dooley is going to finish his glorious 40-year career on a sour note. This wasn’t the way he intended to go out. In addition, if Mike Adams is forced to resign, a lot of people — even some who would not be unhappy to see Adams go — will say that this is irrefutable proof that Georgia is still a “Southern football school” and that athletics, not academics, run the University of Georgia. Rightly or wrongly, they are going to hold Vince Dooley responsible.

The University of Georgia Foundation, which I served as a trustee for 14 years, is also a loser. The foundation raises and manages the private funds that supplement state funding. Without private dollars, UGA could not keep its doors open. Right now, the foundation looks like Adams’ private piggy bank. Decisions to supplement the president’s pay and that of certain staff members, the president’s travel expenses and several real estate purchases have been made by a select few of Adam’s hand-picked friends and without the knowledge of the full board. That is poor stewardship. Hopefully, the foundation trustees will institute some long-overdue reforms to assure UGA’s alumni and friends that someone is watching over their money in a responsible and businesslike fashion.

The biggest losers, of course, are the students and faculty at my beloved University of Georgia. UGA has made enormous progress as an academic institution, thanks to the HOPE scholarship and to the hard work of a lot of dedicated people over the years. The University of Georgia has become one of the finest public universities in the country. The students and the faculty do not deserve to be caught in the middle of this firefight, and they certainly don’t deserve having money withheld from them, whatever the rationale. This isn’t their fault, folks.

There is still a chance for somebody to step in and negotiate a truce. If that doesn’t happen, Mike Adams will not survive the controversy and will have to resign. Vince Dooley won’t get his contract extension and will have to retire. I wish both men would understand that no one is coming out as winners in this war. Only losers.