Nov. 9, 2003: Board of Regents Needs to Dismount Their High Horse

I’m not sure about the criteria for becoming a member of the Board of Regents, but I suspect, like most state appointments, it isn’t what you know, but who you know. Who the Regents don’t know, obviously, is anyone with a modicum of political skill. They have handled the brouhaha at the University of Georgia with all the finesse of Attila the Hun and have only succeeded in making a bad situation worse with their arrogant behavior.

I am tired of hearing the Board of Regents and their friends telling us they are in charge. Given the sorry state of affairs at UGA, I don’t think I would admit that anyway.

The only redeeming virtue I can find in this bunch is their chairman, former Gov. Joe Frank Harris. He is a good and decent man who must feel as though he is trying to herd a roomful of cats.

You are wearily familiar with the story. A group of UGA Foundation members, concerned both with the spending decisions of University President Dr. Michael Adams and an apparent lack of governance over those decisions, commissioned an audit. Adams’ supporters say the audit came because the president did not extend Athletic Director Vince Dooley’s contract. His detractors say instead that the Dooley affair was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

There have been a host of questionable actions by Adams during his six years at UGA, including a direct report of Adams who bought an $850,000 piece of property in Costa Rica for the University that the president says he knew nothing about, a secret payment to former football coach Jim Donnan, a $10,000 bash for his son’s graduation party, a trip to Scotland that included $3,000 in golf fees, and don’t forget the $13,000 to charter a private airplane to attend George W. Bush’s inauguration.

The Regents’ response was to discredit the report, the auditing firm and those Foundation members pushing it. They huffed and puffed that the Regents, not the Foundation, hire and fire the president. One member hinted ominously that the Regents might just do away with the Foundation. That statement is as naïve as it is arrogant, and it is typical of the attitude of the Board of Regents. This crowd seems less concerned about what is happening at the University of Georgia and more concerned about somebody daring to tread in their ball yard.

What the Board of Regents hasn’t told you is that the Foundation pays roughly half of Adams’ salary. They provide discretionary funds for the president’s office. They help raise and administer over $400 million for the university. I think that gives the Foundation a perfect right to raise their eyebrows over the president’s actions.

The Regents say the matter is closed. No more discussion. Well, here is some bad news, boys and girls. This matter will be closed only when the public says it is closed. My take is that the public is a long way from allowing the book to be closed on this controversy, no matter what the Regents ordain.

If the Board of Regents could stop beating their chests long enough, they might ask themselves what else has been going on at UGA under their self-important noses. They might ask themselves why the mess in Athens happened in the first place. They might ask themselves if the president’s decision making with private dollars also extends to tax dollars. They might ask themselves, how can the University of Georgia raise a half billion dollars in a capital campaign in this kind of environment? They might ask themselves, if the Archway for Excellence campaign is dead in the water, where will the money come from to take UGA to the next level of academic excellence? They might ask themselves, what will they do if the Foundation, after being verbally abused by the Regents, decides to withhold their portion of the president’s salary?

The question isn’t about the Regents’ authority to hire and fire university presidents. That’s a given. The question is about the future of the University of Georgia. If the Board of Regents would dismount their high horse, maybe they could work with the Foundation to find the answers.