Former UGA president heads back to Malibu and all is well

Published 6:09 pm Thursday, July 2, 2015

Dr. Michael Adams, former president of the University of Georgia, has announced he is returning to Pepperdine University, located in the wilds of Malibu, California, to become chancellor, effective Aug. 1. He had once been that institution’s vice president of university affairs.

Adams stated he will “focus on strengthening the university’s endowment, raising funds for new projects including a new events center with a basketball arena, and advising Pepperdine President Andrew Benton and other young administrators.” He says he will be gone three years and will then “reevaluate the school’s needs.”

I know all of this because I read it in the paper. Suffice it to say that I didn’t hear it first-hand. Mike Adams and I don’t howdy much.

Email newsletter signup

When Adams first arrived in Athens in 1997, we had lunch and hit it off well, or so I thought. He invited me to speak to a group of college presidents about how to deal with external issues and then later asked me to talk to a gathering of UGA deans and vice presidents on the same subject. I had practiced what I preached well-enough over my career to have been recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Public Relations People of the 20th Century.” (OK, maybe it was a slow century for public relations people, but I’m trying to make a point here.)

Little did I know that Michael Adams wasn’t drinking from my fount of knowledge. Somewhere along the way, he decided either to become his own external counselor or to get his advice from a grapefruit. I was never quite sure which. After calling several of my newspapers and urging them to not run a column of mine pooh-poohing his being considered a candidate for president of the NCAA and after a snit-fit over learning that my portrait was to be hung at the university, I am inclined to blame it on the grapefruit.

One influential legislator, upon hearing the news of Michael Adams’ departure, recalled having been dressed down by Adams, who seemed to have forgotten that the Legislature allocates funds to the University System, including the University of Georgia. The legislator said he wondered at the time if the president really had a doctorate in political science and, if so, had he remembered anything he had learned. One thing he should have learned is that legislators don’t like to be lectured by college presidents.

Controversy will always be a part of Michael Adams’ legacy at UGA, beginning with his clumsy handling of his refusal to extend the contract of Athletic Director Vince Dooley.

And who can forget Adams making a secret deal with then-Head Football Coach Jim Donnan to pay him a bunch of money if he ever got fired, and then having Donnan fired. That one I am still trying to figure out. Maybe it was that darned grapefruit again.

He is also the guy who brought in his good buddy from Pepperdine University, Jim Harrick (remember that name?) to coach UGA basketball and we all know how that turned out. (Please God: Don’t let Mike Adams come back to Georgia with another basketball coach from Pepperdine. At least not in my lifetime or Yours.)

Adams’ management style alienated many long-time volunteers in the UGA Foundation, the group that raises private dollars for the university and had been doing so long before he showed up in Athens. Some members thought the president spent donor money more irresponsibly than a drunken sailor and commissioned a study by Deloitte & Touche that was highly critical of Adams. (I had recently resigned from the UGA Foundation. I saw this one coming. It was one of my wiser moves.)

A number of members of the Foundation wanted the man fired. Instead, the Board of Regents, composed mostly of big contributors beholden to the governor, fired the Foundation for mucking around in what they considered their purview. That episode caused a serious split in the Bulldog Nation that has been slow to heal.

I sometimes wonder why our relationship soured but, hey, stuff happens.

Michael Adams is headed back to Malibu and both he and the folks at Pepperdine seem excited about his return. As for me, the new administration at the University of Georgia has gone out of its way to make my family and I feel like we are once again a part of the university’s family. All’s well that ends well but this one has been a long time coming.