State universities ‘slipping,’ UGA’s President Michael Adams says

By Maria Saporta
Friday, February 12, 2010

University of Georgia President Michael Adams sounded an alarm of what could happen to the state’s economic future if it continues cutting its investment in higher education.

“The state is slipping, and it has slipped especially in the last two years,” Adams said during a wide-ranging editorial board visit Feb. 5 at Atlanta Business Chronicle.

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that research institutions bear a big part of the state’s future economy, he said. “We are getting more and more concerned every year.”

Given that the nation is becoming more and more a “knowledge economy,” he added, it is critical to continue “investing in brainpower” to keep the state competitive.

For example, Adams said that The University of Georgia, the state’s flagship university, is now getting about $10 million less from the state than it received in 2002.

For fiscal year 2011, Adams estimates that UGA will get about $430 million from the state compared with $440 million in 2002.

As Adams sees it, the ultimate goal is “to keep the best minds in Georgia.”

Annually, UGA accepts about 5,100 freshmen from about 18,000 applications. Of those, Adams estimates that 14,000 of them could be successful at UGA. “We are creating a climate where it’s OK to be smart,” he said.

To compensate for its depleted state funds, UGA and the state’s other research institutions are having to be more aggressive in applying for grants and raising money the old-fashioned way.

About one-third of its $1.2 billion budget comes from the state.

“We are state-assisted, not state- supported,” Adams said.

As a result of the budget cuts, Adams said the university is down by about 500 people, including 180 faculty positions. It is the second year of no faculty raises, and Adams is concerned that the university will start losing its top people to other institutions.

About 81 percent of UGA’s budget is for labor costs.

“There was a time until the recent past that UGA could go to the legislature with its hand out and get what it needed,” Adams said. But today, state and local governments are facing budget shortfalls, which makes it difficult to invest in the longer-term economic needs of the state.

One positive development, however, is the increasing cooperation between the top research institutions in the state.

Adams said he and former Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough made a pledge to compete six or seven days a year, but cooperate with each other all other days. Adams said that he sees that cooperation continuing under Georgia Tech’s new president, Bud Peterson.

“We have a lot of respect for Tech,” Adams said. “And it’s good for the state for us to cooperate.”

In addition, Adams said UGA also has built a strong partnership with Emory University.

He also would like to see the Georgia Chamber of Commerce pay more attention to higher education and the contributions of the state’s research institutions.

In the meantime, Adams said: “We are sort of in suspended animation. We can’t go on like that. We have got to have strong state support.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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