Talk about the path toward improving the academic reputation. Some of the early steps you took toward that, teaching initiatives, diversity emphasis, more collegial role for the faculty, which had not been a strength at the University. If you would, please outline a bit for us your thinking of what steps were crucial in moving toward that enhanced academic reputation.
My experience had been and to this day is that what you do is you sort of set the vision in place. You get the… here’s where we’re headed. This is what we’re doing. And I know Tom, you served on the cabinet when I was there, and I know people got tired of me talking about academic reputation, and that everything we were going to do was going to be built around that. If you had to make a judgment about an issue, whether it was an athletic issue or parking issue or an academic issue or a teaching issue, or an issue of relationships with the General Assembly or whatever, that was the lens that I wanted it decided on, and we were going to do it as an issue of academic reputation, because I felt that if we could force that issue, then all the good things that would fall out of that would build the University into one of the best recognized public universities in the country. What you do then, is you start breaking that down into decisions you face and things that you want to happen. I thought the more collegial approach with the faculty was desirable. Faculty are going to produce more and harder for the University if they feel they’ve got a, excuse the pun, dog in the hunt, and they did. They rose to that occasion. They were with very, very few exceptions, I thought entirely responsible in the way they assumed the additional issues that they were given responsibility for. I made it very clear what they were responsible for and what they were advisory for, because they at that point would have liked to have taken over the athletic department, and I said, “No, that’s not…I do those administrative operational decisions and things like the athletic department. Those are my responsibility. I’ll listen to what anybody has got to say, but you’re responsibility, which ought to be enough over here, is to build the academic programs of the University.” So that was one thing. We tried to make sure in hiring faculty that we were very careful about who we hired. This isn’t to say anything negative about the great faculty that were there, but what you always want to do is to raise the average quality of the faculty every time you make a hire. We were, at the price of causing some friction with some of the department heads, and so on. We focused very much on that. Bill Prokasy, who came I guess a year after I was there, second year because Louise McBee was the acting academic vice president for the first year. Bill always had a very strong sense of academic excellence. He came from being the dean of arts and sciences at the University of Illinois. I came to rely very heavily on him for that particular judgment about what would build academic excellence in the departments and where did we need to make strategic hires. That was really Bill’s absolute sweet spot in terms of what he understood instinctively and could advise on. So that was part of it. Teaching was part of it, too. Ernest Boyer had just come up with his report on…this must have been about 1985, on a new definition of scholarship that basically made the argument that trying to separate out teaching and research, which a lot of people often try to do, was not the right way to look at it. The right way to look at it was great researchers make great teachers. So we undertook a number of initiatives to try to get that to work. One was to move the very best researchers back into the classroom, and they were happy to do that. They said, “Gee, nobody had asked me to teach a freshman course in years.” To try to establish teaching awards that weren’t just plaques and pats on the back, but actually had dollars and merit pay increases attached to them. To try to make sure we were preparing graduate students for their responsibilities in the classroom. You know, typically universities take graduate students and throw them into the classroom and don’t give them any background or preparation at all. I think that program is still in place at the University where our graduate students that teach have to go through a fairly rigorous preparation before they get to the classroom. But we would think through the hiring and the flexibility we had, particularly in the good budget times, when you were building the faculty up and how we would go up about approaching that. Where the hires would make the most difference, which departments we were trying to build. We were very strategic in terms of recruiting students because one of the indicators that faculty will look at in making a decision to come to the University and that the general public looks at is the quality of the students at the University. So this kind of gets lost in the fog of history, but I’m always kind of amused when people talk about, well the Hope Scholarship built the beginning of the rise in the freshman measures like the SAT score and so on. Sorry, look at the data, not true. Fred Davison had begun, and we accelerated a program where we were using the unrestricted money that was raised through the University of Georgia Foundation to fund merit scholarships and keep the very best students in the state, go out and recruit them, make them feel like they were great athletes coming to the University and get them to come. A lot of that was already underway. In fact, my view of the Hope Scholarship when Zell Miller was elected and it was coming online, was that what that would allow us to do is free those merit funds up for other programs within the University. That’s one of the advantages I saw of the Hope Scholarship. I mean, we were spending, I think it was on the order of three million dollars a year on merit scholarships, and that all got collapsed out by the presence of the Hope Scholarship, but that trajectory, if you look at it, had already begun by the time the Hope Scholarship came on line. Hope was a wonderful thing for the University in terms of building the quality of the freshman class, but it is important to remember that process had already begun. Well, I could go on and on, and those of you that are viewing this are probably afraid I will. But, nonetheless, we tried to pick those points like the construction of the East Campus, that would make a difference in the way people viewed the University, and I’d have to say that was largely successful. What happens is, students and faculty like to go to a place that’s on the rise, where things are getting better, and all of a sudden, we were not a safety school all of a sudden. We were a selective school and I’m reminded of that every spring. I think people are still under some kind of a misconception that I had anything to do with admissions at the University, but I get calls from parents of the elite high schools in Atlanta saying my son or daughter didn’t get in. I said, well it’s a competitive place, they need to go to the two-year college and get themselves ready for the University of Georgia.
Another thing that you paid intense attention to in those years was the minority recruitment for the student body for a variety of reasons, wanting to reflect the population of the state, and you put great importance on that, and it posed some challenges, did it not?
It did. I thought the University had not done enough to kind of be a welcoming place for students, and we tried to do things both in terms of the substance and the symbols of that. Charlayne Hunter Gault, who was one of the first two African-American students at the University came back and gave the commencement address the first spring I was there. I was very purposeful about that. I wanted to make sure that particularly young African-American students in the state knew we were a place that celebrated that and wanted them to look at the University of Georgia as a welcoming place to be. We recruited minority students and we recruited minority faculty too, because if you’re one of the few faculty or few students, it’s hard to make a case that it’s a welcoming place. There were some incidents involved in that. I got some kind of nasty letters in the mail and some folks that would pull me aside and give me advice that we were moving too fast on that. You’ve got to learn what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention to, so we just kept moving ahead.
The court case did come along during your presidency?
That was right at the end, the major one was right at the end, and I think those are difficult public policy issues that I don’t know that the country has ever really entirely resolved. Although Georgia was involved in that, I think it was Michigan that turned out to be the kind of flagship on those cases, and it’s still an ambiguous area of public policy, I think in America. I think it’s hard to sort it out to this day. What you can do and what you can’t do, and what you should do, and what you shouldn’t do.