I was thinking back over some what you might call crisis situations that you and your administration had to deal with during those days. One night I recall was the night of the first, the beginning of the first war in Iraq.
We learned that students were marching across the North Quad. Do you recall that evening?
I do. I remember going over there and meeting and talking with the students. Yeah, I was really informed in that period. I may not have known this at the time, but as I reflect on it by my time as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, which was from 1968 to 1972, and I watched students take out on the University, their frustrations about the Vietnam War. I could kind of see that in these students, the students that were out there that night. A lot of them felt that the University bore some responsibility for it. I think by coming out and talking with them, I think that may have diffused part of it, but a number of them decided to camp out on the North Quad there, which we allowed to proceed for a number of days. I was getting a lot of advice from members of the General Assembly and others about how I ought to send the police in there and take care of those protesters, but we tried to be patient. Milner Ball, from the law school, who was very well respected by students across the campus, really became a facilitator for us in terms of trying to work that out, and what we eventually worked out was that they would move to an area there, I guess what would be on what the northeast little sliver of campus up there. I didn’t want to give the impression that this was going to be pattern and practice of the University. If you needed a place to pitch a tent, you were going to put out in front of Old College. At the same time, I wanted to respect the rights of the students to free speech and protest, so we reached what I think was a pretty good compromise and it kind of faded out after a while. I think spring break came along and it never really got reestablished after that. I think the lesson for the administration is not to kind of over react to something like that and to be a university about it. Engage people in discourse and listen to what they’ve got to say, and I think the lesson for the students is not to destroy the University because of exogenous events that are affecting the world. The university becomes a handy…I think in the case of Wisconsin, the University became a handy punching bag for the students because it was a lot easier to punch at the University than it was to punch at the Department of Defense in Washington. It was just closer, and I really in retrospect think all that guided my thinking in terms of trying to kind of work through that issue and be patient about it.
I remember the day Brooks Hall burned. And you were out of town speaking somewhere, and we called you and said, “You need to get back!” I believe you flew over the fire.
I knew exactly where we were, were at Sapelo on that…did you ever have the opportunity to land on the grass strip at Sapelo?
No, I did not.
Well that was a flying experience. Mac McWhorter, who was the pilot of the plane we used for the entire time I was there, and we were…I can’t remember exactly why I was at Sapelo, but it was one of the issues dealing with the marine station down there and so on, and there was an old landing strip there, actually on Sapelo that Mr. Reynolds when he owned it, one of his ideas was they’d use it as a tourist destination. It was actually an old grass strip and an old Delta office right there in an old hangar and so on. I remember, we were taxiing down to get it into the wind because it wasn’t an easy place to either land or take off on, and my cell phone went off and it was Tom Landrum. First of all, we were literally revving the engines and the cell phone went off, and I don’t know why, typically I would have just said, Ah, I’ll get it when I get back to Athens, but I asked Mac to power down the engines so I could hear what was going on on the cell phone. As you said, it was I think you and Tom Landrum on the phone saying. “You need to get back here! Brooks Hall is on fire!” So we flew back to Athens and that’s why we flew over the fire, was on the way in, I asked Mac to fly over North Campus, and you could tell it was a catastrophe. It takes about an hour to get back from there, so an hour later, a lot of the roof had caved in and so on. I was just…as I flew over it, I remember thinking of one thing, and that is I hope nobody got hurt, and it was just property damage in the end. Nobody got hurt.
Rebuilding a facility like that, though, and handling the displacement is a major administrative task.
Well, with Al Neimi and Bill Prokasy, we…I remember we met the next morning and we did…two things happened. One is I told Al, I thought about it overnight and I told Al and Bill and after we had met we…you will remember this, we walked out in front of Lustrat House. There were a lot of reporters there and I said we’re going to rebuild this and we’re going to start right away. This wasn’t a question of, I want to make sure the business college faculty, the college faculty knew that they had a commitment that this was going to get fixed as soon as possible. The second thing that happened though, is it doesn’t tend to make for a very good news story, but it’s a reality around universities I’ve worked at, and that is that in an event like that, you know the friction between the arts and sciences faculty and the business college faculty and the journalism college faculty, it all just disappeared. Everybody said all right, here’s what we need to do to get this to work and here’s where we need to put the offices, and here’s where we need to create classroom space, and so on. And everybody, all the colleges pitched in. Everybody gave a little bit and we got through the next year. I don’t know that it clearly was a traumatic event, but I don’t think the Terry College suffered from it in the long run.
Another big management issue I recall is the huge budget hits we had in about 1991 and 1992, particularly Cooperative Extension. It took a lot of hits. It pales a bit in comparison to some of what we’ve faced recently, but even so, it was a crisis at the time.
I’d really like to start there, because as we speak today, we’re in the middle of a budget situation in the state that makes that all seem like kind of child’s play in retrospect. I really, I fear that the situation we’re in right now is…I think we got through those couple of budget hits we went through in a way that were significant speed bumps, but basically we were able to maintain the trajectory. What I fear now is that the budget cuts the University is having to take right now are going to significantly and in the long run, affect the trajectory of the University. I don’t know the details of it, although I’m on the faculty list serve and I get that end of it, but it just seems to me that the level of dollars that have been taken out is just not possible to be able to keep the growth rates and the University going in the right direction.
To date, we’ve lost 13.9% of the fiscal year ’10 budget.
Well, it’s not a pretty picture. I think the economy generally…this is June 2009, is on the way back up, but these tax collection issues are going to lag that and what I’m afraid of is the cuts are what they are, but what I’m afraid of is that it breaks the momentum of the University of Georgia, which I think has continued in the 12 years since I’ve left, and I just hope and pray that’s not the case. Those cuts in 1991 and 1992, which were right when Zell Miller was coming into office, were an interesting time. Two things I remember about that very clearly. One was that as you indicated, the cuts in the Cooperative Extension service were draconian. I always thought it was ironic that, you know the legislature would go in and cut the Cooperative Extension service and then howl like crazy when you’d try to say you can’t have a county extension agent in each of the counties across the state. Well, I didn’t mean you were going to cut the Cooperative Extension agents in my county seat…so there was a little bit of a disconnect there I had with the distinguished members, particularly the Georgia House about that issue. But the real threat to the University was the number of tenured faculty lines. People don’t think of the extension service this way, but in the extension service there were and are a number of tenured faculty lines. Again, it’s an example of how the University can pull together. I said well look, we’re not going to lay off faculty and we’re not going to sacrifice, we’re not going to furlough or fire tenured faculty. What we did was we absorbed a large number of those faculty back into the resident structure or the A budget of the University, and you’d think that would have caused great disruption in the departments they had to go to, that they would have been mad as hops about the fact that they’re getting faculty late into their department that they didn’t hire. There wasn’t any of that at all. Everybody understood that was part of maintaining academic reputation in the University. The other thing I remember about that budget cut was Zell had promised during the election that he would back the initial appropriation for the Georgia Research Alliance, and even with the budget cuts, he met his word on that.
And, in the next few years we had four consecutive years of 6% pay increases.
Well that was actually second term. That would have been…I’m trying to get the years straight. His initial election was 1990, so this would have been 1990-91. The four consecutive years were when he was reelected in 1994 and in a story I still tell the new university presidents, as one of those moments that doesn’t ever happen in higher education, the governor asked Wayne Clough, who was relatively new at Tech at that point, and I’m trying to think who was… I guess it was Carl Patton at Georgia State and Fran Tedesco at…four research university presidents, met with the governor for lunch between his reelection and his inauguration to a second term, and he said, “What can I do to help build the reputation of your institutions?” We said, “You can give us four consecutive years of 6% salary pools.” And he did. He delivered on that, made a huge difference.