New book offers critical view of UGA President Michael Adams

ATHENS, Ga. -- A new book by a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter paints a harsh portrait of University of Georgia President Michael Adams.


Rich Whitt builds a case in "Behind the Hedges" that Adams is a mediocre fundraiser, has made bad decisions that cost UGA millions of dollars and has used money donated to the university for questionable expenditures such as a $9,000 party for his son's law school graduation.

Adams and UGA officials dismissed the book as a rehash of yesterday's news - the epic struggle of the UGA Foundation's Board of Trustees to get Adams fired in 2003 and 2004.

The foundation's board manages about half a billion dollars for the benefit of UGA academic programs.

"The book retells one side of an old story that is long since resolved. The university has moved on," said Tom Jackson, UGA vice president for public affairs.

Much of "Behind the Hedges" stems from a highly critical audit of Adams' money management and leadership that the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche performed in 2003.

The UGA Foundation trustees commissioned the audit following Adams' controversial decision not to renew the contract of longtime Athletic Director Vince Dooley.

Adams painted the dispute as a struggle between athletics and academics, but foundation trustees said their distrust of Adams went much deeper than that.

The audit questioned Adams' use of foundation money and raised the possibility that some expenditures could be illegal.

State Attorney General Thurbert Baker and the University System Board of Regents never followed up the allegations with any real investigation, according to Whitt's book. The author takes state leaders such as Baker and Gov. Sonny Perdue to task for weak responses to serious charges by a respected accounting firm.

And according to Whitt, one way to judge Adams is to look at who sided with him - and who did not - during the struggle.

"It says something when a college president's detractors are the Griffin Bells and Vince Dooleys while his defenders are the Don Leeberns and the Sonny Perdues," he wrote.

The struggle between some of the state's most powerful people and groups ended when the regents stripped the foundation of its status as UGA's official fundraising partner and created a substitute corporation, the Arch Foundation.

The UGA Foundation kept the UGA endowment money, however, and continues to manage the funds for the benefit of the university. The foundation's assets grew to nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars before the drastic stock market and real estate declines last year and this year.

Jackson declined to address specific accusations the book makes, including newer issues Whitt raises, such as the allegation that Adams is ineffective in one of the most important parts of his job as president - raising money.

Although private contributions to UGA have grown steadily since Adams became president, comparable schools have had much more success, according to Whitt.

UGA had the third-largest endowment among the 12 Southeastern Conference universities when Adams took over from Charles Knapp in 1997, behind only Vanderbilt and Florida. Now, the state universities of Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas have passed UGA, according to Whitt.

"Adams has underperformed," he wrote.

Whitt, 64, died Jan. 26 of an apparent heart attack, shortly after finishing the book. He had retired in 2007 from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won a Pulitzer Prize for his work uncovering the corruption underlying a 1977 fire that killed 165 people in the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Ky.

"Behind the Hedges" is scheduled to hit bookstore shelves April 6. It also is available online from publisher NewSouth Books and online booksellers such as Borders and Amazon.



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