Analysis: UGA now wants to add engineering school

Earlier efforts added medical unit, now engineering facet sought

Monday, Sept. 27, 2010 5:50 AM
Last updated 5:56 AM
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ATLANTA - It usually doesn't take many guesses to discover the motive behind most human ambition when focusing on the hierarchy of basic desires: food, sex, money, status.

Trying to divine the motive behind University of Georgia's quest for an engineering school takes just three guesses.

It's not food because UGa has long had a school of agriculture and consumer affairs. It can't be sex because no one would believe Georgia Tech students who take textbooks to basketball games have more dates than the coeds at the nation's No. 1 party school.

So it must be money and status.

Augusta civic leaders who opposed a branch campus of the Medical College of Georgia in Athens harbored suspicions that the same forces were at work then.

A Sept. 1 letter from UGa President Michael Adams makes clear they were.

"Without engineering and medical schools, UGa has been unable to tap into the expanding federal funds for engineering and medical research, the two major sources of research funds for most academic institutions," he wrote to Willis Potts, chairman of the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents.

The regents moved all of UGa's engineering classes, except agricultural engineering, to Tech as a cost-savings move during the Great Depression.

The two-page letter introduced an attached three-page proposal for the regents to allow UGa to establish bachelor of science degrees in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. If approved, the school would next request permission to start master's and Ph.D. programs, Adams wrote.

Tech supporters have probably already begun reviewing the playbook Augusta officials used so they at least know what doesn't work.

After all, Adams' modus operandi hasn't changed.

He told a legislative committee that as soon as MCG got a new president, he began working on the idea of having medical-school classes at UGa. Incidentally, that MCG president, Dan Rahn, has already moved on.

Tech got a new president in April 2009, Bud Peterson.

Adams, as the longest-serving president of the state's biggest university, has considerable advantages in the game of internal politics simply by having the most established ties to the decision makers. He gained his political skills as chief of staff for Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker and as an aide to Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. He ran for Congress and lost, but he hasn't lost many battles lately.

In justifying a new engineering school, Adams notes that UGa is 98th in the nation in terms of federal research dollars. Moving up several notches would boost the university's status.

An observer might wonder how UGa is harmed by not getting federal grants for an engineering program that doesn't exist. 

What's the point in creating the second-most expensive type of school - engineering is second only to a medical school - just to get research money and status?

Wouldn't it be simpler to put a fraction of the startup cost into expanding and improving the schools that already teach engineering in hopes that they snag more federal research grants? Besides Tech, engineering is also offered at Southern Polytechnic State University and Georgia Southern University. 

The regents are asking the same questions. Adams is not commenting now. He's relying on his letter and proposal to do the talking.

In the letter, he does offer reasons.

First, UGa is a top-flight university, so it will produce a top-flight engineering school, he argues. Second, the students who go to UGa often have multiple majors, and at least some of them would like to take engineering classes.

Third, not only does the state graduate just half the engineers hired yearly in Georgia, but also less than half the Georgia high-school graduates who want to study engineering go to college in the state. Several hundred wind up at Auburn University, Clemson University, the University of Tennessee and the University of Alabama.

Finally, academic research these days requires an interdisciplinary approach. That means UGa faculty needing to partner with an engineer to pursue the frontiers of science have to find someone off the campus to qualify for many grants.

This last point was used as an argument for passenger-rail service on what supporters called The Brain Train that would link MCG, UGa, Emory University and Tech on one East-West line. Maybe Adams isn't confident that the transportation tax proposal on the November ballot to fund passenger rail will pass.

Passing it could be one strategy Tech supporters might consider in their attempt to block Adams' request. Then again, he may be able to do a little railroading of his own.

Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News Service and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998. 

Comments (13) Add comment
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augustadog
93
Points
augustadog 09/27/10 - 06:17 am
0
0
Wramblin wreck from UGA, and

Wramblin wreck from UGA,
and a hell of an engineer...
Catchy

Insider Information
4009
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Insider Information 09/27/10 - 06:27 am
0
0
Adams is also trying to get

Adams is also trying to get the capital moved to Athens, the U.S. capital that is. Under that plan, he will then seek to have himself appointed president of the country before moving on to his ultimate goal as head of the galaxy.

boro-mom
0
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boro-mom 09/27/10 - 08:10 am
0
0
I'm for UGA and an alum, but

I'm for UGA and an alum, but it sounds as if Adams doesn't value the agricultural engineering programs there very much. Those programs are considered top-notch and valued in areas other than agriculture. Couldn't he focus resources and attention on those to be more cost effective?

Chillen
17
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Chillen 09/27/10 - 08:35 am
0
0
Boy this guy wants it all

Boy this guy wants it all doesn't he.

Dixieman
16593
Points
Dixieman 09/27/10 - 08:59 am
0
0
Powermad. Must be a Dem.

Powermad. Must be a Dem.

Dixieman
16593
Points
Dixieman 09/27/10 - 08:59 am
0
0
Powermad. Must be a

Powermad. Must be a Dem.
Harvard has gotten along very well for a couple of centuries without absorbing MIT.

paulwheeler
137
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paulwheeler 09/27/10 - 09:07 am
0
0
The additional tuition

The additional tuition revenue will be used for football team bail money.

Many Arrows
-1
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Many Arrows 09/27/10 - 09:17 am
0
0
Heck, I want FOOTBALL at

Heck, I want FOOTBALL at UGA....

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 09/27/10 - 09:29 am
0
0
I'm shocked that they didn't

I'm shocked that they didn't already have an engineering school there. Why not???

rzombie125
11
Points
rzombie125 09/27/10 - 09:32 am
0
0
I would like to see the

I would like to see the 'Brain train' built.

Little Lamb
47980
Points
Little Lamb 09/27/10 - 09:38 am
0
0
The main reason, Falling

The main reason, Falling Leaves, is that when you create satellite engineering programs and satellite medical education programs, etc., you lower the overall quality. It would be better to leave engineering at Georgia Tech and let UGA keep its excellence confined to partying.

Local Interests
40
Points
Local Interests 09/27/10 - 10:30 am
0
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Actually UGA is academically

Actually UGA is academically one of the top public universities in the nation. It's numbers for freshman profiles aren't that far below Tech's, with a considerably bigger incoming class.
Tech is one of the top engineering schools in the country. However, it is a small school and is geographically limited in its ability to grow. The satellite programs Tech currently has are great opportunities but limited in that those schools have much lower acceptance standards than Tech and UGA.
I think Georgia has enough population to be able to support engineering programs at both of its research-level public universities.

MarvinG
0
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MarvinG 09/27/10 - 12:45 pm
0
0
President Michael Adams is

President Michael Adams is one of the most ambitious people in academia. He twisted the arms of the Regents and got HIS medical school and now he is going after bigger fish which will cut into the funding of Georgia Tech from the State and from the huge international contracts that Tech gets. Tech will fight him to the ground and Adams will be the loser.

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