With grace and dignity, Michael Adams announced the end of his presidency at the University of Georgia. Having served for 16 years at UGA’s helm, Adams’ time in office as president has been double the average length most presidents stay. On average, we serve for seven years. In devoting more than a decade and a half of his life to providing leadership and vision to Bulldog Nation, Adams leaves the University of Georgia powerfully positioned to continue to cast a huge and important shadow over the educational landscape of Georgia and elsewhere.
As one of Albany’s favorite sons, Mike Adams has done well personally and professionally. He also has done well for Southwest Georgia. Under his leadership, key partnerships have emerged with Albany State University that benefit the ASU and Albany community. Mike always was doing double-duty. He never ceased working for UGA while simultaneously looking after his beloved Albany and ASU. Mike has been incredibly generous to ASU and me. On March 27th, I spent a much anticipated day in Athens shadowing Mike and seeing first-hand his world — a richly complex one — which gets to the point I wish to make.
Nobody but nobody knows what is involved in running a complex educational organization that happens also to be a fully operational village unto itself other than a sitting or former president. Others who sit near the president as administrators see significant segments of the whole, but even they don’t know its full breadth. They can’t. Until you have awakened in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, relieved that the horror that you have just experienced is only a dream, you simply cannot grasp the enormity of the job heading a university is.
Take something as mundane on its face as computer services. You buy a few computers. You set them up. Done! Right? Not so fast. What policies are in place governing computer use? Is there sufficient protection in place to guard against computer hackers? Is there enough bandwidth for academic computing? Who’s policing the computer frontier? Do you lay more fiber optics or place all of your marbles on cloud technology? What happens when an unexpected power surge wipes out vital operations that didn’t get migrated to the new servers? Did we pay the electric bill in the first place?
When I arrived at Albany State in 2005, I thought I knew something about running a university. I’d been second-in-command at the University of Indianapolis, dean at Jackson State University, and executive assistant to the president at Tennessee State University, two distinguished historically black universities. I thought I knew as much as anybody about heading a higher educational institution. There was so much I didn’t know. Presidential job-knowledge comes from the slow, unglamorous hard work day after day of making tough decisions on the educational field of the sort that Mike Adams excelled at.
Like many of my presidential colleagues, I attended Harvard University’s institute for higher education, an accelerated executive education programs for presidents and those aspiring to be presidents. One of the recurring principles taught there was that of reframing; namely, taking an issue in casting it in a different light or perspective in order to find new solutions. I have found reframing particularly helpful to ASU and me. Since 2005, we have reframed ASU in ways that our graduates truly believe that they can realize their potential by staying the course of dedication and hard work. We have reframed ASU in ways that have made us a welcome and engaged civic and community partner. We have reframed our teaching and learning approaches to emphasize learning communities as an integral part of how we prepare students for the work of the world.
Our newly completed strategic plan calls upon ASU to reframe our future to more fully embrace by creating an environment that nurtures academically focused learners from diverse backgrounds, excelling in discovery, learning, teaching and the use of technology, leading in community and global partnerships and service, and continuing to build a workforce that collaboratively achieves operational efficiency, effectiveness and agility.
I am going to miss Mike Adam’s sure and confident hand at UGA’s helm. One lesson I learned early from Mike is that the office of president has its headaches, but it also provides a rare opportunity to influence positively the lives of so many in such a lasting way by concentrating on the unfinished business of providing educational opportunities for all. What a lesson!
Dr. Everette J. Freeman is president of Albany State University.