Linda Courts says she is "thrilled and optimistic." The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter. Peace may come in our time. Bulldog Nation is preparing to stack arms. The Mike Adams-Vince Dooley Wars are over.
That is Courts' apparently sincere view. This generous patron of Georgia higher education should know. She is chair of the University of Georgia Foundation Board of Trustees, a sort of super-pep club organized years ago to raise money for UGA but more recently a well-publicized haven for several enemies of university President Michael Adams.
Whether Courts' enthusiasm for the future of the trustees and their relationship with Adams is well-founded remains to be seen. In fact, whether the trustees as now constituted have any future at all is a question mark. Doubts also have arisen regarding University System Chancellor Thomas Meredith's decisiveness in dealing with recalcitrant foundations, not only at UGA but at other schools as well.
The Bulldogs' trustees are about to miss yet another deadline for signing an agreement with the University System Board of Regents. The pact reaffirms that the regents (not the trustees) manage the state's flagship school, and that the UGA president should be treated as more than a barely tolerated guest at foundation executive meetings.
Chancellor Meredith's office has given the UGA foundation an April 12 deadline to submit its version of the "memorandum of understanding." According to one interpretation of the MOU (as the bureaucrats insist on calling it), the trustees are to be considered honored cheerleaders with President Adams as their drum major. Some foundation members don't quite see the relationship in that light. Tensions between trustees and regents can be traced back to President Adams' 2003 decision not to extend the employment contract of popular Athletics Director Vince Dooley.
The regents are expected to address the proposed agreement at their regular meeting on April 19. An ad hoc trustees' committee, chaired by Atlanta attorney Read Morton, is busy preparing a modified agreement to transmit to the regents. Last year, the regents rejected Morton as an officer of the foundation apparently because of his animosity toward Adams. The regents also briefly severed ties between the foundation and UGA, and then kissed and made up with the understanding that the foundation would sign an agreement.
The Morton committee has not shared its version of the MOU with the full foundation board, which is not due to hold another regular meeting until May when the trustees gather at Sea Island.
"A final decision as to the adoption of the MOU with the Board of Regents will be made by the full board of trustees at the next meeting," Courts said. So the regents' April deadline may be moot.
The UGA foundation is not alone in dragging its feet on signing a treaty with the regents. Among the big institutions, Georgia Tech and the Medical College of Georgia also have failed to approve memoranda of understanding.
If you believe the above recitation sounds like much ado about very little, you may be right. However, ramifications from this thrashing around may have an unsettling ripple effect, to wit:
Influential and outspoken regent Don Leebern is becoming increasingly irked at Chancellor Meredith. He reportedly sees Meredith's "flexibility" with foundation boards as a failure to demonstrate solid leadership. One can get favorable odds that Meredith, selected as chancellor during Gov. Roy Barnes' administration, may soon be seeking new career opportunities. The Legislature, usually loathe to delve into University System business, has jumped into the act. In an unprecedented move, the House voted in March to establish a study committee to evaluate the relationship between the foundation boards and the regents. The Senate is expected to create a separate study committee on the same topic next year, just in time to make management of the university system a possible issue in the 2006 election.
The UGA foundation board has paid more than $950,000 in the last two fiscal years to the prestigious King & Spalding law firm in Atlanta. A significant portion of that sum was earmarked for legal work on "corporate governance," "athletics" and "trademark and licensing" - items related to the brouhaha involving the trustees, Adams and Dooley. Revelation of the big expenditure is certain to create additional dissension among trustees.
Incidentally, a major reason for the Legislature's rush to make secret the names of big contributors to the University System may become clear at last. How would you like to be identified publicly as a dummy who naively contributed grand amounts of cash to UGA, only to learn later that part of your donation was used to pay silk-stocking lawyers to count the angels on the head of a Bulldog pin?
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Contact him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA, 30160 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web address is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.