ATHENS — Longtime University of Georgia President Michael Adams will retire next year after 16 years at the helm of the state’s flagship campus, he announced Thursday.
Adams, 64, said he plans to teach and write at UGA, along with serving on corporate boards and doing some consulting.
He told a capacity crowd at the university chapel that it was time for him to step aside and “let others continue the work.”
He said he made the decision to retire in the last few weeks, declining to give more details.
“I want to go back to where I started in this business, and that’s with you,” he told the faculty members in the crowd. “I am proud of where the university is. It is in excellent shape, despite the challenges of the last few years.”
Under Adams’ leadership, UGA has climbed in college rankings and national profile — it’s been named one of the top 20 public research universities in the country for the last decade.
The university’s enrollment swelled to 35,000, including the most selective freshman class in its history.
Adams brought in more than $1 billion in new construction on campus since he took office in 1997 and hired nationally prominent researchers to build UGA’s federal grant coffers.
Adams also established medical and engineering programs at UGA, a move that was politically unpopular for years because the state was already paying for Georgia Tech in Atlanta and the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.
The state’s leaders hailed him as a visionary who transformed UGA into a nationally prominent university.
“He will leave behind a tremendous legacy, and his tenure will have long-lasting positive effects,” said Gov. Nathan Deal in a prepared statement. “President Adams led the university to new levels of excellence and prestige. I congratulate him on his many successes and wish him the best in his final year as president of UGA.”
Students said though he was often busy, he took time to talk to them and get their take on campus issues.
UGA junior Marshall Mosher said he often interacted with Adams as a student ambassador at big university events.
“He always took time to come up to us, thank us for working and shake our hands and see how our day was going,” said Mosher, 21. “That’s made a real impact on me, my personal relationship with him and I’ve always really respected that.”
Adams also weathered storms as head of the campus in Athens about 80 miles east of Atlanta.
After he forced beloved Athletic Director Vince Dooley into retirement in 2004, Adams was nearly ousted by a group of powerful boosters unhappy with the decision.
He survived the controversy with the support of the university system’s leadership and key state leaders.
Adams also was in charge in 2010 when Dooley’s successor, Damon Evans, resigned after a late night DUI arrest.
In 2008, he appointed a committee to handle sexual harassment complaints at the university after a rash of highly publicized allegations against faculty members.
Prior to serving at UGA, Adams held a top administrative job at Pepperdine University in California and was president at Centre College in Kentucky.
Before his higher education career, Adams was the chief of staff for former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker and was an adviser to former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, who now is a U.S. senator.
“I’m not sure there’s anyone in higher education who has earned a retirement more than Mike Adams,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, a high education policy think-tank. “There are few careers like Mike’s. He has led public and private institutions, has been outspoken on policy issues and has tackled some of the toughest challenges, like fundraising and athletics, with vision, passion, and skill. His retirement will leave a void in American higher education.”