By Dick Yarbrough, Syndicated Columnist.
As exciting and satisfying as it has been, there is more to the University of Georgia than a College Football National Championship. Way more. I was reminded of that fact when I read UGA president Jere Morehead’s annual State of the University address this week.
Take nothing away from that extraordinary achievement on the gridiron but with or without having the best football team in the land (I will take “with”), my alma mater is doing just fine as a highly-respected academic institution and a major contributor to our state’s economic growth.
That is a far cry from when UGA was derisively referred to as a “cow college” or “party school.” No more. As I am sure you know by now, the University of Georgia is one of the nation’s top three producers of Rhodes Scholars among public universities with 24 over the past two decades. Partying cow colleges don’t do that.
He would be the first to deflect the credit but much of the university’s success is due to the man in charge. Dr. Jere Morehead was named president in 2013 after the tumultuous reign of his predecessor, Michael Adams. Morehead is as self-effacing as Adams was attention-seeking — and a lot of that attention was not flattering. To call Michael Adams controversial is to say the sun rises in the east.
Under Dr. Morehead’s quiet leadership, the University of Georgia has flourished in the extremely challenging environment of these pandemic times. In his State of the University address, Morehead says, “When I look back on the past 12 months—a year with no shortage of obstacles—a clear and compelling story emerges: a story of a community bound by a deep sense of purpose, driven by an unyielding commitment to a shared mission.” I can think of no one more vital to that mission than Jere Morehead. Academically, U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Georgia 16th among the best public universities in the country marking UGA’s sixth consecutive year in the top 20. Kiplinger’s ranks it as the 12th Best Value Public University. A certain modest and much-beloved columnist ranks it as a great place from which to have graduated, knowing I could never get in the place these days. (Do I hear a chorus of “amens” from my alumni brethren?)
Nearly 24,500 students applied for admission to the Class of 2021, the largest number of applicants in UGA history. More than 5,800 firstyear students entered this past fall, bringing enrollment to an all-time high of more than 40,000 students. The Class of 2021 is pretty smart, too, with an average high school GPA of 4.0 and a record average ACT score of 30.
Georgia residents comprise 87 percent of the class. Incoming firstyear students come from more than 520 different high schools in 149 of Georgia’s 159 counties. In addition, the Class of 2021 includes students from 44 states and 15 countries.
As for those that teach them, Morehead says the UGA faculty earned a record number of sponsored awards last year — nearly $495 million, an all-time high. Three faculty members were elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and one of those three was also elected to the National Academy of Engineering.
As for the university’s impact on our state (other than football bragging rights), it climbed to a record $7.4 billion in 2021. Over 200 companies have been created from UGA research and the university ranked second nationally for the number of products introduced to the market by industry partners and 10th for the number of active licenses.
The only thing missing in Dr. Morehead’s State of the University address was a reference to my beloved Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications. Leave it to me to take care of that.
My first exposure to UGA was when I walked into the Grady School (as it was called then) as an anxious and lonely 18-year old and knew immediately this was where I belonged. And it is there my heart has remained.
I have had the privilege of being president of the UGA national alumni association and recognition as the university’s Outstanding Alumnus but being a Grady Grad ranks at the top of the list.
In closing, as you exult over this unforgettable football season remember there is another winning team at UGA. It is composed of an outstanding faculty, brightas- a-new-penny students and a rock-solid administration. On and off the field, the state of my university is bright indeed.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; or on Facebook at www.facebook. com/dickyarb.