Congratulations on your investiture as the 22nd president of the University of Georgia. I wish I could be there for the ceremony on Nov. 19, but I have a long-scheduled conflict on that day. Otherwise, I would be there barking “Woof! Woof!” to show my pleasure in having you officially recognized as the leader of my beloved alma mater. This solemn occasion probably doesn’t lend itself to woof-woofing, but I suspect you would get a kick out of hearing it. You are a Bulldog through and through.
The good news is that you are now president. The better news is that you won’t have to worry about me giving you a bunch of unsolicited advice in this column. I tried that with your predecessor and it went over like a lead balloon. I will say somewhat immodestly that he should have listened to me. No matter what he says or does in the future, his clumsy mishandling of the “retirement” of Athletic Director Vince Dooley will forever stick to him like white on rice. He created a schism among alumni and friends of UGA that remains to this day.
Somehow, I don’t think that kind of thing is going to happen in your administration. You are already off to a roaring start in the Yarbrough household. Despite having been president of the National Alumni Society and having been named the university’s outstanding graduate and having a room named in my honor at the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at UGA and despite being a strong academic supporter of the university (the proceeds from this column go to scholarships and internships at the Grady College), I have felt about as welcomed on campus over the past decade as mud on a rake handle.
When I announced that I was going to fund a professorship that will eventually become a Chair in Crisis Communications Leadership, you and Dink NeSmith, chairman of the Board of Regents, showed up at the luncheon in Athens and stayed through the entire program. That was a generous gesture on both your parts. Most importantly, you were very kind to my family and me. You don’t know how much that meant to us. It was a long time coming. By the way, your predecessor sent me a form letter acknowledging my gift. Nice.
Believe it or not, I do have a few friends at the state capitol and I can tell you they are delighted to see you on the job for a lot of reasons. For one thing, they — and a lot of alumni — have wondered that if the University of Georgia is as preeminent as we all say it is, how come we couldn’t find a president within the ranks? Your appointment says we can and we did.
You are now in charge of our state’s educational crown jewel — the University of Georgia — and a lot of people have an emotional investment in its well-being. You will be dealing with faculty, students, parents, alumni, legislators, the governor’s office, the Board of Regents, taxpayers and the media (which is chock full of Grady graduates) just to name a few. Some days I suspect you will feel like you are drinking from a fire hose. But we mean well.
And then there is the football crowd. There are some among them who care only that we win — no matter what the cost. If some rival school is stretching its ethical boundaries to get and keep athletes in school then we must, also. They can be very loud but keep them in proper perspective. They represent a minority view of our alma mater. Let them rant on talk radio and rave on the various warm-spit blogs. It makes them feel important and their opinions don’t amount to a hill of butter beans.
The true supporters of The University of Georgia understand that it is first and foremost an academic institution and a fine one. We should be as proud of our Rhodes Scholars as we are of our All-Americans. I believe we can have both at UGA and I know you feel the same way.
In closing, I want to say again that I am delighted you are president of the University of Georgia, the oldest state-chartered university in the nation located in Athens, the Classic City of the South. You are the right man in the right place at the right time. Let the healing begin. Woof! Woof!
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.