Officials at the University of Georgia tried today to defuse the controversy that has hit their campus over preferential academic treatment of athletes, scuttling a scheduled public airing of the charges and answers.
University President Fred C. Davison declined to present his defense against charges that he condoned improprieties, and university officials did not outline what had been expected to be a lengthy presentation of the charges.
Instead, Davison -- who issued a written denial of involvement last week -- announced to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia that he is firm in his intention to resign from the job he has held for 19 years.
Davison had been expected to rebut the findings of a recently released internal audit, which reported widespread academic abuse and quoted two administrators as saying they gave special treatment to athletes with the knowledge of the president.
Moments after today's special regents meeting was to begin, however, the board chairman, Arthur M. Gignilliat Jr., announced that Davison and university officials had agreed to forgo the presentations outlining the audit findings and president's response.
"We doubt that any constructive purpose can be accomplished" by rehashing the two documents made public last week, said Gignilliat. "My God, this thing has probably been aired more than anything in the history of Georgia."
The regents said they hoped the positive tone of the meeting would defuse the controversy, which began with a lawsuit filed by former English professor Jan Kemp. In February, a jury awarded $2.57 million to Kemp, who claimed she was fired for complaining about the abuses.
"This is the first long step to repairing the damage," Chancellor H. Dean Propst said, praising Davison for exiting "with grace and dignity."
There remains the question of how administrators will deal with others named in the audit, including veteran football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley. Auditors reported that Virgina Trotter, vice president for academic affairs, and Leroy Ervin, director of the Developmental Studies Program, admitted making exceptions for academically deficient students who were athletes, allegedly under pressure from Dooley's department and the president.
Davison submitted a letter of resignation last month, expressing bitterness that the regents had delayed renewing his contract pending the auditors' report. There had been speculation that Davison would reconsider if the regents voted not to accept the resignation, but his statement today and those by other officials made that appear unlikely.
Gignilliat said after the meeting that he expects the board to accept the resignation when it takes up the matter Wednesday. Regent John E. Skandalakis, a staunch Davison supporter, said he still may ask the board to refuse the resignation, but acknowledged that his efforts probably would be futile.
Skandalakis' sentiment that Davison has been made a scapegoat in an investigation that turned up "minimal" violations echoes a wider belief that it is common practice at colleges to overlook the academic failures of promising athletes.
Others, including Kemp, said they welcomed Davison's departure. "All along I knew that Dr. Davison knew" of the abuses, Kemp said. "And if he didn't know, he should have."
In a brief statement to the regents, Davison termed it a "myth" that the university engaged in anything improper and blamed the misperception on widespread ignorance of university regulations. He left the podium to a standing ovation from the audience of about 100.
Gignilliat predicted that the audit, which continues at the system's 32 other institutions, will bring reforms, but said the differing accounts offered by Davison, Trotter and Ervin may never be resolved.