ATLANTA — University of Georgia President Fred Davison resigned from his post Thursday in the wake of a widely publicized scandal over preferential treatment of student athletes in the university's remedial studies program.
Davison, who has headed the university in the northeast Georgia community of Athens for 19 years, announced he was quitting only one day after the state Board of Regents voted to postpone a decision on whether to renew his contract, pending the outcome of an investigation into the university's Developmental Studies Program.
The program provides remedial instruction to freshmen whose test scores and high school grades would otherwise bar them from the university.
The program was the target of a controversial federal lawsuit filed by Jan Kemp, 37, a former University of Georgia English teacher. She charged that she was demoted and later dismissed by university officials in 1982 because of her outspoken opposition to the favoritism shown athletes enrolled in remedial courses.
Kemp, who is now an English instructor at Southern Technical Institute in the suburban Atlanta community of Decatur, was awarded $2.57 million in damages last month by a six-member U.S. District Court jury.
The case, currently under appeal, sent shock waves through universities across the country and has been the source of continuing debate throughout Georgia.
In his three-page letter of resignation, Davison said: "I consider the deferral of my reappointment a personal and professional insult and a questioning of my integrity, which I will not tolerate. For the first time in 22 years, I am placing the interests of the university second to those of my family and me."
The 56-year-old president, whose resignation is effective July 1, also said that the Board of Regents has had preliminary results of its investigation into the Developmental Studies Program for almost two weeks. But he charged that he was not "given the courtesy" of an interview or an opportunity to present his side of the issue.
Davison added that he had wanted to take action regarding the remedial studies program but that his "hands had been tied" by the regents and by state Atty. Gen. Michael Bowers, whose office is conducting the investigation.
"Yet, faculty members, news columnists, political figures and self-appointed experts and critics have mounted a barrage of criticism against the university for its failure to act," Davison concluded.
Several members of the Board of Regents expressed disappointment at Davison's resignation, saying that nothing in their decision to postpone action on his reappointment should have been interpreted as casting aspersions on his integrity.
Meanwhile, Barbara Morgan, Gov. Joe Frank Harris' press secretary, denied reports that Davison resigned under pressure from the governor's office.
"Those charges make great copy, but there was no pressure from anyone here, from the governor on down," she said. "Dr. Davison made his decision entirely on his own."
Kemp, who celebrated her 37th birthday Thursday, called Davison's resignation "the best birthday present I've ever had." She is now an instructor at Southern Tech in Cobb County.
"I hope they'll put someone in who will rule with integrity, who will restore the constitutional rights of faculty and who will put an end to the exploitation of athletes," she said.
Vince Dooley, Georgia's football coach and athletic director, said he was "shocked and saddened" by Davison's resignation. But he said he had no plans to resign himself.