Campus News

Life sciences building will be named for Davison

Dianne Davison

The life sciences building will be named for Fred C. Davison, UGA’s 17th president and the man widely credited as the architect of the university’s rise into the ranks of top U.S. research institutions.

The University System Board of Regents at its February meeting approved a request by President Michael F. Adams to name the facility the Fred C. Davison Life Sciences Complex. Davison, who was president from 1967 to 1986, promoted the concept of a single facility to house the university’s burgeoning genetics and biochemistry programs, which had gained international stature. He helped plan and design the building and was instrumental in obtaining state funding for its construction.

A ceremony will be held in the near future to formally name the building and to honor Davison, whose 19-year tenure was the third longest of any president in UGA’s 219-year history.

“Fred Davison helped put UGA on the map as a top-rank research institution,” says Adams. “The university, and the entire state of Georgia, are in his debt for his vision and unwavering determination to lift UGA to a role of national educational prominence. The life sciences complex will be a lasting testament to his achievements and an enduring symbol of our gratitude.”

Opened in 1991 as home of the genetics and biochemistry departments, the 257,000-square-foot building cost $32 million, making it-at the time-the largest construction project in the history of the University System.

Davison, a UGA alumnus who rose to dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and vice chancellor of the University System of Georgia before being named UGA president, made scientific research a top priority of his administration. The university’s total budget grew fivefold, from $72.5 million to $370 million, and much of that growth was in the research budget, which soared from $15.6 million to more than $96 million.

Funding from research contracts and grants climbed from less than $7 million to more than $27 million during Davison’s presidency. Graduate enrollment more than doubled, and the number of doctoral degrees awarded annually rose from 123 to 300. About 900 faculty members were on the Graduate Faculty-a record at the time.

Much of Davison’s research emphasis centered on biotechnology, then a young and emerging field, and especially the disciplines of genetics and plant sciences. The number of faculty increased from 1,150 to 1,850 during his administration, and many of the additions were scientists in such areas as plant cellular and molecular biology, population genetics, microbiology and fermentation research.

Leading researchers recruited during the Davison administration include Norman Giles, a National Academy of Sciences member who helped create UGA’s ­genetics department, and Peter Albersheim, whom Davison persuaded to move his entire laboratory-the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center-from ­Colorado to Athens.

Davison also strongly supported research in other areas, including computerization, international law, the arts, business and marine science. UGA was designated a Sea Grant institution in recognition of excellence in marine research and outreach.

The School of Environmental Design was established, along with other major research and service units, including the Rusk Center for International and Comparative Law (named for former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, whom Davison recruited to the law faculty), the Rural Development Center, the Small Business Development Center and the Center for the Study of Global Issues.

The university’s burgeoning research program began to attract national and even international attention under Davison, and in the 1970s UGA ranked in five national surveys as one of the top 50 research institutions in the country.

Davison began working with faculty and other university officials on plans for the life sciences building in the early 1980s, promoting it as a facility that would thrust UGA into international leadership in biotechnology research. He worked closely with the regents, state legislators and then-Gov. Joe Frank Harris to obtain funding for the facility.

Although construction didn’t begin until 1987, a year after Davison stepped down as president, the facility came to symbolize his success in strengthening research at UGA.

Touted for its modern design, the building features a trio of connected, octagonally shaped towers, each containing about 72,000 square feet of space, including a basement and four above-ground floors of laboratories, classrooms, offices and support space.

While the building wasn’t actually erected during Davison’s presidency, more than 15 other major buildings were constructed, including the Boyd Graduate Studies Research Center, Aderhold Hall, the Tate Student Center, Miller Plant Sciences Building, Caldwell Hall, the ecology building, Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall and the double­decking of Sanford Stadium.

Davison, a Marietta native, attended Oxford College of Emory University before transferring to UGA in 1948, where he earned a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine in 1952. After practicing in Marietta for several years, he went to Iowa State University, where he taught veterinary medicine and became leader of an Atomic Energy Commission research project on stable rare earth compounds.

After earning a doctorate in pathology and biochemistry at Iowa State, he worked for the American Veterinary Medical Association for a year before being named dean of the UGA veterinary college in 1964. In 1966, he became vice chancellor of the University System of Georgia, a position he held for a year before being named UGA president at the age of 37.

His wife, Dianne C. Davison, also a 1952 graduate of the College of Veterinary Medicine, served tirelessly as the university’s first lady throughout President Davison’s 19-year tenure.

Davison made a commitment to excellence the overarching theme of his presidency. He pushed for higher academic standards for students, instituted more stringent requirements for faculty hiring and promotion, and emphasized the importance of teaching. He was also a strong supporter of UGA’s public service program.

Enrollment rose in all but two years while he was president, climbing from 15,600 to 25,000, and he conferred more than 106,000 degrees, more than the total conferred by all his 16 predecessors.

UGA’s Honors Program became one of the 10 largest in the country, and the number of volumes in university libraries topped 2.5 million, helping move the libraries into the top third in rankings of all research libraries.

Davison presided over UGA’s Bicentennial celebration in 1984-85 and also led the university’s first major fund-raising campaign, which netted more than $93 million.

When he stepped down as president, alumni and friends contributed about $900,000 to establish the Fred C. Davison Professorship, an endowed chair in the veterinary medicine college.

After leaving the presidency, Davison spent two years on the veterinary faculty, continuing to push for advances in biotechnology. In 1988, he became president and CEO of the National Science Center Foundation in Augusta, a position he held until retiring in 2002.

He now serves as chair of the board of directors of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, headquartered in Aiken, S.C., and remains involved in numerous other Augusta-area civic activities.