ATLANTA --- It usually doesn't take many guesses to discover the motive behind most human ambition when focusing on the hierarchy of basic desires: food, sex, money, status.
Trying to divine the motive behind University of Georgia's quest for an engineering school takes just three guesses.
It's not food because UGA has long had a school of agriculture and consumer affairs. It can't be sex since no one would believe Georgia Tech students who take textbooks to basketball games have more dates than the coeds at the nation's No. 1 party school.
So it must be money and status.
Augusta civic leaders who opposed a branch campus of the Medical College of Georgia in Athens harbored suspicions that the same forces were at work then.
A Sept. 1 letter from UGA President Michael Adams makes clear they were.
"Without engineering and medical schools, UGA has been unable to tap into the expanding federal funds for engineering and medical research, the two major sources of research funds for most academic institutions," he wrote to Willis Potts, chairman of the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents.
The regents moved all of UGA's engineering classes, except agricultural engineering, to Tech as a cost-savings move during the Great Depression.
The two-page letter introduced the attached three-page proposal for the regents to allow UGA to establish bachelor-of-science degrees in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. If approved, the school would next request permission to start masters and Ph.D. programs, Adams wrote.
Tech supporters have probably already begun reviewing the playbook Augusta officials used so they at least know what doesn't work.
After all, Adams' modus operandi hasn't changed.
He told a legislative committee that as soon as MCG got a new president, he began working on the idea of having medical-school classes at UGA. Incidentally, that MCG president, Dan Rahn, has already moved on.
Tech got a new president in April, 2009, Bud Peterson.
Adams, as the longest-serving president of the state's biggest universities, has considerable advantages in the game of internal politics simply by having the most established ties to the decision makers. He gained his political skills as chief of staff for Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker and as an aide to Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. He ran for Congress and lost, but he hasn't lost many battles lately.
In justifying a new engineering school, Adams notes that UGA is 98th in the nation in terms of federal research dollars. Moving up several notches would boost the university's status.
An observer might wonder how UGA is harmed by not getting federal grants for an engineering program that doesn't exist.
What's the point in creating the second-most expensive type of school --- engineering is second only to a medical school --- just to get research money and status?
Wouldn't it be simpler to put a fraction of the startup cost into expanding and improving the schools that already teach engineering in hopes that they snag more federal research grants? Besides Tech, engineering is also offered at Southern Polytechnic State University and Georgia Southern University.
The regents are asking the same questions. Adams, thought, is not commenting now. He's relying on his letter and proposal to do all the talking.
In the letter, he does offer reasons.
First, UGA is a top-flight university, so it will produce a top-flight engineering school, he argues. Second, the super-bright kids who go to UGA now often have multiple majors, and at least some of them would like to take engineering classes.
Third, not only does the state graduate just half of the engineers hired yearly in Georgia, but also less than half of the Georgia high-school graduates who want to study engineering go to college in the state. Several hundred wind up at Auburn University, Clemson University, the University of Tennessee and the University of Alabama.
Finally, academic research these days requires an interdisciplinary approach. That means UGA faculty needing to partner with an engineer to pursue the frontiers of science have to find someone off the campus to qualify for many grants.
This last point was used as an argument for passenger-rail service on what supporters called The Brain Train that would link MCG, UGA, Emory University and Tech on one East-West line. Maybe Adams isn't confident that the transportation tax proposal on the November ballot to fund passenger rail will pass.
Passing it could be one strategy Tech supporters might consider in their attempt to block Adams' request. Then again, he may be able to do a little railroading of his own.
(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998. He can be reached at email@example.com or (404) 589-8424.)