On Tuesday, March 31st, New South Books held a press conference that was part book launch and part memorial for the Pulitzer Prize winner, investigative journalist, Rich Whitt. Behind the Hedges: Big Money and Power Politics at the University of Georgia, slated for released April 6th, is destined to be a must-read for die hard UGA fans, all students current and past and anyone concerned with the integrity of the American educational institution.
In typical Whitt style, he digs deep and finds credible sources to substantiate charges of financial shenanigans, lies and secret deals by UGA President Michael Adams that extend beyond the campus all the way to Atlanta's gold-domed capital building and the governor's office.
Guests attending the press conference in the historic Margaret Mitchell home heard first-hand from one of the casualties of Adams' dubious reign, Dr. Renee Kaswan. A former professor and researcher at UGA, Kaswan is the inventor of Restasis - the dry-eye drop we've all seen advertised on TV. It's a blockbuster product, but according to its inventor, UGA has only seen a dab of the eye-drop's revenue.
Pharmaceutical goliath Allergan mislead UGA about future sales for the one-of-a-kind drug and enticed Adams as head of the university's research foundation into taking $23 million in quick cash to hand over the patent rights. The deal was good enough for Adams who was embroiled in controversy and facing a vote of no confidence from his faculty that could mean his ouster. But ‘money talks' and it appears Adams was able to leverage the Allergan deal to keep his seat at UGA.
$23 million may sound like a hefty payday, but it represented just 18 cents on the dollar the university was entitled to. A more substantial figure of $220 million is what UGA lost by closing the door on inventor Kaswan and executing the secret deal with the savvy pharmaceutical giant.
Kaswan spoke passionately about her ongoing dispute with UGA to right this wrong and how Whitt had reached out to her after he had read an article about her in the Atlanta Business Chronicle last September. Once he dug into Kaswan's story, he became intrigued and was instrumental in finally getting critical case documents unsealed by the courts. He even delayed the publication of his book, convinced Kaswan's story was essential to round out the report on Adams' transgressions.
Behind the Hedges looks to be recommended reading for every Georgia citizen and taxpayer and could bring about a long-overdue formal investigation into UGA President Michael Adams questionable activities.
At the press junket, Dr. Kaswan and others shared their sentiments on Whitt's untimely passing at age 64 of a heart attack this past January. The Kaswan case and a multitude of other blunders fill the pages of Hedges - a worthy final chapter in the life of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Whitt who dedicated his life to exposing the abuses of those who stride the halls of power.