President shares priorities for moving Emory forward

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Nov. 2, 2012

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President Wagner outlines Emory's performance and future priorities at his 9th annual State of the University address. Emory Photo/Video.

President James W. Wagner compared Emory to an athlete hitting her stride, experiencing the momentum and rewards that comes from hard work, during his 9th annual State of the University address on Oct. 30.

In fact, the state of the University is good, he said.

To illustrate, Wagner described the University as a marathon runner who is beginning to feel "good, even great" around Mile 18 — moving forward, despite moments of discomfort, with the knowledge that tough miles still lay ahead.

"I'd like to suggest to you that Emory is in the same good state, and great state, as that runner," Wagner said. "We can't ignore that we're working hard, we can't ignore that we've hit some unexpected steep hills and a couple of unexpected potholes just a few miles back."

Wagner's address reflected upon a year of both achievements and "painful blisters," offering a set of focused challenges and a call to "think creatively about laying out Emory's next chapter."

"We are doing well"

Speaking before a crowd of nearly 200 faculty, staff and students in Winship Ballroom, the president reviewed some of Emory's recent accomplishments, including:

  • Observation of its 175th anniversary.

  • National championships for men's tennis, women's swimming/diving teams.

  • New construction at Emory Point, Druid Hills and Oxford campuses.

  • Growing international alliances and partnerships.

  • Nationally acclaimed faculty, including U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, American Book Award winner Kevin Young, Samuel Dobbs Professor of Biology Bruce Levin, named to the National Academy of Sciences, and Goodrich C. White Professor of English Ron Schuchard, named a 2012 Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

  • An award-winning health care system that ranks among the nation's finest.

  • Campaign Emory is nearing its $1.6 billion goal.

Wagner noted: "There is much to celebrate … the energy of what turns out, when you think about it, to be a small city, a city of some 40,000 men and women, who participate in or directly support every kind of academic and clinical endeavor, is dynamic almost beyond description."

At the same time, the year also brought challenges, he noted, including the discovery that some members of Emory's admissions office had intentionally misreported data to U.S. News & World Report and recognition of a culture of anti-Semitism at Emory's School of Dentistry from 1948 to 1961.

After reviewing Emory's achievements, Wagner said he wanted to focus upon issues that promise to shape the direction of university life for many years to come.

"Some would call them threats," he said. "I hope that we can see them as opportunities."

Hard realities for higher education

Higher education is struggling — buffeted by an uncertain global economy, flagging federal support of research, and even conflicting attitudes about whether education is a public or a private good, Wagner said.

In response, he discussed how such trends may impact Emory:

  • American education is becoming increasingly segmented; no diagnosis or prescription will fit every institution.

  • Emory occupies an important niche; research universities will remain relevant for years to come.

  • Financial stresses upon research universities will continue to be "unrelenting and profound."

  • Institutions must find new streams of income; there are many opportunities for "growth, new revenue streams, recharging our commitment and our vision."

  • Emory must be not afraid to be "disruptively innovative."

Moving Emory Forward

Wagner outlined nine priorities for the coming year intended to engage the community, enhance education and respond to a changing world:

  • Empowering faculty responsibility for the future of the University: From encouraging campus engagement to examining the future of promotion and tenure and the role of liberal arts, this is a key priority.

  • The Business Practice Improvement (BPI) initiative:  This fall, the focus is on projects to consolidate, streamline, and improve research administration.

  • Refining Emory's global strategy: A search for the next senior vice provost for international affairs offers an opportunity to consider new strategies.

  • Strengthening Emory College of Arts and Sciences: Wagner supports recent restructuring plans, applauding "the courageous decision" of the ECAS and Laney Graduate School to pursue "a strategy for greater excellence and distinction."

  • Enhancing the student experience, in the classroom and beyond: Ajay Nair, senior vice provost and dean of campus life, will build upon a solid tradition of student services "to develop a vision for campus life for the next decade."

  • Capitalize on Emory's literary assets: With strong faculty and writing programs, rare literary collections, and distinguished visiting writers, such as Salman Rushdie, "we have the resources and energy to make Emory the premier place for the creation and study of literature."

  • Respond creatively to financial realities in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center: Disruptive forces are impacting health education, research and service. Steps are being explored that optimize the interdependence of Emory Healthcare and Emory's School of Medicine.

  • Build productive partnerships: Our successful partnership with Georgia Tech is a model for future collaborations.

  • Explore new markets for resource growth: Emory is exploring developments in online education to help take the University's brand of education worldwide. Emory Innovations Inc., a holding company, has been formed to help faculty and others "commercialize innovative approaches to intellectual property development."

"We need to continue this footrace together, encouraging each other, and from time-to-time even forgiving each another, rising above our occasional discomforts, and applying our best selves to achieve and serve the excellence of mind and greatness of heart to which we are called, and to which we aspire," Wagner said.

The president's address was followed by a Q-and-A session, where he responded to questions over allowing Chick-fil-A on campus and concerns around restructurings within ECAS and Laney Graduate School. Questions and concerns raised by a series of participants included: a perceived lack of student/faculty participation in the decision; the impact on campus diversity issues; the long-term impact of changes on students and programs; and the future vision for liberal arts and humanities at Emory.