Diversity, transportation and work-life among Town Hall topics

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | March 25, 2013

Quality of work life issues — including diversity, parking, transportation and benefits — were the focus of the Employee Council's annual Town Hall on March 20.  

Presented in a question-answer format, the annual meeting offers an open forum that brings together employees and administrators to discuss issues affecting the campus community.

Panelists included President James Wagner, Provost Claire Sterk, Executive Vice President for Health Affairs S. Wright Caughman, and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Mandl.  

This year's event was co-sponsored by Emory's new Advisory Council on Community and Diversity, which has been gathering information on issues of diversity throughout 26 schools and units and is scheduled to present its first report in August. The work of the committee — which replaced three presidential commissions — was discussed in opening remarks by Ozzie Harris, senior vice provost of community and diversity.  

The committee will examine self-evaluations from the University's major units "that can drive this process forward and (help us) understand more fully, together, what diversity means at Emory," Harris said. "In our various units, it may have slightly different meanings."  

"Hopefully…we can think about what (diversity) really means for the enterprise," he added. "It's been challenging but also very rewarding."  

Diversity dialogue

President James Wagner extended the focus on diversity by discussing issues arising from an essay he wrote in the Winter 2013 issue of Emory Magazine that used the nation's "3/5ths compromise" over slavery in 1787 to illustrate how polarized lawmakers could find common ground.  

Wagner said he should have been sensitive to the fact that the 3/5th compromise through history  "has come for many to be emblematic of this nation's endorsement, in fact, and perpetuation of the heinous practices of slavery."   

"It has a symbolic value that should not be used in conversation except to discuss and except to express an example of a horrid compromise," he added. "By failing to recognize that, I inflamed a great number of people — and perhaps a great number of you. And so I have apologized formally, I have asked for forgiveness and I have expressed intentions to learn, help Emory learn, and to move Emory to yet a better place."  

Wagner said that he had participated in a series of "listening sessions" in recent weeks with students and alumni, faculty groups, Employee Council leaders, campus administrators and cabinet members, the James Weldon Johnson Institute for Race and Difference, and a number of advisers and friends of the University.  

In addition, he has met with civil rights leaders including Rep. John Lewis, the Rev. Bernard Lafayette, a distinguished senior scholar in residence at Candler School of Theology, former presidential adviser Vernon Jordan, and the Rev. Samuel Mosteller, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Georgia chapter.  

In those meetings, Wagner sought feedback in three principal areas:  

  • Perspectives on his lack of judgment.

  • How Emory falls short of its aspirations.

  • Ideas for healing and ways to help the University move forward.

From both students and faculty, Wagner reported that he had heard powerful examples "of racial insensitivity and even insult," that had left individuals wondering: "Do I belong at Emory?"  

But he also received suggestions about "what we should do going forward" — ideas that included renewing and expanding the Transforming Community Project conversations, bringing in outside experts or leaders to speak, and consulting other institutions.  

"Please hear what I am saying as a message of determination," Wagner said. "Yes, an apology for having made such a mistake in the first place, but a message of determination not to paper it over… not merely to heal from it, but to grow from it, both personally and institution-wide for Emory University."  

The remainder of the meeting was opened for a question-answer session, focusing on topics including work-life balance, health care costs, campus theft and safety concerns, what's next for Emory's Briarcliff property, and transportation and parking issues.  

Topics discussed in the open forum included:

Campus theft

Mandl acknowledged an increase in the number of thefts — particularly personal and office electronics — reported in buildings across campus. "In the last several weeks, there have been arrests as well," he said. "Those arrest have stemmed from people in a building calling Emory police saying, 'Something doesn't look right, could you come over here.'"

The issue of building security will be presented to the Enterprise Risk Management executive group in April, at the request of Wagner. Mandl stressed the importance for all Emory employees to secure valuables. 

Transportation and parking

When asked why physicians and some health care workers do not have to pay for parking on campus, Mandl noted that while all University employees pay for parking — including every administrator at the table — Emory Healthcare has a different approach, mainly because of the competitive environment for health care hiring.  

"It's a different benefits package overall," Mandl said. "They don't have a tuition benefit anymore, and the University does. So you can't just slice out one piece of it when you're looking at health care versus University employees."  

One employee encouraged administrators to consider offering financial incentives to encourage hospital employees not to drive to campus.  

Vanpool riders reported that they are being asked to pay subsidies even if they aren't able to ride, such as during summer months or while out on leave, in order to hold a place in the program. Employees also suggested that ridership would likely increase if Emory offered a better vanpool subsidy.  

Emory College restructuring

When asked what her plans were as Emory's new provost, Sterk said, "I believe it's one of the most exciting jobs, because you get to be part of everything that takes place at the University, interact with students, faculty, staff," she said.  

"I have a very strong interest in community in many different ways — that includes the intellectual community, as well as Emory as a community," Sterk said.  

And yet Emory does face new economic realities. "That means we can focus on what is it that we can't do, as my colleagues would say, 'How can we cut costs?' The other question is, 'How can we generate revenues?'"  

From a provost's perspective, "that gets me thinking about innovative ways of educating students … taking advantage of new social circumstances, globalization in the world, technology," Sterk said. "Developing a global strategy for Emory is very high on the list."  

In a follow-up question, Sterk was asked if there were any updates regarding academic changes in Emory College and some graduate studies programs.  

"It's hard for us. We're not a community that's used to having to cut back. And it's painful," she said. "The pragmatic side of me wants to say: 'We have to be realistic.' We need to face that we have to do things differently, and that means cutting some things but also building some new things."  

"I do think there is a big difference between referring to this as 'Emory cuts' versus restructuring," she added. "And it is restructuring. It's not just cutting … there are resources that are being reallocated."  

Benefits

When asked about the growing cost of health care, Mandl said that it is a national concern. "Like all employers, we've struggled with keeping the costs down," he added. "We're self insured. The costs are the (health care) costs of all employees, primarily determined by covering those costs."  

Last year, he noted that Emory had gone from three health plans to two. "While we recognize the effectiveness of a plan is dependent on your own personal and family health and circumstances, in a global sense, everyone had the opportunity to have their cost go down."  

Caughman noted that the "Know Your Numbers" campaign has created an opportunity for all employees to be aware of their health status and ways that can help them be engaged in their own health.  

Employees also raised questions around increasing workloads, opportunities for promotion, the high cost of Emory summer camps, and the need for paid parental leave.  

Briarcliff changes

In response to a question from a sharp-eyed employee who asked why the sign on Emory's Briarcliff Campus has changed to "Briarcliff Property," Mandl explained that "the facilities on that campus are not reflective of an Emory campus."  

Mandl said there was concern that visitors driving past the aging facilities wouldn't have "a great first impression," he said. "Frankly, the big building is reaching the end of its useful life. There are people looking at where the occupants will land." 

Emory Continuing Education, currently housed at the site, will be moving to a new location in the next 18 months, he said.