Summer 2008: Letter from the President

James W. Wagner, President, Emory University

Ann Borden

Up the Ladder?

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By James W. Wagner

As the end of my fifth year at Emory approaches, I continue to feel profound humility for the privilege of leading this University, and immense gratitude for superb administrative colleagues, Emory’s splendid faculty, the supportive board, magnificent alumni, the remarkable staff, and, of course, our superlative students. We have accomplished much together in five years. We have invested heavily in distinctive academic programs, great people, and a facilities master plan second to none. We have high aspirations, and we have begun to achieve success toward reaching them. With success, however, comes the responsibility to try to lead wisely. Beginning to succeed means that others take note and follow. Increasingly, some facets of Emory are acknowledged by our peers to be setting the standard as the best. These are areas in which others look to Emory for leadership, where no one is doing it better.

Some of these areas are academic: the best venue and most innovative curriculum for teaching medicine; the largest, strongest Methodist seminary in the world; the most distinctive Buddhist studies program; the highest research productivity in molecular pharmacology, evolutionary biology, ecology, gender studies, and nursing; our unique Oxford College; faculty members like Pulitzer-winning poet Natasha Trethewey, primatologist Frans de Waal, novelist Salman Rushdie, and the Dalai Lama; the stellar Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering; Emory’s Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL); and the Barkley Forum, Emory’s debate team.

Thanks to Emory science, 80 percent of patients in the United States receiving prescription drugs for HIV receive an Emory invention; Emory has partnerships with the CDC, CARE, and The Carter Center; new ways have opened to study neurogenerative diseases; the first use of progesterone for treating traumatic brain injury has shown stunning results.

In its operations, Emory wins kudos for an innovative enterprise-wide risk-management process; for distinction in environmental sustainability; and for leading the way in offering tuition affordability for middle-income families through Emory Advantage.

Even in athletics, Emory’s intercollegiate program has had at least one national championship Division III team in each of the last five years.

I feel a bit like I used to when I would climb a ladder to the slate-shingled roof of our three-story home in Cleveland. For the first two-thirds of the climb up the ladder, I didn’t think much about it. Up I went. But somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the way to the roof, I would pause, look back, and realize how far I had come. My dizzy elevation impressed me in a new way with the need for courage and presence of mind, if I chose to continue at all.

Emory has come to an important rung on its ladder. We’re higher than we were, a lot closer to where we want to be. Not only that, but when we look back we see that others are following. The question before us is, what will we do now that we find ourselves in this place?

Maintaining the status quo—staying here between the ground and our goal—is impossible. But going forward will mean more courage and commitment from all of us.

If Emory is to continue up the ladder of leadership, we must, together, find the resources to recruit and retain only the best faculty; to enroll students of the highest quality; to nurture an engaged community that is committed to both excellence of mind and greatness of heart; and to address through research, scholarship, and service those things for which the world is most hungry, and where Emory can make a difference.

In the coming months, as we prepare for the largest financial campaign in Emory’s history, the challenge for each of us who care about Emory and the world will be to find the intersection between our own commitments and the University’s. What is it that we want to accomplish with our philanthropy? Emory can be a powerful means for each of us to fulfill these aspirations.

So now is a good time to ask: what do you care about most? How do you want to change the world for the better? And are you aware of how Emory is working in that area, how Emory can serve the purposes that spring from your heart and mind? Are you willing to help Emory steward the resources necessary to achieve those purposes? Let us explore these possibilities together.

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Summer 2008

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