From the President

Intellectual and Social Community

By James Wagner, President, Emory University

Portrait of President James W. Wagner on the campus of Emory University

We often talk about “the Emory community” as if it were one thing, even as we recognize its many parts. What we sometimes overlook is that Emory has two different personalities. It is both an intellectual community and a social community.

The intellectual community is easy to see. Examples abound in every issue of Emory Magazine of ways our faculty and students contribute to the world through ideas, research, and scholarship.

The social community likewise is easy to grasp. You see that in Emory people’s stewardship of the environment, care for each other, and commitments to social justice.

When “the Emory community” outlined a strategic vision in 2005, we proposed enhancing the way these two kinds of community— intellectual and social—work together and strengthen each other. Emory’s heritage of educating both heart and mind is marked by intellectual work that stands with the best but also leans toward greater equity, deeper social capital, and the means for each person to do well by doing good. Our vision statement sums up that heritage as “working collaboratively for positive transformation in the world.”

Likewise our strategic planners envisioned a campus in which social interaction shapes intellectual pursuits. So, unsurprisingly, when you foster a community committed to sustainability, you get a chemist like Craig Hill winning awards for generating energy by means of artificial photosynthesis. When you have a community intent on being both an international destination and a global citizen, you find students from around the world enrolling in our master’s in development practice program, then returning home to improve their own societies.

The intellectual-social community at Emory has qualities and characteristics not easily measured by standard metrics of admission data, faculty awards, philanthropy, and so on. These certainly are important. But the work of blending the intellectual and the social is an art.

Take the shaping of a class, the most basic step in nurturing the quality of a campus community. Building an entering class, so that all members contribute something unique and rich, suggests attending to the character of the class—that blend of thought, aspiration, and action that distinguishes it from others. At Emory this character often manifests itself as a kind of generosity that seeks to lift our common humanity, not merely attend to self.

What evidence do we have about the character of our intellectual-social community? Consider:

• Last year, to heal divisions caused by race, gender, sexual violence, and privilege, students and staff formed an ad hoc committee to forge a new “Campus Life Compact” to build an inclusive Emory.

• Similarly, the University Senate is implementing fifty-seven recommendations from the Committee on Class and Labor, for improving the ways we respect each other as workers.

• Through the Office of Religious Life, Emory stands out as a campus where authentic religious expression coexists with deep mutual engagement among the many religions on campus.

• With the help of partners like Georgia Tech, we are forging powerful ways to apply new knowledge for good.

These are examples of intellectual and social impulses working hand in hand. But we also have metrics to assess the character of Emory.

Access: Through programs like Emory Advantage and Pell grants, Emory provides greater access to needy students than most of our peers. (Emory ranks fifth in Pell grant recipients among the most-selective universities.)

Adoption: Model programs developed at Emory to blend intellectual and social excellence are being copied by others: our Enterprise Risk Management, the innovative School of Medicine curriculum, and our cyber security, to name only three.

Digital scholarship: Emory is forging new ways of scholarship in the digital age (see our website for more).

QEP: Our Quality Enhancement Plan, required for reaffirmation of accreditation this year, will infuse our first-year college curriculum with attention to and reliance on the “nature of evidence”—an increasingly critical foundation for supporting civil debate in a diverse and democratic society.

These ways of blending the intellectual and the social into one community called Emory inspire us and guide us. In the end, they underscore the ways that Emory stands by what is good, in the words of former president Atticus Haygood, and strives to make it better for the sake of all of society.

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