From the President

How Close to the Vision?
WagnerLetter

Way back whenbefore there was a Campaign Emory, before there was a strategic plan called “Where Courageous Inquiry Leads,” before there was a recession, before there were plans afoot for new freshman dorms, new research space, new classrooms, and new libraries—way back in fall 2003, the Emory community spent some months hammering out a vision for what Emory both is and should be. 

That seems like an eon ago. But that “vision statement” still lives on the Emory website, calling us to be “a destination university internationally recognized as an inquiry-driven, ethically engaged, and diverse community, whose members work collaboratively for positive transformation in the world through courageous leadership in teaching, research, scholarship, health care, and social action.”

Twelve years later, it’s worth asking how that statement still lives in our collective vision. 

At the end of October, a group of about sixty Emory leaders known as the Administrative Council came together for two days of reflection on just that question. The conversation was rich and lively. From all parts of the institution, these leaders include the cabinet, deans, and directors of all the major divisions—from the museum to campus services, from schools to human resources. They brought not only perspectives focused on their divisions, but also a broad interest in the direction of the university. 

Normally we gather for two hours once each semester to share ideas, brainstorm about opportunities, and inform our commitment to build an even better Emory. The last such extended gathering occurred more than a decade ago, at the beginning of the strategic plan whose conclusion and successes we are celebrating this fall.

A lot has happened and a lot has changed in the intervening years. As we transition to a new phase of strategic planning, one thing seems very clear from my vantage point—Emory’s shared vision and guiding principles are held firmly and deeply throughout the institution. The title of our strategic plan, “Where Courageous Inquiry Leads,” took root in our community and helped to shape the growth of the university over the past decade and more. 

What may be most remarkable is the way in which that vision has continued to determine our direction through extensive transitions in leadership at many levels. Eight of our nine deans have been appointed in the past decade, and seven of the nine cabinet members are new to their positions. More significantly, more than a third of the Administrative Council consists of women and men who either have come to Emory just in the past two years or have taken on greater responsibility through promotion during that time. To a significant degree the Emory vision, which our entire community helped to forge in 2003, has helped to shape the leadership of the institution as much as the leadership has shaped the vision.

This bodes well for Emory during a year of many transitions. We are appointing two new cabinet officers and a new dean. We are beginning a new phase of strategic thinking and acting under the leadership of Provost Claire Sterk and Vice Provost Michael Sacks. We are developing a long-term financial plan for Emory Healthcare. We are initiating a strong new plan for communicating the Emory “brand” throughout our nation and the world. We are finding new ways to enhance our partnerships with communities, government, academe, and NGOs. We are beginning to think about and plan for a campaign to find the resources to help meet Emory’s aspirations to play a stronger leadership role in teaching, research, health care, and service to humanity. And did I mention a presidential search?

My point, though, is that despite the changes Emory already has experienced and the changes yet in store, this university community—its alumni, students, faculty, and staff—is blessed with an enduring ethos and consistent vision and aspiration that will carry it forward. That ethos
is one of dissatisfaction with the status quo. As many in the Emory community will recall, the university’s great benefactor Robert Woodruff once reminded us that the future belongs to the discontented, to those for whom the future promises something more exciting than what is. This kind of discontent is not dissatisfied and disgruntled, but energized, aspiring, and visionary.

Vision requires imagination, sober realism, intentionality, and humble openness to discern the direction toward which one is being called. This is difficult enough for an individual to discern, and even more challenging for an institution. But with the right vision, one can move confidently into the future.

Emory will continue to experience change in the year ahead. But I remain certain that one thing that will not change is the university’s bright future, which calls forth aspirational leadership among alumni, students, staff, and faculty. The Emory vision still guides them.

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