President William M. Chace hopes Emory's new Presidential Distinguished Professors will revive the role of the public intellectual

Johnnetta Cole profile

William Foege profile

David Garrow profile

During the middle part of the twentieth century, Columbia University professor Lionel Trilling was a frequent contributor to many of America's most important intellectual journals. In his 1980 book, Lionel Trilling: Criticism and Politics, Emory President William M. Chace, then an associate professor of English at Stanford University, wrote that "Trilling had been [his generation's] moral teacher; he had shown ways in which the imaginative power of literature could probe the process of individual moral development."

Chace describes Trilling, who died in 1975, as a public intellectual whose essays were read by many outside academia. But with university professors becoming increasingly specialized these days, public intellectuals of Trilling's stripe, according to Chace, have become a dying breed.

The disappearance of the public intellectual from America's college and university campuses was a primary impetus for Chace's establishment of the position of Presidential Distinguished Professor at Emory. To fill that role, he says he was looking for scholars "with considerable range, who can touch many disciplines and enter into the national discussion about [issues such as] education, civic principles, health, and race."

Recently, three such scholars have joined Emory: Johnnetta Cole, former president of Spelman College and a leader in American higher education; William Foege, the former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who was deeply involved in the program to eradicate smallpox; and renowned U.S. Supreme Court expert and Pulitzer Prize winner David J. Garrow.

"They are large figures, they have national visibility, and they talk about serious, difficult matters," says Chace of the trio.

Each one, Chace hopes, not only will teach and lecture at Emory, but also will reach and influence the American general public by writing for publications beyond the formally academic. "I see each of them, but each in a different way, having a fairly large position on this campus-speaker, writer, teacher, commentator," he explains. "I don't think I'll have to worry much about any one of them being bashful." What follows are profiles of each of Emory's Presidential Distinguished Professors.--J.D.T.

Johnnetta Cole

Challenging the status quo

by Allison O. Adams

Dramatically shaped by her experiences as Spelman College's first female African-American president, as well as by her career in teaching, research, and administration at three other institutions, Johnnetta Cole's fall 1998 course in anthropology in Emory College will be different from any other class she has ever taught. "If a teacher does not bring an evolving set of views, if living encounters are not part of rethinking things, then the classroom has become the site of absolute triviality," says Cole, who recently retired from Spelman's helm after a decade and now has two book projects underway. "Having presidented a college gives me such a different vantage point. I see the world now in far more complex ways."

Complex views of the world have always informed Cole's work as a challenger of the status quo. A native of Jacksonville, Florida, she grew up in a middle-class African-American family during the era of Jim Crow segregation in the 1940s. Her father was the son of a German brick mason and an African-American woman. Cole says a sometimes anguished consciousness of her heritage and upbringing profoundly influenced her professional choices. "As an adult," she wrote in her 1993 autobiography, Conversations: Straight Talk with America's Sister President, "the issues of race, gender, and class have been central in my life, my community activities, and my work as an anthropologist and teacher."

With a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology from Oberlin College, Cole was completing her Ph.D. degree in that field at Northwestern University when she joined the faculty of Washington State University in 1964. She worked there as an assistant professor and director of black studies while beginning a career in anthropological research on cross-cultural issues of race, class, and gender. Her fieldwork has spanned the United States, Cuba, West Africa, and the Caribbean,and her introductory textbook, Anthropology for the Nineties, is a standard in classrooms nationwide.

Cole's interest in questions of race, class, and gender equity also carried her into difficult and controversial administrative work. From 1970 to 1983, she served as associate provost for undergraduate education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she orchestrated an intense but ultimately successful struggle to revise the general education curriculum. "There are some very insecure white males in the academy who are deeply threatened by anybody that looks and sounds like me . . . ," Cole said in a 1987 interview. The task of curriculum reform, she added, is "surely the most threatening in the academic world, becausen it fundamentally questions the value of what people are doing."

Today, Cole still says the experience was painful, but it also fueled her ascent into the vanguard of higher-education reform. "It was something I felt passionately about," she says. "Administration is not necessarily what attracts me; it's the questions, What needs to be envisioned? What needs to be changed?"

Following a five-year stint in the anthropology department at Hunter College in New York City, where she was also director of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Cole's passion for enacting change was again stirred in 1987, when she was tapped for the presidency of Spelman College, Atlanta's historically African-American liberal arts college for women. "I didn't want to be president of a college," she says. "But what kept standing out was that this is a place that dares to say it will educate African-American women well.

"No matter where I turned, I saw a reflection of myself. I saw black women, women in leadership, women professors, women intellectuals--words we rarely put together. And one of my tasks was to make us so at ease with being black women that we could reach out to the rest of the world."

And reach out they did. The novelty of an African-American woman college president spurred nationwide media attention, and Cole leveraged her public platform to become a vigorous and eloquent advocate for minority education. As a nationally respected authority, she commanded enormous mass appeal. Ms. and People magazines profiled her. In 1989, she testified on Capitol Hill, opposing cuts in federal student aid. And in 1991, she was a Glamour magazine "Woman of the Year," and Working Woman named her one of America's "Ten Women to Watch."

Cole also became a savvy and successful fund-raiser. During her tenure, the endowment at Spelman, which has eighteen hundred students, grew from $41 million to $147 million-the largest of any historically African-American college or university. This giving trend was ignited in 1988 by a donation from Bill and Camille Hanks Cosby of $20 million, the largest gift from an individual to any historically African-American college. Some of the Cosby funds were used to build the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Academic Center. The rest now endows professorships, and a new science center is in the works.

"We raised that money for some of the most rare and precious things money can help you say or acquire," Cole says. "When those young sisters see their Cosby building or hear about a new professor coming or are there themselves because of a scholarship, [it is evident that] Spelman is sterling proof that women are as good as men, that black folk can learn, want to learn, and do learn as much as white folk."

Key to Cole's fundraising accomplishments was her ability to range beyond the academy into other sectors. She joined the board of The Home Depot and became the first woman on the board of Coca-Cola Enterprises.

In 1992, newly elected President Bill Clinton appointed her to his transition team, placing her in charge of education, the humanities, and labor. She did not go easily into the political milieu, however, and shortly after her appointment she was cited by two newspapers, the politically conservative Human Events and The Forward, a New York-based Jewish weekly, as a "leftist extremist." The story was picked up by the New York Times. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution offered a forum for rebuttal, interviewing Jewish community leaders who regarded Cole as central to reconciliation efforts between African-Americans and Jews.

"There is nothing I can say that will recast that as a delightful experience," Cole says. "But there were moving and memorable moments in response. This city I claim as my home gave me incredible support."

Emory is quickly beginning to feel like her new institutional home, Cole says. "I already had ties and respect for my colleagues at Emory in anthropology and African-American studies--plus a strong respect for the Brother President [William M. Chace]." President Chace has asked her assistance in developing closer ties between Emory and the predominantly African-American Atlanta University Center institutions. Cole believes such expectations are part of the unique task of the three presidential distinguished professors.

"The ways the three of us can promote informed citizenship, the ways we can bring the academy into closer communion with the major issues of the day--we all say that is in some sense our responsibility. I think it is admirable that President Chace has sought a way to concretize that."

William Foege

Prevailing against the odds

by Rhonda Mullen Watts

I firmly believe that ours is a cause-and-effect world. It is the driving force in public health," William Foege says. "You do these things because it is actually possible to change the world. I can't imagine doing this work if it couldn't succeed."

Foege has built a career on this belief, proving time and again that what many said couldn't be done could, in fact, be accomplished on a grand scale. He has been involved in many of the most important public health advances of the century, including the eradication of smallpox, successful attacks on Guinea worm disease and river blindness, and the development of an agricultural model for improving nutrition in developing countries. Foege also has provided leadership in developing the relatively new field of injury control and been an effective administrator, serving as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 1977 to 1983 and as executive director of The Carter Center from 1987 to 1992.

Foege has been honored many times for his accomplishments. His awards include the World Health Organization's Health for All medal, the Sedgwick Memorial Award from the American Public Health Association, a Distinguished Alumni Award from Harvard University, and a special commendation from President Bill Clinton. Now, as a faculty member at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health, he has earned additional recognition as the Presidential Distinguished Professor of International Health.

Foege began his career as an epidemiology intelligence program officer at the CDC in 1962, after completing his medical degree at the University of Washington Medical School. Three years later, he earned a master's degree from the Harvard University School of Public Health and set out for eastern Nigeria with his wife and young son to serve as a medical missionary.

While there, Foege developed a key strategy for smallpox eradication, a strategy born out of necessity. As a medical officer at the Immanuel Medical Center in Yahe, Foege led a team that was attempting to vaccinate the entire population for smallpox. In December 1966, however, the dreaded disease had broken out in a rural area at the same time there was a shortage of vaccine.

Foege held an emergency meeting to plan a strategy to contain the disaster. His team decided to try to vaccinate a fraction of the population based on the epidemic's most likely path. With the help of missionaries, they dispatched runners throughout the area to see where the disease had already spread. Based on the information they received, along with an educated guess about the epidemic's likely path, they vaccinated all people in the villages that already had smallpox as well as those where they thought the disease might strike.

The strategy, which became known as surveillance and containment, worked. In fact, it worked so well it changed the worldwide approach to smallpox eradication, saving time, money, and lives. In 1978, smallpox became the first infectious disease to be successfully eradicated.

By the time the World Health Organization declared the last case of smallpox, Foege had moved on to accept the directorship of the CDC. He carried the global perspective he had gained in Nigeria to his new post. In fact, this global awareness became a thread running through his career.

"I am absolutely convinced that what is good for the world is good for the United States," he says. Foege's vision remained focused on worldwide health problems when he left the CDC in 1983 to create the Task Force for Child Survival and Development, a working group for five United Nations agencies. In just six years, with the Task Force's coordination, these agencies­­in partnership with hundreds of nongovernmental organizations ­­raised general immunization levels of the world's children from 20 to 80 percent.

When he agreed to become executive director of The Carter Center in 1987, Foege again brought a global perspective to bear on many public health initiatives. One of the center's programs, Global 2000, seeks to improve health and agricultural services in developing countries by helping modernize farming practices and increasing agricultural yields in targeted countries. The program also has undertaken the eradication of Guinea worm disease, which strikes millions of people in developing countries when they drink water contaminated with the worm's larvae. Emerging as yard-long parasites, Guinea worms leave victims incapacitated. But simple, inexpensive treatments of water can prevent the disease. With the coordinating assistance of Global 2000, Ghana, Nigeria, and Pakistan are well on their way to eradicating the disease.

President Jimmy Carter describes Foege as "a true visionary who has inspired me and all of us at The Carter Center to reach beyond what we believe is possible. He has a rare ability to imagine a more benevolent world and to make it happen."

Foege sees the next portion of his career as shifting gears to teaching and writing. He currently has several book projects in the works, including a volume he's compiling on great moments in public health. He is also lecturing on global health and acting as a mentor to students.

Foege recognizes the importance of mentors in his own life. "Many of the turns in a life are based on an individual we encounter along the way," he says. One person who inspired him was Ray Ravenholt, for whom he worked at the Seattle-King County Department of Health. Ravenholt steered Foege toward public health rather than clinical medicine. Another important mentor was Thomas Weller, a professor at Harvard, whom Foege sought out after reading Weller's article "Questions of Priority."

"After reading that, I knew I wanted to spend a year studying with him," Foege says.

His experiences have convinced Foege that "you should never underestimate the power of an article or speech. You never know where the ripples might end."

Now, at the height of his profession, Foege could choose to spread his influence in any number of places, but he holds special connections to Emory's School of Public Health. He was an early advocate of such a school even before its existence, sending emissaries and even coming himself to propose the idea to then-University President James T. Laney. "I believed that no school would have the advantages of this one, with the CDC being right next door," he says.

Foege also joined the school because of Dean James Curran. He first met Curran when he was director of the CDC and Curran joined the organization to head the AIDS Task Force. "Jim Curran is a very good leader," Foege says, "smart with vision." Asked if he trained Curran, Foege laughs, "No, I can't be blamed for that."

Curran has similar accolades and collegial taunts for Foege. He notes Foege's essential humanity: "The things that separate him from other administrators are his humanity, compassion, and approachability." But introducing Foege as the Commencement speaker at the school's spring graduation exercises, Curran called the distinguished professor my "mentor and tormentor."

In that Commencement address, Foege reiterated his belief in a cause-and-effect world. "You've warmed by fires you did not build, drank from wells you did not dig," he told the graduates. "Now, you must feel the need to build new fires, to construct new wells."

David J. Garrow

Examining individual rights

By John D. Thomas

Every year in the United States, more than two million people die. For many, death is anything but quick and painless. The New York Times recently reported that "most women have eight years of disability before they die; most men, five or six."

Many Americans are terrified of the possibility of a painful, lingering demise, and this concern is reflected in the fervent national debate raging over the right to die with dignity.

Last spring, Pulitzer Prize winner David J. Garrow delivered a lecture at Emory on the future of America's right-to-die movement. A Presidential Distinguished Professor in the Emory School of Law and a renowned authority on the Supreme Court, Garrow predicted that the court would soon reject, by a margin "on the order of eight to one if not nine to nothing," two appellate court victories that had validated a person's right to physician-assisted suicide.

Nine weeks later, the court proved Garrow prescient, reversing the two cases on a unanimous vote. The court did not believe the Constitution guaranteed a person's right to have a doctor's aid in dying. But according to Garrow, a unanimous decision from the highest court in the land was anything but the last word on the matter.

"The number-one fact about the right-to-die issue is the size of the gap between public opinion--which, depending on the poll you read, is anywhere from a 65-percent to a 70-percent positive response--and elite opinion," says Garrow from his sunny, book-crammed office on the fifth floor of the law school's Gambrell Hall. "Both the medical profession and elected officials are lagging far behind the public. That's why I have relatively little doubt about generally how this is going to progress. Inevitably, elite opinion is going to start to catch up with public opinion, and in the long run [the right-to-die movement] will prevail."

In November 1997, the right-to-die movement took a giant step in that direction when Oregon voters, by an overwhelming margin of 60 percent to 40 percent, reaffirmed their support of a law allowing physician-assisted suicide in their state. As Garrow wrote in the New York Times, "Oregon's landslide vote is a good indicator of where America may be headed."

The right to a physician's aid in dying is not the first such issue that Garrow has weighed in on-his entire career has been spent examining issues of individual rights, including civil rights and reproductive rights. Garrow began to focus on these issues while an undergraduate at Wesleyan University. His honors thesis dealt with civil rights protests that occurred in Selma, Alabama, during the 1960s. That thesis was eventually published in 1978 by Yale University Press as Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1979, two years before he earned his doctorate in political science from Duke University, Garrow began doing interviews for a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. He also utilized the Freedom of Information Act to win release of the FBI's copious files on King, and in 1981 published The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From "Solo" to Memphis, a comprehensive analysis of the bureau's harassment of King. Five years later, Garrow's biography, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was published and won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in biography. In its review, the New York Times wrote that Garrow "has provided the fundament of fact on which future King biographies must rest, both in regard to King's public and private lives."

Garrow has remained active in studying issues concerning King's life, and recently he has been critical about some actions the King family has taken. Not only has he criticized the Kings for embracing James Earl Ray, the man imprisoned for assassinating the civil rights leader, but he has also chided the Kings for their attempts to market the words and works of the family patriarch, a move he believes may have negative ramifications.

"I think the King family has repeatedly been insensitive to the perception that they are eager to profiteer off of King's rhetorical legacy," says Garrow, who worked as a senior adviser on the award-winning PBS civil rights documentary, Eyes on the Prize.

Garrow next turned his attention to the history of the struggle for reproductive rights in this country. He worked for half a decade researching the subject, and his efforts culminated in the 1994 publication of Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade. The New York Times described it as "the best book yet on these important cases, which have so profoundly changed American life."

Last fall, Garrow was working on a new epilogue for the paperback edition of Liberty and Sexuality, which is scheduled to be published this spring. In that section of the new edition, he chronicles and reflects on events that have had an impact on reproductive rights since the book's original publication, including the partial-birth abortion ban controversies and the passing of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. While reproductive rights continue to be challenged in this country by pro-life advocates, Garrow believes a woman's right to choose is in no danger of being taken away.

"American public opinion on abortion has been amazingly stable from right before Roe, in about 1972, to the present," says Garrow. "And there is very little reason to believe that there are going to be any significant changes in it. At times I think there is a little too much pessimism or a little too much defeatism in pro-choice circles."

Reviewers have described Garrow's work as "sprawling" and "meticulous," and when the paperback edition of Liberty and Sexuality is published with its new epilogue, the book will run approximately eleven hundred pages. Garrow admits these epic works can exact a high cost on a writer.

"You have to have an emotional connection, not just an academic interest, in the subject you're writing about," Garrow explains. "And you have to believe there is an untold part of the history which at least for some people will be truly emotionally motivating. But the fundamental emotional challenge in doing something like Liberty and Sexuality is that it is a phenomenally lonely enterprise. Even though you are calling and interviewing large numbers of people, it necessarily requires one to be very reclusive and to spend a phenomenal number of hours each week simply either reading or typing away at the little blue screen."

In addition to using Emory as a base of operations for writing for such publications as the New York Times and Newsweek, Garrow also teaches at the law school. According to Dean Howard O. Hunter, "Dave Garrow brings to the law school the sharp mind and wit of a careful observer of American legal developments-especially in sensitive areas of race, abortion, privacy, and death. His presence is valuable to both our students and our faculty."

Garrow describes what he teaches as "litigation history," stressing that he tries to help students understand not only the opinions in important cases but also the stories behind them. "Whether it's civil rights, reproductive rights, or the right to die, my fundamental interest is in teaching not only simply the opinion in [a specific case], but really the legal history of where these cases came from and what the lawyers thought they were doing."

Return to Spring 1998 contents page

Return to Emory Magazine home page

Return to Emory University homepage