What is the soul of Emory?
What makes this University distinctive? What sets it apart from its peers? What are its aspirations?
These questions are being asked in committees, open forums, town hall meetings, and spirited conversations across campus as part of an initiative to examine Emory from the inside out, analyze its strengths and weaknesses, set priorities for the University as a whole, and chart a course for its future.
“We have the opportunity to leave behind the worn-out paradigm of the ‘multiversity’ and to become truly singular, a university,” says President James W. Wagner. “Our planning will thus lead us to an Emory difference, to a destination where this University stands apart because of both the kinds of work we are doing and the quality of our doing them.”
The strategic planning process, co-chaired by Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Earl Lewis and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Michael Johns began in the spring of 2004 and is expected to conclude this summer.
“What I think this institution has struggled with internally and externally is figuring out how to realize its potential,” Lewis told the Academic Exchange, a faculty newsletter. “Part of this exercise is a self-disciplining one, where the goal is to figure out how we take the notion of potential, concretize it, and use it to guide our own actions. That’s not to say we’re going to inscribe inflexibility into the system, but at the end of five years when we go back to evaluate our success, we can say this is where we wanted to be—and here we are.”
President Wagner appointed a committee of faculty and senior administrators to lead the process. The Strategic Planning Steering Committee meets regularly in a basement room of the Math and Science Building that is jokingly referred to as “the war room.”
“Emory has been amassing potential for a long time in terms of intellectual talent, faculty, resources, and so forth, and now is the right moment to realize that potential,” says Associate Professor of History Sharon Strocchia, a member of the steering committee.
The first step has been to gather information. Small groups of administrators, faculty, staff, students, and alumni were called together to take stock of current conditions and to brainstorm about what they envision for Emory, as well as their schools or divisions, over the next five years. Town hall meetings were held around campus, with extended question-and-answer periods for community members to share their thoughts.
Task forces were formed to examine overarching issues relevant to the entire University. The first—the task force on internationalization—is chaired by Tom Robertson, former dean of the Goizueta Business School.
“The objective is to contribute to scholarship, health care, and social action worldwide, and to develop the Emory brand internationally,” says Robertson, who was deputy principal at the London Business School before coming to Emory in 1998. “This is a major untapped opportunity.”
Next, the steering committee identified signature themes—“big ideas” that cut across disciplines and could engage and connect the University in novel and transformative ways.
“These ideas must have a ‘wow’ quotient to them,” says Johns, “in that they will capture our imaginations and keep us sustained.”
Messages flooded a Web site (www.admin.emory.edu/Strategic Plan) set up to elicit input.
Suggestions came from deans and alumni, medical residents and undergraduates, professors and community members.
The nine themes that emerged, in addition to internationalization, are: “Global Health,” “Mind, Brain, and Neuroscience,” “Predictive Medicine,” “Critical Inquiry and Creative Expression,” “Race, Racism, and Society,” “Religion, Society, and Human Experience,” “Citizen as Scholar and Scholar as Citizen,” “Policy Solutions and Implementation,” and “Societies in Conflict and Transition.”
These will be narrowed to four or five signature themes that will “animate our conversations over the next few years,” says Lewis.
As an example of a cross-cutting initiative, Lewis used the investigation of the royal mummy believed to be Ramesses I in the collection of the Michael C. Carlos Museum and its return to Egypt in the fall of 2003. The quest to determine if the mummy was the missing pharaoh involved “nearly the whole campus, in one way or another—neurosciences and culture, art and humanities, sciences and social sciences.”
Emory has many existing strengths that have allowed it to flourish, says Johns, who came from Johns Hopkins University eight years ago. These include the University’s location in Atlanta, strong service ethic, commitment to both teaching and research, and robust financial condition.
“Why do we look so rich and feel so poor?” Johns asked the audience at a packed town hall meeting in the Winship Ballroom in November. “We have a lot of money, just not enough for all the brilliant ideas coming from our faculty and staff.”
The primary challenge Emory faces, he says, is that its national and international recognition is “not where it needs to be, compared to other top research universities.”
Gaining more recognition will involve wider and more diverse recruitment and enrollment of “the best and the brightest” students, hiring and retaining top-notch faculty, allowing for more collaborative programs and research, and aiming for higher profile graduate programs that rank consistently as the best in the nation.
“The goal is not to be on a certain list,” Johns added, “but to be so good that people put us on the list. And there is a difference there.”
The final phase of the strategic planning process will consolidate the University’s goals and strategic initiatives (both university-wide and within each school and division) and detail how resources will be invested in these priorities.
“Great things don’t happen in two months, or even a year,” Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Mandl said at an Employee Council meeting in January. “We need to be about a set of principles. The key is to identify and articulate them, then begin the momentum toward them.”
The plan will be presented to the Board of Trustees in June 2005, and will become the platform for a comprehensive capital campaign led by Johnnie Ray, senior vice president for the Office of Development and University Relations.
“We need a well-formed institutional vision for the future. The importance of this cannot be overstated,” says Ray. “No amount of fundraising machinery, organization, or technique can be effective without a compelling, outwardly focused expression of how we can make a difference in society.”