To Prize and To Sustain a Life of the Mind

William M. Chace

After traveling among you now for some eight months, I have begun to learn our common language. I have successfully memorized one of the sentences holding the Emory community together. It is, "I can't find a parking space."

I would like to spend a little time with that sentence, explaining it and unraveling it. Lest you think that mention of parking is an odd way to start an inaugural address, believe me that while I know that parking is real, all too real for many of you, parking is also metaphor.

Let me clear out of the way the material and physical issues involved. There are too many cars on campus; the parking structures we have built will not solve all our problems, nor will higher parking fees. We must keep more cars out of the central campus; we must make more of the campus a pedestrian mall; we must have more distant satellite parking; we must become more reliant on bicycles, shuttle buses, and shoe leather.

And I am tempted to say that we must have a reduction in the rate at which new buildings arise on campus. We have built well, and we have built generously; we have built handsomely where handsome building has been warranted. But, amid all the new and the old, we feel crowded. We know we must protect the green and open spaces we still are lucky to have; we must remember that building too must have its limits and that someday we must be able to say: "This is Emory. This is what we have wanted in buildings. Now let us teach and learn in them." Our building tasks are not quite finished. The cost of excellence is expansion; the price of quality is growth. But let us limit that cost; let us be frugal with that growth. Chemistry and Physics have made their case for an expanded structure. The medical sciences, too, must be given some more room to flourish. And we must build a center for the performing arts; its absence has to be remedied, and remedied well.

Now back, if I may, to parking, not as a material and physical reality, but as a metaphor of where Emory is and where it must go. To say, "I can't find a parking space," is to declare one's marginality. It is to remark on one's absence from power. It is to say: there is a feast, but I am far from the table. This, of course, is a complaint that many in America can air. We all feel, now and again, mysteriously powerless. We sense that we are alone. We say to ourselves that a community, once open to all and protective of all, has fled from our midst.

A generation ago, Jane Jacobs, writing The Death and Life of Great American Cities, focused on what she called "social capital"--that necessary and wonderful reservoir of human trust, coordination, cooperation, and mutual benefit that, simply put, makes life easier. An ample supply of social capital tells people how to pool resources, communicate directly, negotiate effectively, define incentives, and collectively celebrate rewards. From it we learn the pleasures of seeing the pronoun "I" flower into the pronoun "we."

In Atlanta today, we are witnessing a very happy result of the employment of such social capital. That is the great cooperative effort bringing the Olympics to Atlanta. This city has achieved greatness precisely because it has never forgotten the ties that bind citizen to citizen, business to business, neighbor to neighbor.

But elsewhere in the United States, we sense that such precious social capital is at risk. As we Americans trust less in successful civic engagement at many levels in our lives, we sense a turning back in upon ourselves, there to find, as Alexis de Tocqueville long ago predicted we would find, only our solitary selves.

I can think of no more appropriate place than Emory to think about ways to accumulate greater social capital. What shall we do here to arrest a movement that could lead us into social and personal isolation? What can our deep spiritual foundations do to help us avoid a withdrawal inward and lead us out to a collective progress forward? What can we do to pool our magnificent resources and, by pooling them, multiply them?

Since what I now say will define the administration it is my honor and pleasure to lead, I offer the following proposals. I pledge myself to their success. I ask you to join me in assuring they succeed. In the first place, everyone must feel that he or she does have a "parking space." I mean, of course, that we must guarantee to everyone on this campus full equity of treatment and equality of opportunity. To that end, I will establish a presidential commission to pursue equity--equity of treatment for all those here.

But by the possession of a "parking space," I mean, of course, much more than such a commission. I mean that each of us must have a place in Emory's life, must have a sense of ownership, must feel strongly that one is a stakeholder in the future of this institution. There is a feast at this table; all of you should feel welcome at it. But you must also feel that the feast is there because of the labors of your heart and mind. Be reminded of our shared good fortune: we at Emory are strong, we still are young, we are not poor. The quality of our students increases year by passing year. We live securely on good land; we are not rigidified by past habits; we have not become stultified by pretentiousness. We are a good neighbor in a thriving city. We live in a region of the nation that, JoAn and I have so pleasurably discovered, delights in hospitality. Our prospects are, all in all, golden bright. And they are our prospects, in part by way of gift from many others, in part fruit of our own labors. This is our stakeholding.

But stakeholders, we know, have duties. As my colleague Billy Frye has lately reminded all of us in his document Choices and Responsibility, with the rights we possess come obligations we must honor. Let me name immediately the one responsibility that I deem more important than any other: to prize and to sustain a life of the mind that will draw students closer to each other, students and teachers into more powerful associations, and the faculty into a more energetic and enterprising union of intellectual pioneers. Any place so good as this thrives or perishes by how strong its thinking is. That thinking becomes visible in the research we generate and give to the world and the teaching we perfect and extend to our students. At the end of all our labors let it be said of the people of Emory that they dedicated themselves to the creation of thought, and that they combined their resources to make mind prevail, to make thinking prevail, to make discovery prevail. If we can do well there, we will have had a triumph never to be forfeited.

But we have other obligations. This nation is watching everything that we and our sister academic institutions now do. We are admired by many, but viewed with suspicion by some. Our critics are outspoken; our public champions are few. Some believe we are too expensive; others believe we contribute too little to the common good. Some think our research is strange, even arcane; others think we teach with insufficient passion. In the eyes of some, we have misplaced our sense of collective purpose. Some of this criticism is right; therefore it is distressing. Some of it is dead wrong; nevertheless it is burdensome. Here is our problem in a nutshell: will people continue to pay for what we provide in this culture, pay in financial terms, pay in terms of praise and tribute, pay in deference, pay in honor? Are we, as stakeholders, all doing a job so good that we need not worry about preserving the respect that higher education has for so long earned?

On this question, the jury of national judgment is still out. Therefore I want us now to take on the job of reporting on ourselves, accurately, before others do so, inaccurately. We must engage much more energetically, steadfastly, in the painful process of self-evaluation. What do we now do well, and what badly? And where are we only good when we could be excellent?

We owe it to ourselves (I speak now to all my faculty colleagues) to do the impossible: to pursue scholarship and research very well and, at the same time, to teach very well. We fear that these two cannot be united, yet they are united every day on this campus by the best among us, by colleagues who have mastered the fusion of skills that can lead students onward and can also produce new learning. Those colleagues show our students that the mind generating new knowledge can also transmit that knowledge. Let us create systems of recognition that will reward such men and women. We owe it to ourselves (I speak now to my fellow administrators) to create not only those systems of reward giving due praise to those who teach so well, but also to give birth to those material and physical resources that will bring to Emory a more stimulating and more charged intellectual atmosphere. The administration of this university is not responsible for the thinking of this campus. The faculty is. The administration is responsible for making good thinking possible.

We owe it to ourselves (I speak now to everyone not a student) to be reminded that once we were students. To be young as a student is to have the glorious impunity to make almost as many mistakes as victories and to have every experience, good or bad, chalked up as educational. So let us remind the students that they should be free to be erroneous, just as they should be free to be brilliantly innovative. Undergraduate education at its best is impractical, rich with wonder, psychologically daring and spiritually rewarding. Now is the time to be open to the special bedazzlement that a college education is meant to invoke. And let us pledge to those students that we will do everything we can to protect the special investment this nation has made in their education and their future. That investment is represented by the heroic and wise program of financial aid. It simply must be sustained.

We owe it to ourselves to recognize just how hard the staff of this institution works. Without the dedication those thousands of people daily bring to the life of Emory, Emory would have no life at all. Principled, professional, loyal, and perceptive, the staff of this university give of themselves to our collective enterprise. I seize this occasion to thank them, on behalf of all of us, for all they have done and will do.

We also owe it to ourselves to understand how a university becomes great. It has little to do with rankings; it has everything to do with merit. It has little to do with talk; it has everything to do with action. If we do what we know we should do, then deserving recognition will come. If we pursue recognition alone, nothing will come.

Here are some simple rules we can follow:

Do not permit centrifugal forces to thrust us narrowly into our respective disciplines; drive back to the center and to the network of associations that bind all thinking people together. Let us build more bridges, and fewer silos, of learning. Intellectual life can be lonely, but it need not be utterly private.

If you ask for examples of how such joint action can be accomplished, let me remind you that there are several stunning experiments now proceeding at Emory. One has to do with whether Emory physicians can provide a high level of patient care, sustain a high level of research activity, and educate some of this country's best future doctors. For this experiment to succeed, everyone involved in the medical sciences at Emory must work together, must resolve differences, must learn the hard rules of selflessness, and must surrender old habits to learn new paradigms.

Another experiment invites all members of this community, as well as members of the public, to deepen their understanding of the "moral imagination." That experiment is called the Center for Ethics in Public Policy and the Professions. At once interdisciplinary and interprofessional, driven by research and fortified by specific case studies, it exists to help us all make more sense of the ethical complexities now giving weight and texture to our lives.

A third and most commendable example is now emerging from the new federation that the University has forged with The Carter Center. President Carter has nobly demonstrated how intellect can be fused with mission, ideas with projects, conception with delivery. Now we must discover new ways to link more powerfully the agencies of thought with the agencies of enactment. In that linking, we will find ways to strengthen our international understanding, and we will bring to our students, as well as more of our faculty, a recognition of the global citizenship to which we are all entitled.

And here is another simple rule: keep in mind that being a stakeholder means protecting what has kept you strong. While you bear in mind the phalanx of brutal challenges that higher education is now facing, learn to protect the great investment that has made education so strong in this country. Higher education is now short on revenues but long on attracting criticism. So defend it and champion it. Where it is inward, teach it to be more publicly minded; where it has not been tough enough on itself, teach it to train its critical powers on its own traditional manners and customs.

Most importantly, remind all American citizens just how magnificent an experiment higher education has been in this country. It has educated millions very well and is a triumph of brains and ingenuity. The world watches it, admires it, and comes to fill its classrooms. The finest young people in this country spend some of the best years of their lives on its campuses. Families are strengthened by it, no less than industries and cities and businesses.

And here is another rule for the future: I urge us not to dwell excessively on the vague and billowy challenges of the next century. Much foolish talk, even talk at inaugural addresses, is given over to how we should all be prepared for the future. The future, my friends, is an untrustworthy and fickle guide, and with it we shall always have an unrequited love affair. Who could have foretold the computer revolution or the revolution in molecular biology? No one, but somehow the best mathematicians and electrical engineers were ready for what computers can do. The best biologists and chemists and physicists were ready for DNA. We should do all we can now, in this time and this place, with every tool we have and with all the energy we can command.

As Louis Pasteur said at his inaugural address in 1854 at the University of Lille, "In the fields of observation chance favors only the ready mind." If we have pushed our minds to readiness, if we have thought now as rigorously as we can, and if we have never settled for second-best, we will wind up facing the future with as much capital as anyone ever acquires. We have a present duty to be smart, to be careful with our resources, and to be vigilant about new possibilities. We have no present duty to be prophetic.

We are a thriving and boisterous institution; take heart every day from that fact. We possess hope and we possess optimism and we possess resolve. Our alumni have brought us this far; our trustees have brought us this far; George and Robert Woodruff brought us a great distance; our distinguished faculty have believed in us for a long time; our students have placed their trust in us; the United Methodist Church has watched us grow and has gloried in our presence in the world. We are the beneficiaries of many and the pride of many more. Whatever we have given to the world, out of that wellspring of the spirit that my superb predecessor Jim Laney called "the education of the heart," the world has given us back many times over. Our legacy, one of hope and optimism, now drives us onward.

So now I say that I want to work with all of you, every one of you, to do what we all know we have to do. With the strength we have individually, with the strength we have collectively, and with the strength that our deeply embedded spiritual foundation can give us, let us fasten upon the joy of being at this place. Let everyone have a place amid this bounty. Let us get to work, and be grateful for all the good work we have.

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