Trustees adopt Choices & Responsibility as official `values platform' for planning

At the recent retreat of the Board of Trustees, the trustees voted to adopt Choices & Responsibility as the official "values platform" from which to conduct strategic planning. What that means, according to President Bill Chace, is that in the future, the trustees will evaluate critical decisions in light of the five areas addressed in Choices & Responsibility (C&R).

"I have embraced C&R as the official statement of the character and aspirations of Emory," said Chace. "As we look to the future, and as we begin the process of strategic planning, this document, together with the University's mission statement, with which it is entirely congruent, will serve as a guide for the University in planning. This spring, the University will begin the process of strategic planning, and the first component of successful strategic planning always is a vision statement. C&R provides that vision statement for us."

Several of the trustees echoed this confidence after their discussion of C&R at the trustee retreat. "A simple but wise rule in management is to plan your work and work your plan," said John McIntyre. "Because of its financial condition and the imagination of its leaders, Emory is in a wonderful position to take a good look at itself, decide what its strengths and weakenesses are, and plan to become an even better place for teaching, research and service. I think that C&R has given us a creative and substantive foundation from which to develop the next stage of Emory's plan. It will be up to all of us to work the plan."

"If we can give life to Billy Frye's blueprint for Emory," said Chair of the Board Brad Currey, "we assure Emory's place among the great universities of the world for generations to come. Once again, what we are becoming looms larger than what we are and what we have been."

It has now been 18 months since C&R was originally published in Emory Report, and two years since the symposium, "Choices and Responsibilities in a Changing University," which helped set the tone for many of the conversations that are still taking place.

In the past three years, approximately 1,000 members of the Emory community have participated in a luncheon conversation series held with facilitators from the University Priorities Committee, Faculty Council, Employee Council, and this year, the new Commission on Teaching. Those facilitators led their groups in discussions of issues facing Emory and then provided the provost's office with reports. It was the first series of conversations, said Provost Billy Frye, that contributed to the structure and contents for the C&R document. Subsequent series have helped define the nature of Emory's progress on the issues outlined in the document: the balance between teaching and research; building a stronger comunity; encouraging interdisciplinary scholarship; keeping pace with infrastrucutre needs; and assessing Emory's external relationships.

"To be sure, these issues would probably be concerns of the faculty on every university campus in the country" said Frye, "but the rapid emergence of Emory as a major `research university' has thrown these issues into sharp relief at Emory. The conversations have given hope that we may find a better balance among the several elements of our work than those institutions that have gone before, and be a stronger institution for it. This is the hope that we heard repeatedly during the luncheon conversations in the year following the symposium."

The document obviously has made an impact; not only did the Board of Trustees choose to adopt it as a guide in planning for the future, but it also has been referred to again and again in meetings of Faculty Council and Senate, in faculty meetings, in budget and planning meetings, in casual conversations of faculty, staff and administrators. And the deans have embraced it and begun to use it to fine tune the setting of priorities and planning within the schools and colleges.

"I think that the publishing of Provost Frye's C&R, and President Chace's embracing of the principles presented in it, have had a profound influence on the life of the University," said 1995-96 University Senate President Rick Letz. "Schools and other units within the University have used its framework in performing their planning and budgeting, and many inter-unit communications, e.g., University-wide committee discussions, town hall meetings, etc., have been facilitated by frequent reference to the clear articulation of ideas presented in this document."

Rebecca Chopp, professor of theology and chair of the new Commission on Teaching that has been one of the concrete results of C&R (see sidebar on outcomes), used the School of Theology as a specific example of this influence. "In my own school, C&R has served as a springboard for conversations about the school's mission, curriculum, relationship to the larger University and to the various publics with which we relate. C&R has given us a kind of common language with which to discuss the present situation at Emory. We may agree, disagree, want more of some aspects, want less of another, but we have a language with which to speak in each local situation and in the broader University context."

Vice President for Institutional Advancement Bill Fox characterized C&R as a "daring perspective on higher education in general and Emory in particular. It is daring because it asks us to take risks to become the best institution we can be, and those risks take us down a different path than the one which has most commonly led to excellence in higher education since World War II. It challenges us to be a community, not just in theory but in reality. C&R offers us a way to be distinctive and at the same time excellent."

An evolving structure

"When I wrote C&R," said Frye, "I was not attempting to write the definitive plan for shaping Emory's future. I was trying to provide a framework for thinking about what kind of university we want to be and ought to be. As so-called strategic planning has become fashionable among universities, there has arisen an unfortunate tendency to see planning as a process of positioning ourselves for competitive advantage in a competitive marketplace of pressures and opportunities, without first revisiting the basic character and mission of the university as a unique institution in our society. Consequently, over the years there has been a significant degree of divergence between the values of scholarship and intellectual life that we espouse and our actual behavior. I firmly believe that sound planning must be based on a clear understanding of our purpose, our values and the rules of academic conduct. I see this as a critical opportunity for us to correct some of the imbalances that have arisen over the past five decades, and make Emory a stronger, better and more special place than it might otherwise be. Because the character of a university is based so heavily in the culture of the faculty, this is something that we must discuss and decide together."

In light of the subsequent discussions, Frye said that there are some changes he would make in C&R if he were to rewrite the document today. "I would be more explicit about a centrality of quality in our objectives," said Frye. "Intellectual excellence is so fundamental to everything we do that it never occurred to me that we needed to say it. But some people seem to fear that C&R somehow suggests that we are abandoning our goal of becoming one of the world's great universities, that it is about `being good' more than `being excellent.'"

Frye was emphatic in his disagreement with this view. "C&R is about a particular way of being excellent, and without that overarching goal, for me at least, none of it is worth the battle." Excellence, said Frye, is the topic of a sixth essay he is currently writing to accompany the five in C&R.

Frye continued, "I also would be more explicit about the place of students in the university. One colleague pointed out to me that the word `student' does not appear anywhere in the document. The emphasis on teaching is so strong that one might think that it is more about students than anything else. But whether you look at it from the point of view of our basic purpose, or from the central concern that the public has about universities today, students are taken for granted only to our great peril, and I would try to leave no doubt about that."

A third area Frye would change in the document would be to "underscore again that C&R is not about either/or choices, it is not about teaching versus research, disciplinary versus interdisciplinary scholarship, a nurturing community versus tough standards, but about balance. I really believe that everything we do is good and important, and more of it would be a good thing for our society. But there is a relationship among the parts and, realistically there is only so much that anyone can do in a day. Under the influence of external pressures (notably our dependence upon federal funding for research) that have taken into account only a part of our mission, the balance has become distorted. We must at least be aware of that distortion, and to the extent that we can, temper its effects."

Continuing conversations

Because so much of what we value and what we do is embedded in the academic culture, Frye believes that continuing conversations with and among the faculty about these issues is a key to change, both because this can be a source of good ideas, and because it is through such conversation that commitment to change is made and reinforced throughout the community.

"There has been a great deal of discussion," said Frye, "and I'll freely admit that there has been some disagreement over the five major points. But there has been an enormous consensus concerning three of those points: the balance between teaching and research; building a stronger community; and encouraging interdisciplinary scholarship. And in those three areas in particular, an enormous amount has already occurred, and there is great momentum for continuation of the process."

Frye said that the overwhelming interest in teaching expressed by last year's survey participants contributed to his decision to focus this year's conversations on teaching. Approximately 400 faculty, 100 staff members and a number of students have taken part in the third series, which concludes this week.

Goals of the new initiative collectively

Frye said he sees the overarching goal of this process as "generating on the campus a much stronger sense of us as a university than has been the case -- how schools and colleges inter-relate and connect. When I came, the University was perceived as being unduly fragmented. I think the most important thing that could happen is that most boundaries begin to melt away and people begin to perceive themselves not only in the context of their particular department or college, but as part of the University, and that implies having a much stronger sense than most of them seem to have had, of what the goals of the University are."

Chopp said she feels that C&R has begun to melt those boundaries between faculty. "It is my impression that engaging the faculty and the rest of Emory has been an extremely important step forward in improving communications across campus and in cultivating some sense of shared vision for the future of Emory," she said. "The importance of faculty voices in creating what Emory will be in the future cannot be underestimated."

A crucial activity to be affected by C&R during the next year is the process of strategic planning, which will be addressed at the May trustee meeting. "In effective strategic planning," said Chace, "you have to be aware of the link between resources and priorities, and C&R helps us begin to reason together about priorities of the University in the decades to come."

--Nancy M. Spitler

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