Emory Report

 September 2, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 2


Rebecca Chopp looks to the
future as interim provost

Three months ago, Rebecca Chopp took over the role of interim provost with the future on her mind. Twelve years ago, Emory's potential lured her from the University of Chicago, and today she still sees tremendous opportunity.

In fact, she views this as a particulary crucial time, a crossroads of sorts. With ongoing projects that seek to define both the campus' physical appearance and its attitude toward its central mission, Emory has a chance to decide what kind of institution it wants to be in the 21st century, and Chopp couldn't imagine a better time to be involved.

"I've seen Emory grow and develop since I've been here, and now it is ready to go to a new stage, as a kind of new university," she said. "The world is changing, and we are more and more participating in that change."

Chopp took over as provost June 1 when Billy Frye began his tenure as chancellor. As the former associate dean for faculty and academic affairs at the Candler School, Chopp brought to the job an intimate knowledge of Emory and an enthusiasm for addressing the questions the University is asking about itself. Some of the answers will be provided by initiatives like the campus master planning process and the commission on teaching, which Chopp chaired.

The latter has just issued its report, to be published in next week's Emory Report. Some 60 pages, the commission's findings are intended to jump-start a Universitywide discussion on exactly what teaching is and how it might be improved. Chopp said everyone on campus-faculty, students, staff and administrators-is involved in the learning process and thus has a stake in what may result from this effort.

Indeed, a central theme of the report is how the concept of teaching is changing in today's world. No longer is learning confined to the lecture hall, Chopp said, but instead it happens all over campus, in professors' offices, in the grass of the Quad on a sunny day, in the Carlos Museum coffee shop over a cappucino.

"I don't think that's a brand new idea," Chopp said, "but I think it's significant in our agenda. Subject matters have changed; the way we teach them has changed. [Teaching]'s present in almost everything we do. That is a wonderful vision-that teaching is really part of who we are and not simply what we produce in the classroom."

Vital to encouraging this more holistic approach to learning is the presence of an "intellectual community" at Emory, and fostering this enivronment will be one of the goals of Chopp's term as provost. "A university, like every other entity, should have its own personality, and I think Emory is developing a personality and a culture of intellectual community," she said.

Chopp's idea of this culture would benefit not only students but faculty as well. In fact, a pilot program taking place this year will help introduce new faculty to the Emory community. Chopp said the provost's office will conduct a yearlong development program to provide new professors with information, offer a peer mentoring program and familiarize them with campus resources.

Chopp cites the removal of barriers as one of the conditions for fostering an intellectual community. "You have to have the physical spaces, which is why the campus master plan is so important. It is quite literally symbolic of the reshaping of Emory. It provides us with the opportunity to envision and to build bridges between the various parts of the University.

"The future of Emory is dependent upon our ability to be flexible in terms of how we move around the world of knowledge, and I consider it a privilege that we get to be here at this time, to be the ones to say, 'Here's how the physical space will accommodate our future.'"

At some point in that future, Chopp will return to teaching. Though she still works with a handful of doctoral students, her duties as provost don't leave her enough time for the classroom. As chair of the teaching commission, she learned that Emory faculty feel passionately about both teaching and research, and she is no different-Chopp is a well-known scholar in feminist theology and political movements in Christianity.

But for now she is concentrating on academic matters across the University. Though the search process has not yet begun for naming a permanent provost, Chopp said she will consider putting her name in the running. No doubt she would like to continue the work that will have only just begun in her "interim" year.

"[Another] thing that has to happen is this faculty has to want an intellectual community," Chopp said. "You can't simply rearrange space, or you can't simply announce that a culture is what you want. People have to want and strive for it, and do it on their own. Again, we are very much at the next stage in our growth as an institution."

-Michael Terrazas

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