Emory Report

 September 22, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 5

Pondering the merits of a
faculty club for Emory: If
it's 'built,' will they come?

TA group of academics huddle around a lunch table, excitedly exchanging ideas in a room full of colleagues. The bookshelved walls are laden with classics and other scholarly works. Comfortably worn couches and chairs provide inviting places to sit and catch up on the day's news.

For some, that image of a faculty club is sorely lacking on Emory's campus-a place where faculty members can meet informally to exchange ideas or socialize. For others, faculty clubs are an exclusionary and archaic notion, better left to the "bad old days" when faculty status was reserved for privileged white men.

Emory faculty members are investigating the possibility of their own club at a time when some organizations across the country are scaling back operations or opening their doors to nonmembers such as alumni, donors and staff.

"Over the years, the notion that a faculty club would help to create a stronger sense of bonding among the faculty, a stronger sense of intellectual community, has been mentioned many times," said Chancellor Billy Frye. "It's one of the more common notions."

Current Senate President Bill Cody said that while he doesn't see "a great groundswell" of opinion for or against a club, there is strong support among some faculty. "Especially those who have come from schools where it's a strong part of the culture," he said.

Emory has never had a faculty club, in part because of other priorities, but perhaps because of a lack of opportunity as well, said Frye. "As we've grown in the last 15 or 20 years-physically grown-it's clear there are other, more urgent needs than a faculty club," he said.

Recent discussion about the merits of a club began percolating in the wake of Choices & Responsibility, which affirmed the need for building a stronger, more cohesive community. "There are those who believe the faculty direly needs this sense of community and the brotherhood, sisterhood" a faculty club would create, said Frye. Others feel the club "needs to be a place where all people can convene-not a place people can escape from students, but a place where they can meet them," he added.

Many faculty members have made their wish for a space of their own known to those responsible for the master planning process. "In conversations with planners, the desirability of such a place is universally acknowledged," said Woodruff Professor Luke Johnson, immediate past president of the University Senate. "Effective progress toward its realization is less evident.

"There are certainly competing priorities, but few of more significance to the faculty as a whole," he said.

"Within the planning effort, we could identify several places on campus" where a faculty club would fit, said Earle Whittington, who as senior project manager is guiding the master planning process for Emory. But Whittington wondered about the validity of a faculty club in the Emory culture. "Do faculty prefer to go home and get on their Internet connections [or stay on campus]?" he asked.

Owing to increasingly hectic personal and professional lives, most established clubs at other universities can no longer count on scholars as their primary patrons. "Campus is not as central to an academic's life as it once was," said Crystal Thomas, president of the Association of Faculty Clubs International, in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

However, President Bill Chace, who came to Emory from Stanford University, remembers that campus' faculty club as "always full to capacity. It did not bring all faculty together, but it did a better job in that dimension than any other place I have seen."

For many faculty members, there's less time for on-campus socializing because longer work commutes and more planned events vie for precious time. "My impression is that the faculty, me included, are extremely busy, and we don't exactly have time to socialize. It's wonderful to have opportunities to bring folks together, but I don't see what [a club] is going to do over the things that we already have," said Sherryl Goodman, professor of psychology. "It may make more sense to invest in what we already have," she added, citing the abundance of lectures, music, dance and theater performances on campus.

"A faculty club should not be considered in recreational terms," Johnson stressed, "but in re-creational terms. A desire to create a culture of intellectual exchange cannot be brought to fulfillment without a specific place where it can happen."

The faculty shape the purpose of their club. The Stanford club, said Chace, "was more a place to do business than simply to socialize. And it served as a handsome lure for faculty you might want to recruit."

Cody, who works on the Oxford campus, has warmed to the need for a special space for faculty. "I have not been one of the strongest advocates," he admitted. "However, I have been persuaded that it would be useful by those who are strong advocates.

"There are places students can go and be only with students, staff with staff. Are there places where [large numbers] of faculty can go and be with other faculty? Not really," he said. What's more, Cody added, "It's increasingly hard on the Atlanta campus to secure meeting rooms without a great amount of lead time, which takes away from any spontaneity."

The creation of a special place for faculty could be as simple as shaping or allocating existing spaces, Johnson said. "Moving in the direction of creating space for faculty collegiality should not be stymied by the specter of building a large and elaborate structure," he said.

Then there's the question of cost and location. A club wouldn't be built with general education funds, said Cody, but privately funded. And on Emory's compact campus, where would it go? "If you put a club too far away to be reasonably accessible by foot, it won't be used," said Frye. "If you build a club that's not big enough and supported enough-staffed-to provide infrastructure for certain kinds of activities like seminar rooms and seminar support, what's the point?" he asked.

For Goodman, who admitted ambivalence to the whole idea, the bottom line is this: "If it's a facility that would help us to do the work that we all want to do, that we're all so passionate about, that's great."

-Stacey Jones

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