April 27, 1998
Volume 50, No. 30
Excellence depends on alignment of vision and reality
No front-rank university has attained that status merely or primarily by pursuing an a priori strategic plan. This fact does not mean that no strategy has underlain their development. The evolution of such institutions undoubtedly has been guided by a reasonably constant and consistent sense of who they are and an unflagging commitment to quality that has shaped institutional decision making for many years. A plan will help bring the desired attributes into sharper focus, but its particulars cannot substitute for these underlying values. This document reflects a deep concern within the Emory community to build a strong bridge between those values and the daily decisions by which we shape the future of the university. It is, as stated above, as much a set of guidelines about how we should conduct our business and set our priorities as an agenda of what we will do.
Tangible factors such as market forces and bottom lines and other immediately measurable outcomes have received less play in this report than more abstract goals and values, and deliberately so, because of our desire to bring the latter to the fore in our decision-making processes. These factors inevitably will, and indeed should, also play an important role as we make decisions about the future. Such exigencies have a powerful ability to focus our purpose, energy, and accountability, and we ignore them only at our peril. Yet they cannot be allowed to divert attention from other important objectives that are not so easily measured. This report has been written out of the conviction that only when we recognize what it is we truly wish to maximize will our vision of Emory be advanced in a balanced way that will make Emory the distinctively excellent university that the members of the Emory community wish it to be.
While it is invigorating to think of ourselves as distinctive, we should not deceive ourselves. Nearly every major university in the country is touting many of the same themes to which we are committed: more attention to undergraduate teaching; more interdisciplinary programs; internationalization and globalization; more holistic communities; and so on. Whether we attain distinctiveness in the midst of the competition and ongoing reforms in higher education will hinge mainly on the degree to which we actually are willing and able to translate our rhetoric into reality. No doubt the intention of reform that pervades America's colleges and universities is serious. However, as many an example could show, the historically strongest universities are finding that it is very hard indeed to change old habits and reshape old patterns, particularly in the face of relative fiscal austerity. Emory-being still in its formative youth as a research university and less encumbered by old habits and commitments than most-has the opportunity to become both a great university by the standard of its peers and a distinctive one in the profile of values and priorities that it displays through its many programs. The objectives and recommendations of this report point the way to a closer alignment between the ideal university that we envision and the reality that we will attain. We will, in the words of President Chace's inaugural speech, be both a stronger and a better university to the degree that we succeed in this goal.
Billy E. Frye