Emory Report

April 27, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 30


Emory's fundamental goal:
academic excellence

Out of a large constellation of issues, Choices & Responsibility identifies five that are of particular concern to the Emory community: the balance between teaching and research; building a stronger community; encouraging interdisciplinary scholarship; keeping pace with infrastructure needs; and assessing Emory's external relationships.

Through these issues run a number of important themes that point to the differences between a good and a great university: commitment to a stronger, more intense intellectual community; a renewed sense of moral purpose and public responsibility; recognition of the latent strength to be found in greater collaboration within and beyond the walls of the university; and a desire to achieve a balance among the several aspects of faculty work that is more consonant with our personal goals, the university's civic responsibility, and economic and other social forces.

n the following section, these themes or issues are reiterated briefly and set forth as core objectives that Emory should pursue aggressively in the coming decades. Choices & Responsibility did not deal explicitly, but rather implicitly, with our most fundamental value-a commitment to academic excellence. Since this commitment is the one upon which all others will stand or fall, it is our first core objective.

Achieving academic excellence
Emory will continue to pursue the highest attainable standard of scholastic excellence in the recruitment, retention, and support of faculty and students. We will define and measure excellence, however, in ways that are consistent with and advance our broader goals and responsibilities.

No member of the Emory community will be indifferent to-much less opposed to-the goal of academic excellence. Yet the word excellence has become so banal through overuse, and the costs of its attainment so great in practice, that we should reflect upon the fact that the reason for our commitment to quality runs deeper than the competitive impulse or our natural yearning for bragging rights. Our mission as a university necessarily entails a commitment to intellectual excellence. Many in our community will share the view of John Henry Cardinal Newman and of the ancient Greeks that intellectual excellence is tied to moral excellence.

But there is an even more basic connection between our commitment to excellence and our intellectual mission. "Universities have a distinctive task," writes Edward Shils in his book, The Academic Ethic. "That task is the methodological discovery and the teaching of truths about serious and important things."11 Truth is an elusive thing. It is forever beyond the reach of certainty, as our notions of it are revised in the light of new evidence and understanding. To a large degree, it is always obscured by the limits of our minds and the fogs of bias and self-interest. And, more than anything else, the validity of our understanding of truth depends upon the integrity of the thinking by which it is sought.

So, the degree to which we at Emory succeed in our ambition will depend upon how successful we are in assembling and supporting a community of faculty and students who have the highest possible measure of those traits essential to intellectual excellence: intelligence, curiosity, reason, critical acumen, skepticism, tolerance and openness to new ideas, intellectual integrity, creativity, energy, motivation, and preparation. In the realm of ideas, less than full commitment to these intellectual virtues does not lead to less truth; it leads to no truth at all. This is what justifies our zeal for excellence.

The ability of excellent students, faculty, and staff to realize their full intellectual and moral potential depends, of course, upon the quality of the climate within which they work and develop as individuals. To be an excellent university, Emory must create an environment that is intellectually intense and that provides the challenge and opportunity to move fluidly into new intellectual territories-from the realm of ideas into the world of performance and practice, and from the physical and intellectual safe-havens of the campus into the furthest reaches of the globe. The university is as responsible for providing these challenges and opportunities as it is responsible for building a community of the brightest talent available. The recommendations in this report are aimed at creating such a mix of quality and opportunity.

Balancing teaching and research
Emory will create an environment in which teaching and research are interdependent and equally valued and recognized. Each should advance the other and together advance the central goal of scholarly inquiry and understanding.

Research and scholarly publication are central to our mission as a research university and should be fully integrated with our teaching and service missions. To excel at all, we must excel in scholarship. As stated, however, in the 1997 report of the Commission on Teaching, Teaching at Emory, "We want to get beyond the notion that excellence in research must preclude excellence in teaching and that universities cannot support, evaluate, and reward teaching and research in equivalent ways. The myth that great researchers cannot be great teachers needs to be put aside, as does the notion that research universities-by their very nature-belittle teaching."12 The Commission on Teaching, which spent almost two years investigating the status and condition of teaching at Emory, strongly urges that teaching and research should be dual commitments, supported by deeds as well as words. At Emory, both teaching and research must flourish.

Building a stronger community
Emory will strive to build an integrated scholarly community with emphasis upon a strong intellectual ethos, unimpeded communication and collaboration, and supportive, mentoring relationships among students, faculty, and staff.

As a community, the university sets the rules and standards by which we work; it provides the supporting infrastructure necessary for that work; and, most important, it creates the opportunities for the interactions through which we learn from and challenge one another. Ideally, as stated in Choices & Responsibility, "The university environment should intensify our sense of motivation and commitment, affirmation, and accomplishment. It should tap the latent synergy inherent in strong intellectual and cross-disciplinary relationships that can make the university more than the sum of its parts."13 The university should be the source of a unifying sense of identity and purpose.

Yet in contrast to this ideal view, Alasdair MacIntyre reminds us that the university community today is more a place where teaching and inquiry are marked by a high level of skill in handling narrow questions, arguments, and interpretations, but where there are also a number of large and mutually incompatible doctrines and in which the shared standards of argument are such that debate-if it occurs at all-is inconclusive.14 We should strive for a level of integration that overcomes these shortcomings.

Facilitating interdisciplinary and collaborative scholarship
Emory will foster a rich tapestry of interdisciplinary collaboration, insofar as this is consistent with maintaining intellectually rigorous standards of teaching and research, and building strong schools and departments.

As Choices & Responsibility states, "The advancement of knowledge proceeds largely through making connections, finding similarities and complementarities, probing contrast and conflict-in short, through exploring difference. Good interdisciplinary scholarship is the antidote to disciplinary complacency and chauvinism; it renews the disciplines by infusing them with new questions, concepts, and methodologies. . . . Ultimately, interdisciplinary scholarship reminds us that the greater significance of our individual specialties lies not in the depth to which we can push them, but in the bearing they have . . . upon the broader sweep of human understanding."15

Woodruff Professor James Gustafson suggests four kinds of intersections among the disciplines where important intellectual discourse occurs: first, where there is agreement about the existence of some phenomenon or similar phenomena; second, where several disciplines may contribute to recommendations for policy and action; third, where different research procedures may be brought to bear upon the same question or phenomenon; and fourth, where differences in theoretical or ideological approach lead to disagreement about the validity and importance of different forms of scholarly enterprise, activating the so-called culture wars.16 The benefits of the discourse at these intersections for specialized disciplinary work are several, of which the most important is a more effective, responsible, and self-critical approach to scholarship and teaching.

In fact, a great deal of interdisciplinary collaboration goes on at Emory already. And, with the passage of time, most disciplines continually reinvent themselves as they assimilate the knowledge and technology of neighboring fields. Nonetheless, the widespread perception is that collaboration is unnecessarily difficult. The principal problem is administrative, not intellectual.

Keeping pace with infrastructure needs

Emory will continue to move as aggressively as possible to provide its faculty and students and its schools, departments, and programs with the physical, technical, and social infrastructure that is necessary to support an excellent academic community.

It is a commonplace that the quality of academic departments and programs arises from their people, not the buildings they occupy. Yet as noted in Choices & Responsibility, in the modern research university the quality of infrastructure is hardly less important than the people it supports. Indeed, in many fields it is futile to attempt recruiting outstanding scholars without providing them with exceptional facilities and support systems.

Emory has made great progress during the past two decades in adding needed buildings for teaching, research, and community life; improving the quality of existing space, supportive services, and staff; and creating a strong infrastructure of information resources. Still, much remains to be done to support the legitimate needs of our faculty, students, and staff, and to make Emory an ever-stronger university.

Cultivating external relationships
Emory will cultivate rich ties with local, national, and global societies for the purpose of enhancing its teaching, research, and service missions and improving the well-being of people.

Emory has a responsibility to use learning to address the problems of society; and reciprocally, its faculty and students need the opportunity to develop their ideas through practical experience. Choices & Responsibility notes that the partnership between universities and society is vitally important to both parties. To this partnership universities bring the capacity to produce educated citizens and to prepare them to cope in an increasingly knowledge-based, global society; the ability to open new frontiers of knowledge through basic research; and, through its application, to improve public health, recharge the economy, and provide many other benefits. Society, for its part, brings to the partnership students and the funding to support teaching and research, and serves as a vast living laboratory in which brews the mixture of theory and practice that is so vital to the advancement and fructification of knowledge.

The duty of Emory to society and the benefits to both that arise from the partnership cannot be contested. Yet, as Jaroslav Pelikan says, it is altogether too easy for those who advocate greater involvement of the university in social issues "to overlook or oversimplify the relation of such involvement to the primary mission of the university."17 Neither altruistic impulse nor the desire for social approbation is a sufficient reason to compromise the scholarly mission of the university. That central mission-which is served as comprehensively by no other social institution-is to increase the intellectual capital of the nation and the world through teaching and research. Emory should therefore be vigilant that its external involvements do not deflect vital resources away from its central mission and that there is sufficient congruence between the social need and the university's scholarly mission and expertise to justify the partnership.

These objectives have been stated in sufficiently general form to encourage interpretation by the individual schools and departments of the university in light of their particular mission, professional norms, and current status. Thus, they should guide and shape our individual choices in the direction of our overall vision for Emory.

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