Emory Report

August 3, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 36

Chace informs and entertains at annual Employee Council Town Hall meeting

"It's one o'clock" said President Bill Chace, glancing at his watch. "Can I go now if I leave quietly?"

And so another informative and well-attended Employee Council Town Hall ended much as it began July 29: with Chace, the guest of honor, talking with both candor and humor to more than 100 of his constituents. Holding court in the reception hall of the Carlos Museum, Chace began with an abbreviated "State of the University" address before answering employees' questions.

"If someone came up to me and asked my thoughts on where Emory is as an institution, where we're going, what our strengths and weaknesses are, I could reduce it to a few words," Chace said in his introductory remarks. "We're in very, very good shape. Emory is a strong institution, and we're getting stronger."

But the University is not without its weaknesses and threats, he continued, many of which ironically can be traced to Emory's biggest strength: its phenomenal growth over the past quarter-century. "In many ways, we are akin to adolescents," he said. "Some of our muscles are not as well-developed as they should be. We still have growing pains; we still have questions about who we are.

"If you move this fast, so far and so well, what can happen is you rest on your oars, and there can be a failure of nerve. As you ascend into the stratosphere of higher education in this country, the competition is very difficult. There is a human tendency to relax, but I feel we cannot relax."

Chace spent the rest of the hour patiently wading through a series of questions, many of which had been e-mailed to him beforehand, on subjects ranging from day care centers and family health leave, to the changes at Emory Village and why the University should not become financially involved-"I don't think we're going to do very well as commercial vendors," Chace deadpanned-to more complicated issues like a gain-share program for hospital employees and the "deans tax."

A topic of particular interest was flexible working schedules and telecommuting, work options about which employees believe some managers and department heads are less than enthusiastic. "One of the dilemmas at the hospital is we're a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation, so flex time is going to look real difficult from that angle," said Doug Abell, manager of instructional services for the hospital. "Where do we go from here?"

Chace replied that, while he is unequivocally in favor of working out flexible schedules wherever possible, the reality is sometimes it is not possible. "It's simply a function of what you do, where you do it and the accommodations that can be made," he said. "What we can't do is have flex time that would endanger a particular mission, but the mission itself would decide that."

He spoke on several issues relating to employee benefits, from why employees under 26 are not eligible for matching contributions to a retirement fund to the possibility of a less-expensive alternative to EmoryCare. Referring back to an earlier answer about the difficulties of a gain-share program, Chace said the United States is witnessing a "tidal wave revolution" in health care that will tremendously affect the economy and how medical services are delivered. Because of spiraling costs, he said, entities such as the hospital and Crawford Long simply are not able to deliver the same profit margins they have in the past.

With the event being webcast live on the Employee Council's web site, Chace took two questions mailed in during the meeting from remote locations. In reponse to a question from the Oxford campus, Chace lauded the work of Oxford Dean William Murdy and said a search committee is being formed to look for Murdy's successor.

In closing Chace apologized for having to be brief in his response to the wide range of questions, but he said the fact employees are in conversation with him is what's most important. The entire town hall meeting can be viewed with RealPlayer by visiting <www.emory.edu/EMPLOYEE/>.

--Michael Terrazas

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