Emory Report

March 23, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 25


Foust brings communal
background to Employee Council

While Ron Foust was doing his doctoral work in physics at Notre Dame in the '60s, he and his wife Margaret were active in a small Catholic parish in South Bend, Ind. Hanging over the front doors of the church as one exited was a sign that read "Service Entrance."

More than 30 years later, Foust remembers that sign and what it implied for parishioners as servants of their fellow human beings. As a financial analyst for Information Technology Division and president-elect of the Employee Council, Foust serves the Emory community in his own way, but it was through a different community that the word "service" acquired its greatest meaning for him.

From 1974 to 1987, Foust and his family were part of Koinonia,near Americus and Plains, Ga., hometown of former President Jimmy Carter. A ancient Greek word that roughly translated means "community" or "fellowship," Koinonia the community was founded in 1942 by agriculturalist and New Testament scholar Clarence Jordan, who sought to create a "demonstration plot" for Christian living.

When Foust was part of the community, Koinonia members-the numbers of whom hovered between a dozen and 35 or so adults during Foust's time there-shared a common purse, living in simple homes they built themselves and more or less staying self-sufficient by growing food and burning wood for heat. But the community, from its earliest days, had a progressive stand on civil rights and racial equality that did not sit well with some of its Sumter County neighbors.

"Some people called [Koinonia members] communist," Foust said, "because in the early to late 1940s they performed such 'sins' as eating at the same table with African Americans and advocating that African Americans should be able to come to their church."

Much of Foust's energy while living in Koinonia was directed toward the schools. In a public school system that was 80 percent African American, eight of every 10 white children in the county attended schools in neighboring districts or private segregation academies, and the all-white school board underfunded Sumter County's public schools.

"When we moved there, both high schools were condemned by the state fire marshal; classes were held in the buildings even though it was against the law to occupy them," Foust said. He was a plaintiff in five lawsuits against the school board and organized a monthlong school boycott.

These efforts attracted the attention of national media and the federal justice department. "Ten years after we started, all the school buildings in the county were new structures," Foust said. "Through legal action and community efforts to improve the schools, more white students returned.

Ironically, in a community dedicated to simple living, it was Foust's efforts in installing an early personal computer to help manage Koinonia's 40,000-strong mailing list that was a precursor to his later career. He'd begun working with computers during his graduate school days, and when Koinonia shifted its focus in the late '80s, Foust left to work in Americus for Habitat for Humanity, which had been founded by former Koinonia member Millard Fuller.

By this time Foust's daughter, Michele, was studying at Emory, and because of encouragement from one of her professors, religion's David Blumenthal, Foust applied for and landed a job at ITD. He moved his family to Atlanta and became active with Emory's Catholic Center. Later Foust and several center members left to form their own eucharistic congregation: Emmaus. The group meets at members' houses.

"Some of the people who attend Emmaus are very active in the St. Vincent DePaul Society in Atlanta, which is much like the Salvation Army," Foust said. "It has a very strong presence in providing help for the destitute and has a group of secondhand stores like the Salvation Army. Several people who come to worship at Emmaus have a commitment to service in their personal lives."

Voted president-elect last spring, Foust's commitment to the Employee Council will intensify once he takes over for outgoing president Erik Oliver in April. Foust's goals for his tenure include overseeing to the best of his ability the perennial employee concerns of job security, medical benefits and parking. He sees the council's role, in the absence of legislative authority, as a vital conduit for valid employee concerns to the University administration.

"It's hard to strike a balance between on one hand being active in communicating with Emory's leadership in regard to the ways change can be brought about," Foust said, "and on the other hand being viewed as a 'complaint bureau.' I don't want to denigrate employees' concerns to the word 'complaint,' but I do think we need to think through the way we express our concerns."

Last year's debate over Emory's United Way campaign serves as an example, Foust said, of how the Employee Council can help work with the administration toward a solution that satisfies all parties concerned.

As it does every year, Emory met its United Way campaign goals, but Foust said even that is an inadequate measure of altruism on campus. "Even though United Way is officially endorsed by Emory and encouraged, Emory employees do a lot of different things-in addition to United Way. They direct their energies in many other ways that are charitable," Foust said.

-Michael Terrazas

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