Emory Report

September 14, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 4

Provost Chopp envisions a richer intellectual community in Emory's 21st century

Early this summer Rebecca Chopp became Emory's official provost after serving one year in an interim capacity. Senior Editor Michael Terrazas talked with Provost Chopp to find out how she's adjusting to the job and what her plans are for Emory's future.

Have you gotten used to not having the word "interim" in front of your title?

The wonderful support I've received from all areas of the Emory community has made the transition a comfortable and smooth one for me.

What is the most important way being the permanent provost affects how you look at your responsibilities?

I am more interested in the possibilities and opportunities for Emory as we move into the 21st century. Higher education in this country faces potentially massive changes, some due to problems around funding and public attitudes, others arising out of tremendous shifts in technology, the production of knowledge, the shape of interdisciplinary research and a host of other research and educational issues. Clearly, the nature and structure of research universities will change in the years ahead. I think Emory has a kind of invitation to rethink itself as it moves into its next stage of development. We have a great many resources-the most important of which is our people, especially our faculty, who have the ability to excel in research and teaching, while helping to craft new directions in their fields.

What are your priorities for the coming school year? And beyond?

I have four general priorities. The first priority has to do with investing in our faculty. I believe a university is only as good as its faculty members, and they require the right resources for research, for teaching, for scholarly life.

A second priority has to do with cultivating intellectual community for the faculty and students at Emory. I am delighted with the expansion of the bookstore in part because I think it symbolizes Emory's development as a place in which intellectual curiosity is celebrated and fed.

A third priority for my work is helping to define Emory's intellectual identity by working with the Council of Deans to ensure the flourishing of every school and to build bridges between them in ways we have not seen before in higher education. A university is a quite unique place and cannot simply follow corporate policies or other institutional types. We must understand our identity and do any special planning in the context of the broad nature of our intellectual identity.

A fourth priority is working with the schools and campus life, the Center for Ethics, the museum and other units to shape leadership in the global context. I think Emory needs to do more than just "train" students; we really need to challenge our students--in professional schools and in undergraduate programs--to prepare for leadership in a variety of fields and areas of life. Most of our schools and units already have programs on leadership. The physical proximity of our professional schools to our undergraduate college provides the possibility to explore all sorts of "collaboratories"--collaborations and laboratories--for leadership. But we need to rethink what a leader is, the nature of a well-rounded education, the challenge of living in a global village. Our students will live in a world quite different than the one we live in as adults.

After only about five months as provost, is it too early to ask how you imagine achieving the programs you have outlined?

I am convinced that Emory must achieve its success by protecting, nurturing and building upon its reality as an intellectual place and not a corporate institution. We must develop the basic strengths of our departments and units, of our research and teaching programs, and make them rigorous, lively intellectual spaces for faculty and students to discover new knowledge and to learn from past traditions. At the same time we can pursue new forms of cross-school and multidisciplinary initiatives that draw upon on strengths by building intellectual bridges to address intellectual problems and possibilities.

We must never forget that our history and our very nature as a university is about the discovery and transmission of knowledge. We will develop and grow only by remaining true to this tradition while we transform the ways and forms of knowledge itself. We may need to "reinvent" higher education in the 21st century, but we will do so by understanding the vitality of preserving the core of higher education even as we build new programs and initiatives in higher education. We can cross traditional boundaries and disciplines only if and when those disciplines themselves are strong.

You have a strong commitment to teaching and research. How do you see Emory gaining increasing prominence in both?

Many faculty members at Emory have made a commitment to excellence in teaching and research. I think the key is that much of our teaching at a research university is about the discovery of knowledge, the mastery of new methods of inquiry, the exploration of different ways to read a text or conceive of an experiment. We will gain increasing prominence in both as our reputation grows, but also as we gain in our confidence that our commitment to teaching as a kind of discovery of knowledge is deeply intertwined with our research commitments.

You've spoken of a stronger intellectual community on campus. How would this manifest itself, and how do you plan to foster it?

An intellectual community manifests itself through lively intellectual conversations in nearly every place on campus: the quads, information commons, Kilgo Circle, the bookstore, the classrooms, the dorms, the museum, etc. By intellectual community I mean the rich textures of life that stimulate us to think in new ways, be curious about each other's questions, explore new possibilities of thought, of aesthetics, of practices. I want to foster intellectual community by making it a priority, by helping expand where it is presently in existence and by creating new spaces for scholarly exploration and dialogue.

How do you see the University's Campus Master Plan and Strategic Plan affecting these goals?

They are beginning to weave themselves into our lives. They are already starting to shape and re-image how we understand Emory. For instance, the first phase of the Campus Master Plan, which was completed this summer, is already weaving its way into how we envision our community and gather together.

When people describe the work you're doing as provost, how would you like them to characterize you?

Five years from now, I would really like people to talk about how Emory developed during the last five years. I would love to hear people talk about the incredibly interesting "signature" research programs we created among the schools, the redefinition of what "good education" is through the creation of new models for leadership or the use of new technology, and the reshaping of our organizational structure into collaborative networks with clearly identified paths for communication. It would be great to hear that, during these years, Emory became an even better place to be faculty members and students. This won't be my accomplishment-I may help to channel and direct it through the deans with whom I am privileged to work-but this work will be done by all of us, together.

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