December 6, 1999
Volume 52, No. 14
Provost Chopp explains recent letter to Emory faculty
The provost's office recently sent a letter to all faculty providing an update of where Emory stands on several key academic issues. To clarify the history and intent of this letter, Provost Rebecca Chopp answered a series of questions for Emory Report.
Why did you write such a letter to faculty at this time?
The letter provides an excellent forum for explaining to all faculty members the progress we are making on the University's academic agenda and for receiving their feedback. As provost, my central goal is to advance faculty scholarship, which includes both amplifying the scope and quality of scholarship and providing support for teaching and research. It has also been my goal from the beginning to foster intellectual community, and clear and regular communication is essential to this process.
It is important for the faculty to be well informed about the academic mission and related issues, such as budget and information technology. It is equally important for me to hear the faculty's thoughts about the direction of the University. In the letter, I articulate my understanding and solicit feedback in a way that excludes no one person because of time or location constraints.
What do you hope faculty will take away from the message?
Developing the scope and quality of Emory's programs and our position as a major research university are two of my top priorities. The specific areas I define as central to this task are: strengthening and extending the scope of the graduate school and choosing a new leader of graduate education; identifying new intellectual initiatives and inaugurating the initiative to consider how to better document excellent teaching; and strengthening the voice of the faculty and the influence of that voice on Emory's future.
I hope the letter gives the faculty a sense of the tangible progress we are making and encourages them to become more involved in these areas of development. President Chace and I continue to believe that the faculty's aspirations and accomplishments are Emory's greatest resource. We hope to encourage faculty members to take an active role in the conversations that are shaping our future as a community of scholars.
What feedback have you received?
Many faculty members have said they found the letter helpful in supplying information about the goals of the University and some of the challenges we face. A number of individuals have sent me insightful comments concerning support for research, possible strategic themes and questions about the budget process. A few have wondered if the letter contains a hidden message! The answer is no, there is no hidden message. The issues I identify are simply the issues I find most compelling. I regularly discuss these issues with President Chace, the Council of Deans and the Faculty Council. These concerns form the substance of my daily work and, not surprisingly, constitute the gist of the letter.
Will you publish such a letter again?
If, in the final estimation, this letter has served its intended purpose, I will publish something similar on an annual basis. However, I will do so only if I get a clear sense that it is helpful. In addition to receiving individual comments from faculty, I intend to discuss the letter at an upcoming Faculty Council meeting. I hope the issues I have outlined will generate lively conversation among the faculty.
How did the ideas and priorities you described in the letter reach the stage of maturity that is evident in the letter?
Beginning about six years ago, Billy Frye developed a process of listening to faculty issues and concerns through lunches and other means. Using the feedback he received, he wrote Choices & Responsibility to articulate some general priorities for the University.
Since becoming provost, I have continued Chancellor Frye's commitment to listening to the faculty through various channels. More formally, the deans and I meet regularly to discuss issues of general importance to the University, and I keep in close contact with Mike Johns, executive vice president for health affairs, about ideas and priorities that are of mutual concern. I also meet with the Faculty Council and the vice provosts regularly. The president and I discuss the general and specific priorities of the University, and we present these priorities to the academic affairs committee of the Board of Trustees. Listening beyond our immediate community, I have visited other universities to learn about what they are doing and to use that information for comparative purposes and as a source of innovation.
In a university as large and complex as ours, the planning process must include regular contact with the formal groups that exist to facilitate our academic mission and provide opportunities for the faculty to voice its concerns. The free flow of communication is essential to my work of developing our academic agenda, and the ideas I discuss in the letter reflect the information and advice I have received from these multiple sources.
At the end of the year, what difference can this message have made?
I hope that faculty will have a sense of the particular issues the University is trying to address, such as continuing to build strong schools, working to develop cross-school and cross-faculty research and teaching programs, and working with the Faculty Council to strengthen the faculty role through the "Faculty at Emory" project. I also hope the faculty will have a better understanding of the University's budget process and how major decisions are made involving issues that affect all of us, such as technology.
Will you talk to faculty groups or individuals about the letter? What kind of interaction are you hoping for?
I will be talking with the Faculty Council, and I plan to schedule some open feedback sessions. In addition, I invite faculty to contact me personally about the letter or about other issues they would like to discuss. To me, direct response by letter or email is a simple but vital way of communicating, and I hope many people will take advantage of it as individuals or as informal groups.
On a similar note, let me conclude by encouraging our faculty members to get involved in the "Faculty at Emory" project (see Faculty at Emory Project...). The council has taken a vital leadership role in designing and implementing this project, and it will provide the means for many voices to participate in shaping the future of Emory's faculty and academic mission. I hope many faculty members will seize this opportunity and actively contribute to the emerging vision of who we are as a community of scholars.