February 12, 2001
An agenda for Emory
Rebecca Chopp is provost of the University.
After these several days, of one thing I am now thoroughly convinced. To use the language of Jacques Lyotard, a former Emory faculty member now deceased but still so present in our life and work, there can be no grand narrative of reconciliation. To think so would be to repress voices, to stop evolutionary process, to fix things that we couldnt and shouldnt want fixed. It might even do away with the need for scholars.
What is reconciliation? As Congressman [John] Lewis told us yesterday,
reconciliation is an ancient cry for peace and understanding, as
old as the dawn of civilization, but as fresh as the rising sun.
As Ambassador [James] Laney said, it is always an aspiration, a
lofty goal. Frans de Waal showed how necessary reconciliation is
for existence, from ants and acacias to the more complex valuing of relationships
not only among human beings but also among primateand perhaps among
salamanders. David Orr, in the panel on environmental reconciliation,
defined reconciliation as learning to be faithful to the highest
values we hold dear. I liked Bill Foeges definition: it
implies that we can fix things. I will add my own, borrowed from
Hannah Arendt: [reconciliation means] setting the world anew, setting
the world aright.
I want to begin with a confession. Until the last several days, I had
thought that our focus on reconciliation as a topic around which to develop
an academic celebration of the millennium this year was simply
accidental. It was just a good idea that leapt forward in a conversation
among a couple deans and a provost. It was an interesting idea, one we
thought we could play with.
But the symposium has made me rethink this. I have begun to think of
reconciliation as an appropriate way for Emory not only to celebrate the
millennium in the way scholars shouldthrough inquiry, debate, performance
and discussionbut also as a topic, as Tom Flynn would say, that
lives in the soul of this university, our remembering of who we are as
By summary I want to make two essential points. I want to suggest that
Emory use this symposium both to reclaim and revise its purpose in shaping
and forming world citizens who aspire, who value, who do the hard work,
who hope for setting the world anew, setting the world aright. Secondly,
I want to suggest that Emory dedicate itself not only to all the various
parts and questions and points and issues of setting aright, setting anew,
but to the underlying core habits, values and virtues necessary for world
citizenship in the 21st centuryimagination, critique and truth-telling.
Recommendation No. 1: to reclaim and revise our purpose in creating world
citizens across the professions and our undergraduate education. That
notionthat education is about creating citizensis an old claim.
But it is one we need to reclaim and revise. First, to reclaim.
Our education is now in ragged piecesdisciplines here, projects
there, professional schools on the edges.
I dont think we need tight-fitting pieces. But we need to shape
a culture where we understand our common vision is to prepare people for
a world that is out of joint and that will need, time and time again,
new projects of reconciliation.
Indeed, our recollective imagination of Emorywho we might be in
the future based on how we remember our pastmust entail a particular
vision of higher education at Emory University for the 21st century. Ambassador
Jim Laney talked about the education of the heart, by which he means forming
and shaping the whole person with virtues and values, not just with techniques
This education of the heart is, I think, our history, for we are a university
with undergraduate education that prides itself on shaping and nurturing,
as much as informing and training, citizens for the world. Our history
runs as a deep river through our professional schoolsand the history
and present that leaders will be shaped that can make professions of a
medicine, law, business, theology, public health and nursing stronger
and richer. Inquiry into means and ends, forms and shapes, necessity and
impossibility of reconciliation, has a deep source in this institution.
All these waysacross all the disciplines, in and out of classrooms,
dorms, culture, environmentreconciliation takes place.
I say reclaim this history because I dont think its a serious
part of our conversation right now. And when the forming and shaping of
citizens is not an explicit part of what we do, I fear we slip in an anonymous
vision of what were forming and shaping people for. Its one
many panels and keynotes addressed. When educators dont understand
our broader role connected to the broader world, we risk simply teaching
people to go out and live lives unconnected to the world around them.
Education is not only preparation for a job, and the life well lived is
not only about the attainment of material goods.
Ambassador Laney is correct: there is nothing wrong with making a good
living and material possessions but this cannot and must not be the sole
purpose of life and of education. This symposium challenges us to reclaim
our heritage and be explicit about the formation of leaders and world
citizens in all our schools.
But even as we reclaim this heritage, we must revise it. For the formation
of citizens today and in the future must ask and answer different questions
than in the past.
What ways do we prepare the future world citizens who can address the
issues of racismall racism, as Johnnetta Cole reminded us; who can
with commitment and sophistication address the economic injustices in
our country and the world, as Dan Carter reminded us; who can shift some
of our economic re-sources to preventive medicine, as Bill Foege challenged
We must shape world citizens who can ask and answer very difficult questions
about economics and mission, such as the role of entrepreneurship in the
university and who or what controls the research agenda. In a world filled
with many different religions, we must understand that now well-worn debates
such as religion and science need to be thought of in new ways.
Do disciplines fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle of departmental
clarity, or do we need new ways to stitch together our structures to fit
the porous boundaries of 21st century maps of knowledge?
I want us to reclaim and revise this mission of forming world citizens
in the midst of a research university. This is not cheap moralism or inane
optimism. I recognize that some things couldnt and shouldnt
be done. But I dont think this conference has been about cheap moralism;
rather, [its been about] utopian realism. I think we see here a
hint of an education about shaping persons who can ask hard questions,
who have a vision of beloved community, who denounce easy harmony without
From this symposium, I see an Emory that shapes and forms persons who
do not assume that reconciliation is making the world in their own image,
who do not forget the past. Going forward from this symposium, I see an
Emory who faces the 21st century prepared to train persons in the difficult
task of making the world a better place while fully remembering, as Justice
Goldstone reminded us yesterday, that the 20th century was certainly
one of the bloodiest in history.
Ralph Ellison, in Invisible Man, talks about the need to question
what he calls the inner eyes of disposition. Ellisons narrator says
his invisibility occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the
eyes of those with whom I come into contact. A matter of construction
of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical
eyes upon reality. Do we not, in our teaching, research and service,
always question the current ordering, the inner eyes, the ways we look
upon the world?
Again, I must invoke Lyotard: no grand narrative of truth can be offered.
But maybe truth as a utopian quest is how we become a figure of hope again
for our society and for the world. Perhaps this is always a process, not
one of luxury, to borrow the words of Audre Lorde, but one necessary for
our survival. Maynard Hutchison may have called this ongoing quest for
truth the great conversation, the noisy, blooming, buzzing
confusion of all the disciplines together, sorting and resorting them
Reconciliation, as an aspiration for forming and shaping world citizens,
must be forged through critique, crafted through the imagination, and
anchored always and only in truth.
And isnt this our task? To teach our students to dream, and to order, but also to seek the truth yet always with the truth of realism, that each position that may be true will always be also one-sided?
We must be the guardians of seeking the truth in the 21st century even
as we are the watchdogs for those who pretend to have the whole, final
I wonder if, weaving through all that we do, three habitsimagination, critique and truth-tellingneed to be amplified and at times rendered transparent. Isnt education, when looked at through the figure of hope that is reconciliation, about cultivating the virtues of imagination, critique and truth?