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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 couldn’t and shouldn’t 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 primate—and 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 Foege’s 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 should—through inquiry, debate, performance and discussion—but also as a topic, as Tom Flynn would say, that lives in the soul of this university, our remembering of who we are as an institution.

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 century—imagination, 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 notion—that education is about creating citizens—is an old claim. But it is one we need to reclaim and revise. First, to “reclaim.” Our education is now in ragged pieces—disciplines here, projects there, professional schools on the edges.

I don’t 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 Emory—who we might be in the future based on how we remember our past—must 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 and skills.

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 schools—and 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 ways—across all the disciplines, in and out of classrooms, dorms, culture, environment—reconciliation takes place.

I say reclaim this history because I don’t think it’s 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 we’re forming and shaping people for. It’s one many panels and keynotes addressed. When educators don’t 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 racism—all 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 us?

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 couldn’t and shouldn’t be done. But I don’t think this conference has been about cheap moralism; rather, [it’s 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 justice.

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 Richard

Goldstone reminded us yesterday, that the 20th century was certainly one of the bloodiest in history.
This symposium challenges us all to think of Emory’s task as the shaping of what Martha Nussbaum calls the “world citizen”: what Orr calls “values we hold dear,” what Laney calls our “aspiration,” and Lewis our “ancient cry that is also our rising sun.”

Ralph Ellison, in Invisible Man, talks about the need to question what he calls the inner eyes of disposition. Ellison’s 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 out.

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.
I am struck by how similar the panel on psychological reconciliation and the one on global conflicts make this point: we need for a new narrative, one that requires imagination and that must be built on truth.

And isn’t 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 truth.

I wonder if, weaving through all that we do, three habits—imagination, critique and truth-telling—need to be amplified and at times rendered transparent. Isn’t education, when looked at through the figure of hope that is reconciliation, about cultivating the virtues of imagination, critique and truth?


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