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February 19, 2001

Introducing John Ford

By Eric Rangus

Since he first arrived on campus last summer, John Ford has been barraged with questions. First from Emory’s search committee charged with sifting through applicants for the University’s position of Senior Vice President and Dean for Campus Life, vacated by Frances Lucas-Tauchar when she accepted the presidency of Millsaps College.

Next, for two days in early September, Ford—by then a finalist for the position—returned to campus to field questions from the University at large. People asked pointedly about his background, his plans for Emory and his philosophies, among other things.

Ford was offered and accepted the job later that month, and he moved into his office on the fourth floor of the Dobbs Center on Jan. 3. Since then, Ford has criss-crossed campus, making appearances at events as varied as the Mr. and Ms. Emory Pageaant (where he was a judge), a reception for the University Advisory Council on Teaching, and even the University Athletic Association swimming championships, taking in the atmosphere of his new home and discussing not only his vision for the future of campus life, but also a little about himself.

“I’m not used to talking about myself or my career very much,” Ford said, “and I’ve found that interesting—responding to all the questions about what I’ve done and why I’ve done it. That made me reflect and reassess how I could use what I’d learned throughout my career in starting this new job here.”

While Ford may find it odd talking about himself, members of the Emory have no problem talking about him, and what he will mean to the University in the years ahead.

“John Ford has quickly and adroitly taken stock of the Emory situation as he has seen it, and, in his first few weeks, has proven himself to be the leader the search committee told [Provost] Rebecca Chopp and me he would be,” said President Bill Chace.

“I look forward to working with him over the years because I find in him a wonderful combination of diplomat, gentleman and lover of the academy,” he added.

“He is thoughtful in the way he approaches people,” said Karen Salisbury, assistant dean and director of student activities. “He isn’t the type of person who comes in and says, ‘This is the way it is.’ He asks people their opinions. A lot of us are really excited about this style of leadership.”

“I believe in getting input from all our staff and making sure we share a common vision about where the division should be going,” Ford said. “It’s a collaborative style.”

“He stands firm on his own beliefs, but he doesn’t belittle the views of other people,” said Bridget Riordan, assistant to the vice president of Campus Life.

“The most pleasant thing has been the warm welcome I’ve received,” Ford said. “Everybody’s very friendly, and it’s easy to get to know people. There is a lot of interest at Emory in enhancing the social climate.”

One of Ford’s first tasks in enhancing that social climate is tackling the perceived lack of school spirit on campus—emphasis on the word “perceived.”

“To an outsider who’s visited a lot of college campuses, one can be a little more optimistic about the reality of [school spirit at Emory],” Ford said. “I see, in spite of the complaint about being ‘spirit challenged,’ a lot of activities going on where there are very high-spirited people. Could there be more people at these public and social events? Sure. But I don’t think Emory is as spirit challenged as some of the critics would like to believe.”

One way his office will address spirit, Ford said, is to look at many of the University’s ceremonial occasions and identify ways to enhance other traditions to promote more University identity.
Ford will also lobby for more faculty involvement in campus life. An environment where all members of the Emory community partake in the University experience makes for the most well-rounded type of campus, he said.

Prior to taking over as Campus Life vice president, Ford was Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students and Professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., which is located about an hour south of Syracuse, in the center of the state.

Ford’s journey south to his new position brought out the English professor in President Chace. “[Dr. Ford] is daily traversing the campus and getting to know it well. Just keep in mind that Odysseus sailed for years to return to Ithaca. We are glad that John Ford has sailed from Ithaca to us.”

Ford began his career on the Cornell faculty in 1974, and was appointed as dean of students in 1992, the university’s first faculty member to earn such an appointment. A native of Chicago, Ford earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and psychology from Boston University and subsequently earned three graduate degrees including a Ph.D. in social work and sociology from the University of Michigan.

Now Ford takes over a division that members more than 800 employees and encompasses a huge range of responsibilities from student activities to LGB life to athletics to the computer store.

“We see ourselves as being a communications network between the students and the administration,” Ford said.

And the word among division employees is relentlessly positive. “Great,” “wonderful” and “cool,” are just three of the unscripted comments offered by Campus Life people about the first two months of the Ford regime.

For instance, in recognition of the birthday of one Campus Life employee, Ford serenaded her with an impromptu chorus of “Happy Birthday,” while they shared an elevator—atypical upper management behavior to be sure.

“I think this is supposed to be, and is, a fun job,” Ford said. “There are problems we are expected to solve, and some of our success will be judged in how we do that.

“Our staff members are just super people, and obviously the students bring a lot of energy and optimism and enthusiasm to much of what goes on here. That’s a winning combination.”


Back to Emory Report Feb. 19, 2001