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October 29, 2001

Faculty finds forum through The Academic Exchange

By Eric Rangus


The voices of Emory University faculty are more diverse than the United Nations general assembly. And it’s Allison Adams’ job to condense those voices into a compelling and coherent compilation.

Welcome to The Academic Exchange.

“When people ask me what I do for a living,” said Adams, managing editor of The Exchange, “I tell them that my job is to create and maintain a forum for faculty discussion of work, life and thought at Emory University.”

That forum is The Exchange, an intriguing mix of one-on-one interviews, first-person pedagogical essays and in-depth, magazine-type pieces highlighting issues of research, teaching and many other subjects that may cross the desk or enter the office of a University professor.

And The Exchange consists of much more than the usually 12-page (Sept. 2001’s edition was 16), different-color-for-every-issue publication that is delivered to faculty mailboxes five times a year. The print version is supplemented by an online companion ( EXCHANGE), which not only reprints articles and interviews from the hard copy but mixes in new information (overflow pieces, responses to issues that pop up between the publication cycle, links to articles and news from other courses).

Then there is “AEWeekly,” an e-mail supplement that contains still more news, like new-faculty profiles, event briefs and continued discussion of topics featured in the print publication.

The Exchange is performing a vital function by helping the faculty communicate with each other intellectually,” said John Sitter, Charles Howard Candler Professor of English. An essay Sitter wrote about his experience as a witness in The Wind Done Gone copyright infringement trial appears in the Oct/Nov. edition of The Exchange (as well as on page 2 of this week’s Emory Report).

“We often find out from other sources what our colleagues are doing; The Exchange lets us find out what they’re thinking,” Sitter said.

The idea of creating The Exchange sprung from the mind of then-Provost Rebecca Chopp and Susan Frost, who was then VP for institutional planning and research, in 1998. She wanted to create a publication that would give faculty a mouthpiece with which to conduct scholarly conversation throughout campus. The format had to be intellectual yet accessible. And it would take place within the confines of a university atmosphere, with a minimum of administrative oversight—despite the fact the administration would fund it.

The idea was so forward thinking (and its consequences so unknown) that no other school was found to have such a publication. An advisory committee of professors from across Emory was formed to put the plan together.

In November 1998, that committee hired Adams as editor. At the time she had spent four years as assistant editor of Emory Magazine, the last two of them in a dual role as managing editor of the Goizueta Magazine.

Before the ink was dry on her new business cards, Adams began criss-crossing campus, talking to professors about their interests, as well as what they would like to see in the publication. Once the first Academic Exchange was released in March 1999, Adams had spoken to nearly 100 professors. In the more than two years since, she’s sat down with scores more.

Not only does Adams pick professors’ brains individually over coffee or a sandwich, but she meets with teams of faculty several times a year as sort of focus groups. One of her goals, Adams said, is to set up a more structured evaluation program with faculty.

“I want to make sure that my finger stays on the pulse of this community,” she said. “Just listening to people, that’s an important part of my job.”

Another goal in The Exchange’s near future is to expand its seven-person editorial advisory board (the core of the committee that hired Adams makes up this multidisciplinary animal). The board reviews copy, an important task considering The Exchange’s small staff—Adams is the lone full-time employee—as well as offering insights from departments throughout Emory.

The Exchange
also plans to dabble in high-end academic publishing. This fall, Adams will publish two lectures and two responses from the humanities council lectures, which took place last year.

Hoping to maintain a certain edge, The Exchange treads where few internal publications will go. Professors by their nature can be somewhat ornery and they’re definitely opinionated—the attitude goes with the job. If they are given an open forum, the results are permanently up in the air. The conversation could bounce in dozens of directions, not all of them pleasant (this is one of the reasons publications such as The Exchange are basically nonexistent).

For instance, The Exchange’s lead story in September dissected the complicated series of events that led nearly two dozen professors to draft a resolution disagreeing with an administrative change in Emory College—proposed by Emory’s administration—that would have created the position of executive vice provost for Arts and Sciences, with duties in both the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Emory College.

The Exchange’s handling of the issue was even-handed and thorough. “It took a long time to negotiate how to tell that story and make sure all the voices that needed to be represented were heard,” said Adams, who wrote the main article, which was accompanied by interviews with players on both sides, first-person essays by participants and an outline of how graduate and undergraduate arts and sciences programs are organized at other universities.

“There are some obvious disagreements among those voices, but it was important for us to pursue that story in such a way that those voices didn’t end up as administration versus faculty, because that’s really not what the debate was about. It would’ve been an easy out to write that kind of story,” Adams said. “By doing that, I hope we gained the respect of the administration.”

Not that that respect wasn’t out there before.

“I have been pleased by the liveliness and quality of the publication and hope it continues to be a place for the frank exchange of views,” said Provost Woody Hunter. Law school dean at the time of the arts and sciences discussion, Hunter was not involved in that particular debate.

“I encourage faculty to become active contributors to the conversations that take place on its pages,” Hunter said.

“We are very fortunate,” Adams said, “to have a provost and a president who understand our function in this community and are very supportive of it. As long as we are fair. We don’t try to blindside anybody.”


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