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September 10, 2001

Research commission gets under way

By Michael Terrazas


In early 1996, Emory launched a bold, campuswide initiative that sought to probe the soundness of one of the twin pillars of higher education. The effort culminated in a comprehensive report, Teaching at Emory, that provided a detailed structural analysis of pedagogy at the University.

Five years later, it’s the other pillar’s turn.

This fall marks the formal launch of “Research at Emory,” a Universitywide commission charged with determining the very nature of research and scholarship on this campus, examining everything from applications to infrastructure to funding. The plan is to produce a companion document to Teaching at Emory, but just as important will be the education—the enlightenment, even—commission members and their colleagues receive along the way.

Twenty-four faculty and administrators from across campus make up the commission itself, which also encompasses four smaller committees. Each committee will be charged
with investigating a different aspect of research at Emory.

“It’s almost Part 2 in my mind of the large process of the University trying to get a better handle on its identity and vision,” said commission chair Claire Sterk, chair of behavioral sciences and health education in the School of Public Health.

“But it’s a little bit different,” Sterk continued, “in that we will be able to build on Teaching at Emory and will be able to make some statements about linking teaching and research. Having said that, part of the key debate is that, in this day and age, we tend to think of research in terms of external funding; as universities increasingly rely on external research funding, we start equating research with money. The commission, however, will center on a broad definition of scholarship.”

The “research equals money” idea Sterk mentioned is an understandable phenomenon, considering the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the University each year for research—most of it related in some way to the health sciences. But that is precisely the perception the commission hopes to dispel by drawing on the experience and expertise of faculty from all corners of campus.

“It was very important to me that the humanities be represented, that some humanistic thought go into the whole conception of research at a university,” said David Carr, Candler Professor of Philosophy and commission co-chair. “It’s just getting across to people in the sciences what research in the humanities is like and what it involves—not a lot of big bucks for instruments, but certainly time.”

Each of the four committees has a chair and co-chair, and they include anthropology’s Carol Worthman and biology’s Les Real; psychology’s Kim Wallen and anthropology’s Michelle Lampl; the School of Medicine’s Stephen Warren from genetics and Tom Insel from psychiatry and behavioral sciences; and the Center for Ethics’ Jim Fowler and Art Kellermann from emergency medicine in the School of Public Health.

Sterk said the commission will go about its work by soliciting input “in each and every way possible.” Town-hall meetings, outside speakers, brownbag lunches, individual meetings and panel discussions—all are possibilities, she said.

“I would like it to be a very open process, where everyone knows what’s going on,” Sterk said. “The committees will have a lot of say in terms of what mechanism works for their group. My main role is to put all those pieces together, do constant integration and content analysis, and make sure
the things that can be linked are linked.”

Providing administrative support for the commission will be Kim Loudermilk from the provost’s office; Frank Stout, vice president for research; and Susan Frost, newly appointed vice president for strategic development.

“The president, the provost and the deans are intensely interested in this work,” Frost said. “In addition to keeping the the calendars going, I hope to provide a constant flow of information between the administration and the faculty in both directions.”

Speaking of calendars, the particular timing of the project allows Emory to use it to meet reaccreditation requirements of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). SACS now offers colleges and universities of whether to conduct its traditional self-study or this “alternative self-study” that focuses on a central strategic planning objective.

In fact, Emory is partly responsible for this option, which did not exist the last time SACS came to campus 10 years ago, according to Harriet King, senior vice provost for academic affairs, whose office will oversee the accreditation side of the project. King said, following the last accreditation, former president Jim Laney and former provost Billy Frye asked SACS to design a self-study model similar to the one ultimately adopted.

SACS will require a report to be submitted prior to its own evaluation team’s visit to campus in early 2003. Sterk and Frost said to expect the commission’s final report sometime thereafter.


Back to Emory Report September 10, 2001