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February 11, 2002

Commission studies Emory culture, practices

Aimee Pozorski is a graduate assistant in the Office of Strategic Development.


Since December, the Commission on Research at Emory has continued to develop a comprehensive understanding of the University’s complex research culture. In the last several weeks, this work has involved collecting quantitative data specific to Emory and other competitive research universities, and discussing the philosophical issues surrounding faculty work.

The committee for defining research evaluated notable changes at Emory and other highly selective research universities over the last decade to assess Emory’s growth and reputation relative to peer institutions. This committee is using an information matrix patterned after one developed to characterize the nature of science research in Emory College. The committee has asked that all disciplinary clusters at Emory develop and complete such a matrix.

Together, the committees on cultivating researchers and on infrastructure jointly hosted 12 faculty hearings. The committee on research issues also is crafting a quantitative questionnaire to complement these findings.

Further, the infrastructure committee has used information from the faculty hearings to help focus its own research questions. This committee plans to discuss key issues and questions that initially may have been overlooked.

Finally, the committee on ethics and research has considered both how the research enterprise shapes the priorities and choices of the university, and how research priorities frame the ethical practices of each individual researcher at Emory.

Susan Frost, vice president for Strategic Development, is encouraged to see the commission members embrace this work so fully: “During the last several years,” she said, “I have worked with several faculty groups who accepted and succeeded with similar long-term challenges. Now this kind of planning activity is a hallmark of Emory. I especially applaud the members of this commission for their unusual dedication to the work of the commission. Their contribution will help shape Emory’s future.”

Subcommittee spotlight: Defining, cultivating research

Both the committee on defining research (chaired by Carol Worthman and Leslie Real) and the committee on cultivating faculty research (chaired by Kim Wallen and Michelle Lampl) have carefully considered research profiles as well as listened to the concerns of Emory faculty.

The committee on defining research spends much of its time reading “research matrices”—tables and charts that measure variables such as research expenditures, library resources, popular majors, enrollments and faculty awards. These matrices allow committee members to understand clearly the position of Emory in comparative terms.

Their next goal is to develop matrices specific to Emory, both to provide a new perspective on the University’s comparative rank as well as look more closely at the primary research issues at home.

Real suggested that areas for improvement include clearly characterizing where the rate-limiting step to scholarly activity occurs across the different disciplines, and studying mutually exclusive demands on faculty time, such as the demand for scholarly production within the disciplines and consistent intellectual exchange and communication across the disciplines.

Rather than focus on the quantitative aspects of research, the committee on cultivating faculty researchers has considered the issues faculty face daily. The committee’s faculty hearings in December brought together faculty from theology, law, medicine, the humanities, social sciences, clinical, and basic sciences to discuss infrastructure, collaborative research, rewards and satisfaction.

The committee currently is organizing narrative responses to the faculty hearings, which have revealed several core issues. One of the discussions involves the different research cultures at Emory; one of the most daunting tasks facing the committee is how to bridge these cultures to provide a more uniform and rewarding research environment at Emory.

“We are just beginning to understand the diverse ways that research is viewed and rewarded at Emory,” Wallen said, “but already we are discovering common ground that should lead to practical recommendations for change.”

The commission’s early work indicates that the reward system at Emory currently values individual achievement most highly. To foster overall faculty productivity, rewards might acknowledge collaboration in addition to individual accomplishments. This process is already under way, but as one committee member recognized, “Many faculty concerns arise out of the legacy of the old system at Emory. A new system is on the way, but it is going to take some time before the results are visible.”