Emory Report: Did
the recent town hall meetings go as the administration expected?
I dont think we had any very sharp picture in our minds about
how theyd work out. We did feel that we had a real responsibility
to air these matters, to listen to people, to hear the expressions
that people wanted to make. Im not surprised that there was
some anger or some confusion at the meetingsthese are important
Do you think the meetings might have started with the wrong questions?
That, instead of presenting the choice of which benefits to cut,
they should have been considering job cuts, departmental budget
cuts, etc.? I dont think so, but I can see why logic would
make that at least a not impossible scenario. We are talking about
things that are much less stringent, much less serious than programmatic
cuts, dismissing people. If we were to say to folks today, Well,
we are thinking about either fringe benefits or you all losing your
jobs, I think that would have put things in a very bad footing,
because I dont think the question is that serious.
We are a very strong institution, and weve got a lot of muscle
behind us. Weve got money behind us. Were doing very,
very well. But what we are looking at are cuts or reductions or
changes that would trim the system the way you trim an airplane
for a landing.
Some people seem to
think these other choices, program cuts and even job cuts, might
be preferable to the benefits cuts. Perhaps people are just frustrated
because they think the administration has not explored other options?
Well, the reason we havent explored them is because we think,
as a surgeon would think when operating on a body, that those incisions
would be much too deep and we dont need to make them. When
you start dismissing people, youre doing one of the most serious
things you can do in an institution. The reverberations would be
deep and broad.
Two years ago, departments
were asked to voluntarily find ways to trim their budgets by 3 percent,
and some said they found it a useful exercise. Is it possible to
do that again?
Again, I think another 3 percent budget-cut exercise would be more
serious and beyond what we feel are the needs of trimming the institution
at the present time.
that, if the University does nothing and maintains status quo, by
2004 we will have $248,000 in discretionary income. What if people
say So what?
That is simply too tiny, too narrow a margin in which to work. In
our total budget of $1.7 billion, $248,000 is insufficientthats
not a margin of error in which you would wish to cooperate. If I
said you are going to have to park your car in this space, and mind
you, youve got one millimeter on this side and one millimeter
on that side, you would want to park your car somewhere elsethat
margin would be too tight for you. With a lot of planning, you could
probably get your car in there, but if I gave you a millimeter leeway
on either side of your car, you would really think that you would
have a big scratch.
What do you say to
people who think that the option to cut benefits came too quickly,
and that this was a first resort rather than a last resort?
What other resorts would people themselves produce out of their
thinking about the institution? Weve looked at things that
we think are appropriate changes given the nature of the situation,
which is not an emergency situation. In an emergency situation,
we would talk about much larger entities. Wed say we cant
afford to have certain programs or sets of people anymore. Or we
would say the easiest way to solve the problem is to increase the
total number of students and derive the resultant tuition income.
We dont think thats right to do, [though] thats
what many institutions do. The reason were not doing that
tells you two things: one, we really do prize the pedagogical excellence
that we practice; and two, we think we can correct our situation
by looking at something less grand than that.
There is a chance
the federal government might adopt some kind of prescription drug
coverage for Medicare.
Lets hope so. But its not going to happen next month,
nor a couple of months from now. No one knows whether it will really
happen, and weve learned not to presume governmental action
in a finite period of time. We cannot create our budgetary planning
on the basis of a hope that the federal government will act in certain
way. Its just too uncertain.
Should it happen,
though, would that give Emory an opportunity to reexamine its benefits
Yes, and one thing I should say is Im hopeful that, whatever
changes we would make, after a significant period of time had elapsed
and once we had looked at the economy again, we could go back and
revisit some of these things. Here I perhaps differ from John Temple,
who has said he thinks this is largely a road we cannot traverse
backward. I would hope we can, but I think John is absolutely right
in thinking that the rise in health care costs in this country is
not going to go away. And keep in mind that the bulk of the fringe
benefits costs is connected to just those costs.
Has the University
made the decision to change benefits?
We have to do something, but it is not firmly established what we
will do. Alice Miller and John Temple believe we must do something,
and I believe theyre right.
What sort of moral
obligation does Emory have to its employees?
I think there are extensive moral obligations expressed in many
ways and some unexpressed. Often when I talk to people about why
theyve come here to work, theyve come to work not just
at a place, but on a campus, and I think a campus denotes something
special. First of all, it is a place where there are a lot of young
people, where the only real imperative is to search for the truththis
is not a profit-making institutionwhere there is a good deal
of time given over to reflection, where you have a library and a
big green sward, and people conversing.
So its a different kind of place to work, and I think you
have to preserve that ambiance. The moment people feel very sharply
or strongly that they are just here to work eight hours and then
go home, weve lost something of that ambiance. Many people
enjoy working on a campus because they know it is an unusual place
where people are being educated, where there is learning, and where
there are young people maturing. We have a considerable obligation
to keep that spirit alive, but more specifically I think we have
an obligation to provide good benefits and good income. From our
own measurementsagainst other institutions, both profit and
nonprofitI think weve done a good job. Whether or not
weve done a great job, I dont know, but I think weve
done a good job.
That moment, of people
realizing theyre just here to work and go homeare you
worried it may come soon for a lot of people?
It can come for some people, and I certainly heard [in the town
hall meetings] people [who were] disappointed, but my basic belief
is that the University, no matter how much it would like to separate
itself and be an ivory tower or a haven in a heartless world, is
still in a world where it has to face its responsibility, to cope
with reality around and beyond the University, and that is what
were trying to do. Keep in mind were in a recession,
and we are looking at spiraling health care costs. We have to do
something about that; we cant pretend those changes dont
exist. We are in strong contact and connection with the world that
This is the first
time in a long time that a significant financial decision has been
discussed this openly before its been made.
Thats probably true, but I would also say that we havent
had to discuss unpleasant financial decisions for quite some time
at Emory. We now have to deal with unpleasant realities. We will
do so, and we will come out of this all right.
Speaking of the 'boom
years,' do you think Emory reached too far too fast?
No, Im very proud of all of the advances weve made,
and I think we are secure with them, and I think they will last.
Im very happy about the buildings weve built, and I
dont look back and say, We shouldnt have done
this, we shouldnt have done that. This is a strong country;
this a strong institution. I believe that, looking back 10 years
from now, people will be very happy that we continued on the course
we did. I cant even cite anything we should not have donethe
buildings weve built, the people weve hired, the growth
of our programs.
Look at what weve done at Yerkes: When I arrived here, it
was almost entirely a primatology center. Now its one of the
world centers for an AIDS vaccine. That took hiring, it took emotion,
it took strong leadership. It might be the place where we will have
created an AIDS vaccine. If we had decided, Oh no, better
not do that, better not enlarge that, better not hire those people,
what a big mistake that would have been. Weve built a stronger
Why should people
believe that if the University cuts benefits this year, it wont
do it again?
There are absolutely no ways to envision where Emory will be in
two years. There are all sorts of things that could happen. I believe
the economy of the country is fundamentally strong. Todays
New York Times said that investor confidence has gone up,
and it made a big surge in the stock market. Ive talked to
a number of people who believe that we will pull out of this recession.
I listen to and read some economists, so I am confident that Emory
will be in good shape. But I have no crystal ball to say that terrible
things wont happen. It would be really irresponsible of me
to say, From now on, as far as I can see, everything is going
to be just great.
What do you see in
the near future?
This is a strong institution; it will continue with strength; it
will continue to be vital; it will continue to be interesting; it
will continue to employ good people; it will continue to attract
good students, faculty and staff peopleof that I am sure.
Because whatever is happening is happening also at other institutions,
so we dont have any gross comparative disadvantages with them.
Our faculty recruitment is going well, our fund raising is going
well. I cited the figure yesterday: $81 million [in fund raising]
and were halfway through the year. Thats a good year
for Emory; thats a good year for any school. We are raising
money, and we will raise more.
What happens next?
We will continue to talk to people in the Presidents Cabinet
and others about what we do. We will talk to the finance committee
of the Board of Trustees; we will talk to the fringe benefits committee
of the University Senate; we will talk to the executive committee
of the Board of Trustees on March 14, and we will have to reach
a decision pretty soon.