About 22 minutes into his annual Town Hall Meeting, Sept. 25,
President Bill Chace received the question he was waiting for. After
all, the campus was buzzing about it, and the student newspaper,
The Emory Wheel, had published an in-depth investigation
into its creation the day before.
“It,” of course, is Emory’s new pre-employment
drug screening policy, which tests prospective employees for illegal
drugs, but exempts prospective faculty.
When Ron Foust, senior financial analyst in Information Technology
and former president of the Employee Council (the organization sponsoring
the town hall), asked Chace about what led to the decision, Emory’s
president was ready, understanding, eloquent and, perhaps, surprising.
“I’m not utterly astounded that this question has arisen,”
Chace said to a full Winship Ballroom. Previous questions had covered
relatively soft subjects, and the switch to drug-testing policy
moved the meeting in another direction.
“This is not and should not be construed in any way as an
invasion of the privacy of employees,” he said.
The policy was piloted last spring in four University divisions:
Campus Life, Community Services, Facilities Management and Human
Resources. It is in the process of being expanded to encompass the
whole of the University.
Staff concerns about the policy have ranged from a fear that the
policy would eventually include current employees to the question
of why new faculty are not tested. Chace discussed the policy from
a variety of angles.
“We do not intend to administer drug testing to employees,”
he said, alleviating concerns that current employees may eventually
be asked to submit to testing.
Regarding faculty testing, Chace reiterated a previous stance that
faculty on campus were treated differently than other employees.
“They are the entity around which everything else revolves,”
Chace said. “We’re all here, including myself, working
for the faculty. Without them, we don’t have a university.”
Chace expanded his thoughts on the subject, however. “I’m
about 60/40 in favor of this [testing],” he said. “I
don’t want to come before my colleagues and say, ‘This
is wonderful. Why don’t you understand that?’ You get
situations in your career and you choose, and all the right isn’t
on one side. On balance, I believe this is the way to go.”
He concluded by leaving the policy open for change. Chace said he
would be open to pre-employment drug testing of faculty, but such
change would be up to the faculty.
“I will ask Faculty Council to take up the matter,”
Drug testing was certainly not the only subject of Chace’s
50-minute appearance. He answered questions about whether Emory
is still competitive despite national economic troubles (“Without
trying to create a sense of defensiveness, I simply cannot believe
we [are not].”); if employees could be given a third floating
holiday to compensate for reduced benefits (no, too expensive);
whether employees could formally evaluate managers (no, the manager/
employee relationship is not a two-way street); and a handful of
Prior to answering questions, Chace briefly commented on the state
of the University. “As I look around campus—I’ve
read a great deal—and I’m happy to report that, all
things considered, we are in very good shape,” he said. “But
I would be less than candid if I didn’t report that we’re
doing well within somewhat adverse circumstances.”
Those circumstances, he said, include “something of a recession”
and a troubled U.S. health care system. Still, he continued, while
Emory’s endowment has shrunk slightly, the University remains
able to hire top-level faculty and staff as well as continue to
build state-of-the-art academic buildings and research laboratories.
A town hall meeting with the University president and Emory staff
was first organized by Employee Council in 1991 when James Laney
led the University, and it has become a staple of Emory’s
fall schedule. Chace has appeared each year of his nine-year presidency.