April 14, 2003

Chace gives pointers to new 'president'

By Eric Rangus

As a speaker, President Bill Chace always has been light on his feet. Since announcing his retirement in November his relaxation at the podium has only become more visible.

That jovial demeanor was perhaps nowhere more apparent than when he addressed a gathering of about 300 members of the Emory community and alumni at the Druid Hills Golf Club Thursday night, April 10. The event was cosponsored by the Association of Emory Alumni and the Division of Institutional Advancement.

In theory, Chace was to deliver a “State of the University” address, and his
25-minute speech certainly contained some of that: a review of campus construction, a sketch of Emory’s health sciences accomplishments, a note about the University’s increasing internationalization and a plug of its accomplished athletic teams.

But the address’ reality was much more interesting than that. Chace, English professor
to the core, turned his State of the University Address into a lesson on one big literary term: personification.

“The little exercise in which I am asking all of you to take part tonight is called: ‘I am now the president of Emory, but what do I do?’” Chace said, tongue firmly implanted in cheek, where it remained most of the evening. “I, as once-upon-a-time president, will be your guide.”

Chace then discussed the various aspects of his job, and the constituencies and issues the new president would have to deal with, such as:

The faculty: “Because they are so important to you, you will want to do all you can to support them, celebrate them, supply them, and comfort and champion them. But you will soon learn that they are autonomous, individualistic and self-determining. They will think of you, if you are lucky, as well-meaning but largely irrelevant. They will not believe that you really understand what they do and why it is more important than what you do. But you will love them because you must! Praise them! Praise them!”

• The students: “They can prove very demanding customers who have lived all their lives in a consumer culture and who expect their every need to be satisfied lest they take their trade elsewhere. They and their parents, your treasurer will tell you, supply some 60 percent of your operating budget, and you will neglect that fact and them only at your peril.”

• College rankings: “Academic meritocracy is measured only by impressionistic evaluations, such as U.S. News and World Report, often by people who don’t really know you and have only reputations to go on. So you will disappear in the same fuzzy world as restaurants and hotels; you will become well-known by being well-known and you will live and die by virtue of yesterday’s foggy knowledge.”

The audience, which laughed frequently, got the jokes, but Chace showed off a serious side as well, primarily when he spoke of community.

“You will want to get people interested in having a successful community because you will want them to believe such communities really can exist even when the constituents of community are now broken in our cultural life,” Chace said.

Chace also spoke about an absence of middle-income students at not only Emory, but other high-profile private institutions. “Some middle-income families turn out to be ineligible for financial aid and yet for those families to pay our tuition would take a hefty cut from their incomes. So their children don’t apply and go to public institutions.

“If the public comes to discover that places like Emory have become less and less accessible to students from all levels of income, public trust could wither away,”
he continued.

In his conclusion, Chace made sure not to forget his hosts—the alumni of the University he has led for nine years. And again, the English professor made sure his words had several layers of meaning.

“The strength of Emory is, at the end, to be measured by the strength and affection of its alumni,” Chace said. “No one departs from their alma mater without an understanding that one’s life was, in some crucial ways, transformed there.”