In the last few years, I’ve observed a trend that bodes
well for Emory. It seems that wherever I’ve talked with groups
of scholars on the subject of university development and leadership,
either in the United States or Europe, I’ve found that Emory
has acquired a reputation as a place with a distinct intellectual
culture and tradition of faculty interaction.
Along the same lines, I’ve heard from leaders at peer universities
who are working to emulate some aspects of our community, especially
our teaching and research commissions and our Luce and Gustafson
seminars, which received prominent attention in Change magazine
Of course, our leadership in this area hasn’t come about overnight.
Rather, our success is founded in a very real commitment that Emory
faculty and administrative leaders made a decade ago to weave together
a strong community of scholars.
We owe much to Choices & Responsibility, which Claire
Sterk and David Carr, co-chairs of the Research at Emory Commission,
also acknowledged in their Emory Report essay in February.
In 1994, then-Provost Billy Frye based Choices & Responsibility
on a thorough self-examination of our particular situation and against
the larger picture of higher education. It was a pivotal event in
Emory’s intellectual history.
As faculty revealed in campuswide discussions, the rapid expansion
that helped Emory evolve from an excellent regional institution
in 1980 into a major research university had created a powerful
double-edged sword. Emory’s investment in highly focused scholarship
and research also had the potential to erode the University’s
traditional culture of broad intellectual exchange.
Faculty expressed the deep concern then (and now, with the research
commission) that universities are in danger of losing their special
place in society—a place that values the life of the mind
and allows time for reflection. They challenged Emory to strengthen
the environment for creating knowledge while also increasing opportunities
for scholarly collaboration.
One way the University responded was by taking a systematic approach
to understanding Emory’s intellectual culture. Over the last
decade, we’ve asked questions about who we are, how we compare
to others, and how can we use our particular characteristics to
increase our strengths—those that make us Emory—instead
of simply imitating what others have done.
While most people on campus are aware of the high-profile research
and teaching commissions, other research projects undertaken by
scholars in the offices of strategic development and institutional
research also have guided our development. One such investigation
examined the Luce Seminars, led by Professor James Gustafson. During
each spring semester for eight years (1989–96), about a dozen
faculty met in structured seminars to explore a range of scholarly
To understand the seminars’ influence, our research team interviewed
25 of the 85 participants. Our findings suggested that the Luce
program provided intense and sustained faculty involvement, broad
interaction across disciplines and notions of Emory’s ideal
intellectual ethos. Many participants said they developed new ways
to explore boundary-spanning problems, and that they felt more confident
about working across those boundaries.
The findings helped lay the groundwork for the ongoing Gustafson
Seminars, in which more than 50 scholars have participated since
1998. This year’s seminar addresses “The Locus of Our
Discontent: The Role of Place in Academic Discourse.”
We have used other occasions as research settings, too. Every year
since 1993, the president or the provost has conducted a series
of discussions with faculty about the nature of our intellectual
community. We have invited about 10 percent of the full-time faculty
(selected at random) to participate in the series. In 1997 we held
24 discussions on issues of balance between teaching and research
and carefully recorded the conversations.
Our analysis revealed three ways Emory could strengthen teaching
excellence: First, we could structure activities to help faculty
and administrators communicate clearly and frequently about the
balance between research and teaching—interestingly, each
group believes the other places a higher value on research.
Second, we could help faculty talk more regularly about shared work
such as teaching. Some faculty in the professional schools, for
instance, felt that discussing teaching with arts and sciences colleagues
resulted in a more reflective faculty community.
Third, we could use faculty opinion to determine how to increase
support for teaching. For example, faculty participants in our study
argued for resources at the departmental or school level rather
than at a more remote, Universitywide level. Although the teaching
commission recommended a center and professional staff—which
the administration agreed to fund—the University later heeded
the opinions of faculty and replaced the center with a more flexible
Another important study was an investigation into Emory’s
cross-school intellectual initiatives. Although these programs have
become increasingly important in the United States, few researchers
have addressed how faculty begin and sustain them. This qualitative
analysis, based on interviews with 12 program leaders, revealed
factors, challenges and benefits that shaped their evolution.
We learned that the founders of successful initiatives combined
passionate intellectual vision with powerful collegial connections.
When scholars with a vital commitment to their topic drew on well-established
intellectual ties, they often attracted enough seed money and early
administrative support to develop a vibrant interdisciplinary program.
Also, Emory’s proximity to the CDC, to other research organizations
and to other area universities helped provide the intellectual and
fiscal capital the programs needed to support their outward-looking
Over the years, these studies have relied not only on gathering
extensive information about Emory’s culture, but also about
other universities so that we understand the context in which we
operate, as well as the characteristics and aspirations of the broader
This strand of research has helped my colleagues and me advance
discussion on what a new model of the university might look like.
In fact, university leaders and scholars in many countries have
requested our recent paper, “Advancing Universities: The Global
City as Guide for Change.” Also, the lead article in the current
Journal of Higher Education specifically examines Emory’s
experience with the Luce Seminars. (These articles, along with others
that address the issues I have mentioned, are posted on the Office
of Strategic Development website at www.emory.edu/PRESIDENT/StrategicDevelopment/).
By focusing on both the big picture of the academy and the small
details vital to Emory, we aim to find more meaningful ways for
faculty to help shape this University’s development.
Faculty have invested their most precious resources—time and
knowledge—to produce these findings. Because the work of scholars
is to inquire into the nature of things, it seems logical that a
university should provide the space and time for scholars to question
the principles and actions of the community they’re engaged
in. At the same time, by sharing this dialogue with others, the
community evolves toward a shared vision of its self.
I strongly believe that opportunities await younger, more flexible
universities such as Emory that actively support the life of the
mind in this time of fast-paced social and economic change. Because
we nurture such an environment, I believe new ideas will continue
to emerge and flourish here. This way, the intellectual passion
of our scholars will dictate the kind of university Emory becomes.