August 4, 2003

James Wagner named Emory president

Michael Terrazas

News Conference Video

Emory's Presidential Search Web Site

James Wagner, provost of Case Western Reserve University, was named Emory’s 19th president after a special meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees, held July 30.

Wagner, whose appointment concludes an eight-month, national search following the retirement announcement of President Bill Chace, will be on campus for the beginning of Emory’s fall semester. His appointment as president is effective Sept. 1.

Ben Johnson, chair of Emory’s Board of Trustees (BOT) and of the Presidential Search Committee, said the committee considered some 150 individuals during the search, held in-person interviews with 15 candidates and narrowed the list to four finalists before Wagner emerged as the committee’s unanimous choice. In the final stage of the search, Johnson said Wagner met with roughly 80 different individuals—from deans to students, faculty to presidents of other Atlanta universities, to President Jimmy Carter—all of whom were similarly impressed by Wagner’s credentials and approach to higher education leadership.

“It’s almost impossible for me to imagine that any one human being could see and impress so many people—and it’s not a ‘flashy’ impression,” Johnson said. “This is someone who understands higher education, someone who understands the uniqueness of Emory’s heritage and the role Emory can play, someone who is very ambitious for Emory to achieve its potential, and someone who has got the ability, energy and ambition to take it there.”

“Emory University has the opportunity to be known and to be recognized for being inquiry-based and values-guided—an educational institution of the highest order,” Wagner said. “All university presidents feel they have a passion for what higher education should mean for society globally, not just locally, and they’re looking for platforms where they can help lead and make a difference.

“Emory is too good not to be recognized as a leader; in fact, higher education is more open to Emory’s kind of leadership than it has been in a long time,” he continued. “So the excitement is not only about what Emory is, but what it can be.”

Appointed provost at Case Western Reserve (CWRU) in 2000, Wagner served 15 months as interim president from May 2001–July 2002. Prior to becoming provost, he spent two years as dean of CWRU’s Case School of Engineering after a 13-year career on the engineering faculty of Johns Hopkins University. Wagner holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Delaware, along with a master’s of clinical engineering and Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Johns Hopkins. He is 50 years old.

“We’re just incredibly fortunate [to have Wagner as president]—I think it’s divine intervention,” said Wright Caughman, professor and chair of dermatology and a member of the search committee. “He’s incredibly engaging, he’s a fantastic listener, and I think he’s a synthesizer and a doer. He believes the best is yet to come for this institution.”

Several members of both the search committee and the Faculty Advisory Committee
(a 10-person body appointed to provide a wider breadth of faculty input into the search process) acknowledged that some members of the Emory community may have questions—indeed, they said they had questions themselves—about appointing an engineer as president of a university without an engineering school, but they felt confident Wagner would quickly and decisively dispel any such uncertainties.

“I must admit, I was a little taken aback when I saw his CV,” said David Lynn, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Chemistry and Biology and a member of the advisory committee. “But I was delightfully surprised at the depth of his understanding and the depth of perspective he will bring to the position. He clearly has a vision and clearly does understand what it means to be a liberal arts institution.”

“To say that he’s ‘an engineer’ doesn’t do justice to his experience and his interests,” said search committee member John Ford, senior vice president and dean for Campus Life. “He’s very familiar with the opportunities and the challenges in the humanities and social sciences, and I think he’s genuinely interested in being inclusive about all the range of research and teaching and service that is part of Emory.”

Johnson said not just the search committee but much of the BOT was actively involved in the final-stage interviews with Wagner, who, without exception, impressed everyone with whom he met.

“I’ve never been more optimistic about the [BOT’s] unity or enthusiasm,” Johnson said. “I think the board will enthusiastically support Jim Wagner in his efforts to take Emory to the next level, and to provide him with the resources he needs.”