December 1, 2003

Emory Vision Statement gets clear prescription

By Michael Terrazas

Emory University Vision Statement
Emory: A destination university internationally recognized as an inquiry-driven, ethically engaged and diverse community, whose members work collaboratively for positive transformation in the world through courageous leadership in teaching, research, scholarship, health care and social action.


Now that the University Vision Statement has been finalized, the question President Jim Wagner is hearing most often is: What happens next?

The Vision Statement is the first step in a graduated process that will culminate in a comprehensive campaign that could bring billions of dollars to the University, and Wagner’s plan from the beginning was to involve as many people as possible in the process. Some 40 individuals, along with many other groups, departments and commissions, offered responses to the statement, and the president said all these comments were considered seriously as the statement went through its final draft.

"I was extremely pleased and delighted by that process," Wagner said. "People were serious about this opportunity for open comment, and they also took the challenge to go beyond a critique and to be creative. We told them they could take it apart, but at the end of the day they had to put it back together, and everybody took that very seriously."

Posted now on the Vision Statement website ( is a letter from Wagner (see story) along with a detailed exposition of the statement itself: what each phrase means and how it came to be included. For example, for the phrase "diverse community," the explanation reads: "Despite occasional friction that reminds us we are a human community, and thus prone to every human frailty, a very large proportion of those who commented on their vision for Emory took great pride in their sense of this place as a diverse community. This insistent refrain simply must be part of our vision."

Now, Wagner said, the task is to incorporate the statement and the ideals it espouses into the everyday workings of University life, and this includes judging policy decisions by how well they conform to the Vision Statement.

"If we were really concerned about being a top ‘destination’ for faculty and staff, it should dictate the way we look at benefits or the drug policy," Wagner said. "Also, we would expect that the statement should guide how we go forward with what is an appropriate employee benefits policy."

Right now, Wagner and his colleagues in administration are examining how best to structure an all-encompassing strategic planning process for the University, but the president already has said that he envisions a "modular" planning effort whose individual components have independent time frames. For example, the marketing aspect of a strategic plan could be finished relatively quickly, while the module that deals with curriculum—always a contentious subject—could take much longer.

All together, Wagner has said he would be disappointed if the entire process were not completed within 18 months. One possible structure, he said, could be a central strategic planning committee composed of the chairs of the individual, modular committees. Wagner also said the process will be even more inclusive than that which created the Vision Statement.

As for that statement, Wagner said he is happy with the final draft but some "tweaking" might still be necessary.

"We’re not going to commit it to T-shirts and bumper stickers just yet," he said. "It needs to breathe, particularly during this planning process. On the other hand, there are phrases [in it] that already are sticking with people."