December 15, 2003

Wagner urges HS collaboration

By Eric Rangus

Stating it was an important step in making both Emory and its health sciences component great, President Jim Wagner urged members of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center (WHSCAB) to collaborate with colleagues in the professional schools as well as Emory College.

Speaking on "The Health Sciences in Liberal Learning," Wagner addressed a crowd of more than 200 in WHSCAB Auditorium on Dec. 9, his 100th day in office. He had been on vacation for several days and had returned to campus the previous morning. Wagner's lecture was sponsored by WHSC, and Michael Johns, executive vice president for health affairs and WHSC director, handled the introductions.

"It requires all of these [components] to be part of a great university," Wagner said, adding that before he took the job as Emory's president he had heard of a "perceived rift" between WHSC and rest of the University but was encouraged that health sciences professors, clinicians and administrators were pledged to fill it.

"But there needs to be some reaching back from the other side," Wagner continued, saying that Emory College and the professional schools also must reach out to their health sciences colleagues.

While WHSC was the focus of Wagner's 35-minute address, he touched on several subjects. He led off with his definition of "liberal learning," which he called exercising the right of the mind.

Traditionally, Wagner said, teaching was tailored to classical arts and sciences, such as grammar, logic, rhetoric, geometry, music, literature and astronomy. "It became almost cultist in that learning was restricted to those things that were determined by most everybody else to be useless," Wagner joked.

There was a resistance to teaching natural science, Wagner said. As an example, he said laboratories at Yale University were once called "philosophical chambers." Most technological advances, he said derived from innovation and creativity rather than science.

"We were using the wheel long before we knew its circumference was 2πr," Wagner said.

Increasingly, though, technological advances have been coming from science, which gives health sciences a position in the new liberal learning, especially in the "research university" Wagner hopes Emory can become.

"To have a genuine research university," Wagner said, "there has to be investigation in biomedical and health sciences issues. That's where an enormous amount of discovery will take place that will advance the human condition. We must have inquiry-driven health sciences involved in our university."

Wagner concluded his talk with specifics about what he saw as health sciences' role within the Emory community. He framed his comments around the University's Vision Statement, which was reprinted with bulleted notations in the event program.

WHSC, Wagner said, is an integral part of Emory's quest to be a destination university that is inquiry driven, and distinctive for its ethical commitment to working for positive transformation of the community.

"Recent episodes on campus make me realize that we are not yet there," Wagner said about community. "But there is no 'there' there. People don't sit down on their fifth wedding anniversary and say, 'We've done it. We've done marriage.' We need to practice community."

Following Wagner's address, he answered audience questions for about 30 minutes before adjouring to the reception in WHSCAB plaza.