February 10, 2003

What is Research@Emory?


David Carr, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Philosophy, and Claire Sterk, Charles Howard Candler Professor and chair of behavioral science and health education, are cochairs of the Research@EmoryCommission.

Even though Emory is recognized widely as a top research university, how can we take research at Emory to the next highest level?

• How can Emory provide more flexibility to faculty at different stages in their career?

• How can we obtain accurate data that reflect scholarship activity throughout Emory?

• Is Emory “too nice” to be a truly great research university—or, is excellence in research compatible with a strong sense of community and collegiality?

These are just a few of the questions the research commission has grappled with over the last months. Although we don’t have definitive answers, we have a better understanding of where Emory is as a research university, and where we believe it should go. During the first round of our investigation, the commission heard from nearly 450 Emory scholars and community members. To build on this feedback and additional data we’ve gathered, we would now like to hear from as many as possible of Emory’s 2,700 faculty members and administrative leaders.

Our preliminary report (available at www.emory.edu/PRESIDENT/StrategicDevelopment/ResearchAtEmory/) shows the details of our investigation and discussion, as well as the general principles and a sample of some of the recommendations that have emerged so far.

The first principle is that Emory’s development should be driven by ideas and intellectual communities—not costs or other agendas. During commission meetings, scholars have talked about how fortunate Emory is to be both a young research institution with a certain amount of flexibility and yet one that has already established traditions of scholarly excellence. Toward that end, several recommendations have emerged that focus on launching a major capital campaign to boost the number of top scholars and focus recruiting efforts to maximize Emory’s intellectual capital in distinct research areas.

The second principle considers ways the University can advance intellectual priorities by defining more clearly the roles of scholars and administrative leaders. While the evolution and dissemination of knowledge and the articulation of intellectual priorities are the responsibility of scholars, the support and advancement of these priorities are the collaborative responsibility of Emory’s faculty and administrative leaders. Among the recommendations we have proposed under this principle, one is that academic units should develop a recurring five-year research plan and put a clear risk and reward structure in place to achieve the goals. Another is that faculty must be involved in the budgeting process, and budgets should be made more transparent.

Enriching and diversifying the entire scholarly enterprise is the domain of the third principle. With the resources provided by a successful capital campaign, Emory should pursue an aggressive hiring focus over the next five years and support its scholars with the conditions for maximum productivity. Faculty need more flexibility in the timing of leaves, the ability to earn leaves through superior teaching and service as well as superior research, and the option of providing complete relief from all teaching and service activities.

The fourth principle calls for Emory to improve scholarly work while acknowledging that scholars’ needs vary across career stages, areas of knowledge and cultures of research. One suggestion is to create more homogeneous support and reward environments within and across all units. Another is for Emory to provide more space for cutting-edge research and develop procedures for research space allocation based on clearly defined criteria. Emory must also enhance resources for information technology, including external access, compatible systems and the capacity for rapid response reports.

The fifth principle recognizes Emory’s strong tradition of ethics. As a responsible guardian of scholarly inquiry, the University should address society’s needs and concerns while recognizing the scholar’s intellectual independence. Recommendations range from providing more support for ongoing discussions on this topic to considering ethical issues when making decisions about issues relating to personnel, fiscal stewardship, mentoring of junior faculty and graduate and post-doctoral students’ roles.

The sixth and final principle addresses Emory’s substantial endowment and the accompanying responsibility to achieve the highest level of excellence as a research university. Recommend-ations include restructuring practices about securing gifts, grants and other outside funds, as well as the ways the University organizes this enterprise; and suggesting that administrative and faculty leaders collaborate to establish priorities for resource allocation and courageous investment of some portion of the endowment base to maximize Emory’s development.

The commission hopes this draft of the principles and recommendations, though still undergoing changes, will give the entire Emory community—faculty, administrators, trustees, students and staff—a better understanding of the diverse cultures of research at Emory, as well as the tensions inherent in today’s large research universities.

In the course of this inquiry, our eyes have been opened to the wide diversity of activities and results that fall under the heading of research. For example, we see more clearly how the humanities are less dependent than other research cultures on outside funding, while more dependent on libraries and archives. At the same time, travel funding and leave time are critical needs for humanistic scholars whose research may require spending several months in a foreign city.

This contrasts sharply with many scholars in other areas for whom extramural funded research is a key performance measure. In medicine, for example, much of a researcher’s time and energy is spent securing outside funding for projects and conducting the associated research.

Tension between and across cultures is unavoidable. For example, some scholars perform work that may have no immediate application or apparent social relevance, which is in stark contrast to other parts of the university that emphasize practice and application. The pressure on faculty to seek external funds creates a tension between doing applied research instead of basic research, while fueling a sense of competitiveness and undermining collegiality. Yet the overall mission of the University requires that we focus on both the “interesting” and the “important,” applied and basic.

As academics, we tend to burrow deeply into our own research culture, over the years forgetting the realities of colleagues across the road. What the commission has tried to do is represent all of these cultures, while noting a few of the exceptions, so that Emory can build a stronger community that acknowledges a variety of realities—and subsequent needs that can be addressed with smart, creative, flexible approaches.

Over the next few months, we plan to meet with as many faculty groups as possible to revise the report and put finishing touches on these principles and recommendations. We also will be meeting with outside consultants who are well-versed in these higher education issues. From that process, requiring the time and creative energy of faculty (yes, one of the commission’s recommendations is to find a more equitable way to balance University service so that faculty don’t feel overburdened), the final principles and recommendations will be developed for the finished report, to be distributed this September.

One of our hopes is that this commission’s work will be seen as part of a process of self-examination and reflection that began 10 years ago with Choices & Responsibility and was followed in 1997 with the Commission on Teaching.

Choices & Responsibility still comes up in faculty conversations as a pivotal event in Emory’s intellectual history. That passionate call to action led to a critical self-examination of Emory during a period of rapid growth, while also setting the stage for a new president—Bill Chace took office a few months before the final report was published in 1994.

As President Chace wrote in his 1996 letter to the faculty: “I knew I was coming to a place that had been well managed. Paramount among my discoveries was the process of faculty-oriented self-study that had led to the publication of Choices & Responsibility. The balanced thinking of that document, written by Billy Frye, about all of the complex issues that matter most to higher education—teaching and scholarship, the building of a proper community, the virtues of interdisciplinary research, the quality of the infrastructure, and relationships beyond the campus—gives us a solid and well-tested foundation on which we can build during the coming years.”

We hope the research commission report carries a similar weight as a new president is selected, and at a time when several other key administrative positions will be filled (e.g., provost, dean of Emory College, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, executive vice president for finance and administration).

As the commission faces the homestretch of its work, things are about to get very interesting. We look forward to the discussions across campus that will propel the commission’s work toward its conclusion. We invite our colleagues to approach our work as a rough draft that awaits their finishing touches. We invite critique and contestation, but must admit that we also value Emory’s legacy of being a nice place to work.






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