March 24, 2003

Three presidents, three states of University

By Michael Terrazas

Three Emory presidents took the podium March 18 to deliver the fifth annual State of the University Address, and between them it was almost difficult to keep track of who was coming and who was going, which one(s) leaving and which staying.

Breaking with the two- president format established in the first four editions of this new Emory tradition, this year’s event afforded opportunities for both the current Student Government Association president (recently elected junior Euler Bropleh) and former SGA president (senior Chris Richardson) to join Emory President Bill Chace—likely delivering his last such address as he prepares to step down— in presenting their views of the state of the University.

Providing some continuity to open the evening was the Spirit of Emory, Lord William M. Dooley, though even the venerable apparition alluded that change might be in store for him as well, since Dooley always assumes the first name and middle initial of the sitting Emory president. Might the campus next year be haunted by Jane or Barbara Dooley?

“Emory’s spirit is androgynous,” Dooley said through one of his entourage. “It defies earthly descriptions.”

But description was exactly the order of the night, as each speaker described the current state of Emory along with what he thought the future holds. Richardson started by ticking off a litany of accomplishments during his tenure, including improvements to student financial and disability services, before predicting that the biggest problem facing Chace’s successor would be to further integrate a campus that “self-segregates.”

“Emory is not just a place; it is a community,” Richardson said. “The new president must tackle this fragmentation on campus.”

Bropleh, who said he is the first former president of the Oxford SGA to be elected president of SGA on the Atlanta campus, called for “greater transparency” in University decision-making and for the inclusion of students in Emory’s Board of Trustees.

Bropleh also announced an ambitious agenda that includes greater integration between undegraduate and graduate/professional students; a new speaker series; increased availability of campus facilities; petitioning for the publication of faculty evaluations; compromising with Emory’s neighbors over noise-ordinance issues; and helping sorority women if they are displaced from the lodges near Gambrell Hall.

In his address, Chace promised a “no holds barred” assessment of the University, and he began by saying Emory is better than it has ever been in the quality of its students, faculty and facilities. He cited statistics about the record number of applications for the Class of 2007, including 9 percent, 16 percent and 11 percent increases in applications from African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans, respectively.

Chace pointed to recent appointments such as Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa in English and creative writing, feminist legal scholar Martha Fineman in the law school, and literary critic Shoshanna Felman in comparative literature and French.

But Chace did not shy away from pointing out the chilling effect the current national economic recession will have on the University’s continued growth. Emory and similar institutions are supported financially by four revenue streams, he said: tuition, endowment income, annual giving and sponsored research. The depressed stock market has diminished the value of Emory’s endowment and, in turn, the income derived from the endowment.

“The weak American economy will hurt us and will hurt all comparable institutions,” Chace said.

Still, he assured the audience that Emory’s strengths “far outweigh the weaknesses,” and as he looks to the end of his presidency, Chace foresaw a couple balancing acts for his successor, such as balancing Emory’s new identity as a prominent research university with its history as a first-class teaching institution; and balancing the needs and importance of the School of Medicine and Woodruff Health Sciences Center with that of the rest of the campus.

Asked what he is most proud of during his tenure, Chace said the easy answer would be Emory’s new facilities and its transformation into a “walking campus.” But his biggest source of pride, Chace admitted, is the fact that he has been able to teach classes during every one of his nine years as president.

“I’m very proud I kept my faith with that,” he said.