May 27, 2003

'Professional responsibility' key to Main's career

By Eric Rangus

The Thomas Jefferson Award honors an Emory faculty member or administrator for significant service in the areas of teaching, scholarship, University advancement, community service and work with students.

With those criteria in mind, Eleanor Main, professor of political science and director of the Division of Educational Studies, is an ideal recipient of the 2003 award.

“I was honored,” Main said, reflecting on being informed of the honor earlier this month by President Bill Chace and interim Provost Woody Hunter. “I’ve been here since 1969, so I’ve known a lot of the people who have received the award and I’ve had a lot of respect for the recipients.”

Since coming to Emory 34 years ago, Main has made her presence felt in a variety of ways. She created the political science internship program and led it for 16 years. She has chaired the political science department and served in administrative positions both in Emory College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In 2001, she took over as director of the Division of Educational Studies.

She has served on dozens of University governance bodies and committees, including the Emory Women’s Caucus, which became the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Off campus, she is a founding member of the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice, having been appointed by former Gov. Zell Miller. Over the last 28 years, Main has served many governmental committees, commissions and task forces.

“In wide-ranging activities for more than three decades, you have touched nearly every seam of the fabric of Emory’s community,” Chace said in his Commencement remarks when presenting the Jefferson Award to Main.

“Shouldering more than your share of University and public citizenship, you have often sacrificed personal interests for the sake of others,” Chace continued. “You have served as confidant, counselor and friend to hundreds from the humble to the powerful. Above all you have manifested intense honesty and passionate conviction whose name is always to ensure the excellence and integrity of Emory University.”

“Those words were very nice and very meaningful,” Main said.

As research has become more prominent at universities, Main said service has suffered. She, in fact, doesn’t like the term “service,” preferring “professional responsibility.”

The end of the school year isn’t bringing Main a lot of rest. Over the summer, she will work on a funding proposal for a conference next spring titled “From Brown To Bollinger.” The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case ended segregation in public schools, and the 50th anniversary of that decision is next year. Lee Bollinger is the former president of the University of Michigan and current president of Columbia University. He is listed as the defendant in two cases to be heard by the Supreme Court this summer that will determine the constitutionality of Michigan’s affirmative action policy.

Main said both cases deal with access to education. She wants the conference to explore Brown’s successes, failures and unintended consequences as well as the fallout from the Michigan decision, which will have repercussions across the country’s educational system no matter what the verdict.

Also this summer, over the last half of June, Main will travel to Dublin, Ireland, with her twin sister Jeannie for the Special Olympics World Summer Games. Main’s sister works for Special Olympics, and this is the fourth time Main has worked as her assistant.

“It’s different from what I do here,” Main said. “And it’s an incredible feeling when you see all those young people walk into the stadium.”

It’s also another way Main gives back to her community.