November 17, 2003

Wagner town hall brings record crowd

By Eric Rangus

When President Jim Wagner talks, the Emory community listens. A lot of people listen.

A record turnout—more than 150 people, several of them spilling outside the doors of Winship Ballroom—came to see Wagner make his first appearance at the Employee Council’s annual Town Hall meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 11.

Wagner discussed his intentions of making Emory a “destination university” not only for faculty and students, but staff as well. He talked about the draft Vision Statement, which had been making the rounds for about a month and recently moved one step closer to becoming official. Wagner then answered several questions both from the floor and by e-mail from employees watching the event’s webcast.

“We have to work toward a day when the jobs at Emory are the plum jobs to have in Atlanta,” Wagner said, during 20 minutes of commentary that preceded the question and answer session.

While saying that Emory already possesses these qualities in certain quantities, Wagner had he wanted Emory to be an inquiry-driven, ethically engaged, diverse society.

It was the last of those terms—diversity—that Wagner tackled in the first question from the floor. In response to coverage in The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionabout racial incidents on campus (see story), Wagner was asked about his long-term plan for diversity and diversity training.

Wagner said he will meet later this month with members of the President’s Commission on the Status of Minorities and the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs to discuss a course of action.

“I think this is a wakeup call for us to put something very specific in place,” Wagner said. He also referenced one published idea to make diversity training mandatory for all Emory staff, faculty and students.

“That may be one of the ways to go,” Wagner said. “But I’m not ready to say, ‘By golly, that’s the one.’”

Many audience members applauded when a question was asked about a “lack of upward mobility” for staff on campus as well as a lack of promotions.
Wagner answered first by promoting the idea of mentorship—not just junior employees seeking mentors, but senior ones as well. He then said he supports true merit pay increases. When money is plentiful, supervisors are generous with pay increases, but when funds get shorter, the trend is to give small, equal increases to everyone, regardless of job performance.

“When in tight financial times, our instincts betray us and [we] do the wrong thing,” Wagner said. “When we suffer, we all suffer the same.”

Wagner said that in the future, even if times remain tough, the pay formula may change. Some employees may receive 6 percent raises. “And some might get zero. Some of you may hate me for that.”

Other topics of discussion included the importance of college rankings, diversity in upper administration, the campus master plan, alternative transportation, servant leadership, the Board of Trustees (“It’s dangerous to talk about the Board of Trustees, because they’re my boss,” Wagner quipped.), the addition of Universitywide holidays, and retirement benefits. The last subject of that list was what Wagner closed with.

“Benefits are an item that has to go on the agenda,” said Wagner, who while noting that benefits cuts took place under the administration of Bill Chace, praised his predecessor for making Emory a “great place.”

“It is not just on the agenda,” Wagner continued. “It is an active item on the agenda.”

For the last 12 years Employee Council has sponsored its Town Hall with the University president. A brown-bag lunch event, it is designed to give staff members an opportunity to speak directly with Emory’s top administrator. Normally held each September, this year’s meeting was moved back to allow President Wagner, who began the job Sept. 1, more time to get acquainted with the wider community.

The webcast is archived on the Employee Council’s website at