November 3, 2003

Wagner schools alumni

By Eric Rangus

In a formal get-together with a mix of alumni, administrators and student groups, on Thursday evening, Oct. 30, President Jim Wagner answered a variety of questions about his fledgling administration and sketched out his vision for the University’s future.

Several hundred people attended the Institutional Advancement-sponsored town hall, which was held in the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, an elegant venue for what turned out to be an informative evening led by a new president who displayed equal parts passion, humor and thoughtfulness.

In his introduction of Wagner, Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement Bill Fox described him as "energetic, smart, vital and extremely accessible."

"The Emory campus has fallen totally, fully in love with this man," Fox said. "I think our alumni will come to feel the same way as you get to know him." The introduction set the bar high, but Wagner, whose answers ranged from the broad to the quite specific, did not let anyone down.

As many on campus are aware, Wagner has offered a draft Vision Statement for community input. In speaking to the crowd, which included many Atlanta alumni who were meeting the new president for the first time, Wagner took the opportunity to discuss his vision in depth.

In on-campus discussion, Wagner frequently has said he wants to make Emory a "desired destination" for faculty, staff and students. He told the Ritz-Carlton attendees why, and then how.

"We want people to come to Emory to build their careers, not just stay for a couple years and move on," he said. "We want students to pick Emory as their first choice, not just as a backup. We should have compelling excellence in all the things we do, be they anthropology or cancer research. Folks who have never even stepped foot in Georgia will know that this is the place to invest to change the world."

Wagner identified four points Emory must focus on in order to move forward: Increase its visibility nationally ("How can you lead if no one knows who you are?" he said); continue to grow by forging partnerships with other Atlanta education and business leaders; improve internal partnering on campus; and strive to be what it wants to produce. In other words, to teach its students to be leaders, Emory must be a leader itself.

"It is a university’s responsibility to help move [a student’s] dependence to a sense of individual identity with an understanding of an interdependent society," Wagner said.

The second question of the 20-minute Q&A that followed was hardly a softball. A Metho-dist minister asked him how Emory could strengthen its sometimes strained relationship with the United Methodist Church.

Wagner, who has commented about the importance of Emory’s relationship with the church in campus meetings, gave an answer that was greeted with loud applause. "I would resist the notion that Emory University should insist upon certain United Methodist Church doctrine or dogma," he said. "I’d rather we invite that doctrine to be debated and tried on just as we would [any other faith]. That would be a good outreach opportunity for the church, so that they could be proud of what Emory represents."

Wagner also faced a question from a current student about traditions. The president spoken positively of Dooley, who had made an appearance earlier in the evening and said he has met with several student groups, challenging them to be social leaders.

"We may need to create appropriate traditions," he said. "Once you’ve done something for four years, freshmen think it’s been done for eternity."

Wagner asked the laughing crowd’s forgiveness for making light, then emphasized that traditions and community were two things his administration felt were supremely important.