September 8, 2003

Building a vision—together

Jim Wagner is president of Emory.

Dear members of the Emory community:

My time among you so far has been very brief; therefore, I can say little about you or about Emory that you do not already know. Nevertheless, I write to share some early observations, hoping to confirm that we are all thinking about and aware of some of the same matters of importance to Emory.

It takes almost no time for a newcomer to discover a wonderful and appropriate pride in the many examples of excellence here. Of course, that excellence is owing to all of you. Most certainly, thanks are due to my predecessor, Bill Chace, to the faculty and staff of the University, and to the Board of Trustees. Becoming part of a scholarly community in which excellence is so highly valued is a great privilege for me.

Even as we enjoy our present circumstances, however, we must also consider very seriously the challenges and opportunities before us. Some of the challenges stem from the current financial circumstances that exist nationwide and worldwide. These circumstances already have caused great difficulty for many of our sister universities. Although Emory has been affected by the economic downturn, it has not yet been knocked off course by it.

Nevertheless, to remain focused on our mission will require even more responsible stewardship of the resources we have. Attention to the right priorities will allow us to remain bold in seeking opportunities to live more fully up to Emory’s potential.

I want to suggest that the first in our steps toward the future must be the development, over the next couple of months, of a clear vision statement—words that will both challenge us and capture the essence of how we wish to be known and to know ourselves. Although we never will agree on every element of the content and syntax, this should be a statement clearly celebrating and preserving what already is great about Emory, yet at the same time urging us to new heights.

Our vision should push us toward increased visibility (enthusiastic proclamation of what Emory is, not self-delusional braggadocio), clearly defined leadership (what it means to be a great university), ever expanding excellence in teaching and research, and the clarion standards of a community that is committed to continuing moral discourse to guide all that it does.

An accurate gauge of Emory’s progress toward recognized leadership in inquiry-driven and values-guided scholarship is the degree to which Emory is both a destination university and a resource university––a destination for the finest students, faculty and support, and a resource for top-tier education, critically important research results, progressive health care and wise counsel.

The process for adopting our vision statement must be inclusive but not interminable. The high purpose of a vision statement should move us to a rapid convergence (although we are all aware that scholarly communities are often full of surprises). I want to hear from all constituencies of the University community, including faculty, staff, students, trustees and alumni. What will follow the crafting of the statement itself, of course, will be the rigorous development of a detailed plan with strategic priorities that advance Emory toward its vision.

Throughout the vision-setting process and the strategic-planning process—and even through the day-to-day fulfillment of our mission—the health and excellence of our community will depend in large measure on our willingness to communicate openly. Such a free exchange of ideas will, I believe, promote trust and understanding among us.
I am confident that this process can enrich our community, allowing us to enjoy each other and have fun in the hard work ahead.

Although decision making and compliance with policies and procedures occur most efficiently through administrative structures, communication itself need not be constrained by these boundaries. Open communication, in tandem with structured decision making, is consistent with our notion that authority resides with those in responsible positions closest to the point where decisions and policies affect us.

In closing, please allow me one more expression of gratitude—a thank-you for your warmth in welcoming my family and me to Emory and to Atlanta. Your infectious enthusiasm is wonderfully evident, both for individual success and for the success of the entire Emory community. I am honored to be counted as one of you.

Very sincerely,
James W. Wagner