January 12, 2004

The practice of community

Jim Wagner is president of Emory

Last fall Emory experienced the pain of a difficult discussion about race. The actions precipitating that discussion have been well documented and need no further comment here.

Nevertheless, I take these matters and the questions arising from them with profound seriousness, and at the beginning of a new calendar year it is appropriate to reiterate my full commitment and personal investment in helping Emory live up to its high ethical standards.

Among the many recommendations offered to move Emory toward a fuller realization of its ideals are several in an open letter from African American faculty and staff published in the Dec. 15 issue of Emory Report.

I welcome and endorse the call for an “immediate action plan” to address issues of race, and of diversity generally, at Emory. As part of the larger social context of the United States, Emory and other complex institutions can hardly be considered immune to the forces of prejudice and poor habits that vex our social fabric. Rather than attempt (once again) to “resolve” racial issues episodically, we must not only seek to move beyond these confining forces and habits but also develop a practice of community that transcends our current situation.

The second recommendation—to review the mission, policies, procedures and practices of the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP)—seems reasonable. Periodic external reviews of all of our units are valuable ways for Emory to compare our practices against the best practices of other universities. External reviews not only require accountability but also provide new ideas, corrective suggestions and validation of those things we do right. Such a review of Emory’s EOP office was conducted recently by the federal Office of Civil Rights, and the findings from that review are worth sharing with the campus. I have asked Vice President Bob Ethridge to provide copies of that report to The Emory Wheeland Emory Report for wider reporting.

Other recommendations and voices from many quarters make it clear that those who live and work at Emory or associate with this great University harbor a strong aspiration for community. Emory therefore must find the courage to lead in the practice of community. During the next 18 months the University will engage in a wide-ranging and comprehensive strategic-planning process. If the practice of community is to become a distinctive part of Emory’s mission—and many people seem to be suggesting that it should—then the manner in which we keep that mission on track—by what office, with what accountable officer, and through what reporting lines—will need to be addressed in that strategic plan.

I am heartened by the commitment shown to civil discourse on this campus. Students, staff and faculty want to effect full consonance between the University’s language and its practice, and between the ingredients for a truly diverse community and the still-elusive reality. I look forward to working with faculty colleagues, as well as with staff and students, in making Emory a leader in the practice of community. Only in this way will Emory move beyond episodic efforts to address disharmony and create a community where diversity and inclusiveness are more real than rhetorical.


(Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series of columns by members of the Emory community about “The Practice of Community.” Anyone wishing to contribute to this column should contact Managing Editor Michael Terrazas at
mterraz@emory.edu or 404-727-0645)