Emory Report
February 14, 2005
Volume 57, Number 19


Emory Report homepage   >   Current issue front page

February 14, 2005
Strategic planners tweak themes at retreat

BY Michael Terrazas

Emory’s Strategic Plan Steering Committee, along with almost all the University’s deans and senior administrators, gathered for a retreat Feb. 3–4 to review progress on the strategic plan and outline what remains to be done.

Chief on the agenda was a discussion of the proposed signature themes released to the community in late January. As could be emblematic of the next three months, the group significantly altered three of the themes, changing not only their titles but also reimagining their scope. Each theme—save for internationalization, which has been the subject of a task force formed almost a year ago—will be examined from now through April by an appointed group of about 30 faculty, staff, students and alumni.

In opening the meeting, Provost Earl Lewis and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Michael Johns reiterated that the foundation of the strategic plan will be the individual school and unit plans that continue to be fine-tuned. The signature themes, which had drawn nearly 200 volunteers for serving on the review committees, will serve as a thematic architecture linking Emory’s schools.

“Think of the school plans and unit plans as holding it all up; it would collapse without them,” said Lewis, using a diagram of a house to illustrate the overall plan. “There will be things accomplished in the units that will bring great distinction to the University, but we also know there are ways to link these things that cut across the silos. Those are the signature themes.”

“We’re not saying important things aren’t important,” Johns said of the bedrock academic work that characterizes the individual plans. “We’re trying to stretch ourselves to a new dimension, a new aspiration that defines us as a University.”

The new names of the three revised themes are:

Critical Inquiry & Creative Expression (formerly “Arts, Creativity & the Human Experience”)

Religion, Society & the Human Experience (formerly “Religion and Political Cultures”)

Global Health (formerly “Sustainability and Global Health)

Descriptions of the revised themes are available on the strategic planning website (www.admin.emory.edu/StrategicPlan/). The reasons for the revisions were varied, from the thought that some themes were too narrow (as in the original religion theme) to a desire to tailor them more to Emory’s existing strengths.

For example, through not only its own work but also ties to the Carter Center, CDC, American Cancer Society, CARE and other organizations, the University has real strengths in global health—strengths perhaps as great as any university in the world. But while Emory in practice has been a national leader in environmentally sustainable activities, it lags far behind other institutions when it comes to academic research in the area. Therefore “sustainability” was removed from the title of one theme, leaving the focus squarely on global health efforts, of which eco-friendly activities are but one important part.

Specific to this change, Executive Vice President for Finance & Administration Mike Mandl will co-chair (along with anthropology Professor Peggy Barlett) a committee charged with enumerating Emory’s environmental work and finding a way to incorporate it more broadly as a foundational principle of the University.

As for the signature themes, the work now falls to the series of 30-person committees now being formed. Each committee will receive all the background materials used by the steering committee in forming the themes, as well as broad, bulleted inventories of Emory’s existing work that falls under particular headings. Liaison steering committee members also will act as resources for questions from the theme groups. All nine groups will hold three meetings apiece, one of which will be a forum for public comment, and by the end of April each will produce a five-to-10-page report of its discussions.

Just as was done during the retreat, the committees should feel empowered to reshape or even combine the themes, if they wish. The goal, Lewis and Johns said, is not to view Emory’s future through a predefined lens, but rather to use the themes as starting points for a broad-based conversation weighing Emory’s strengths,
resources, aspirations and opportunities.

Indeed, participants were asked to give voice to those aspirations by imagining what Emory could “look like” in 2010. For example, given the rapid ascension of the University’s joint department in bioengineering with Georgia Tech, Emory could “redefine the public-private partnership nexus” through programs with Tech and other Atlanta institutions. Another proposed goal was that Emory seek to send at least 80 percent of students abroad for study and bring an equal number of international students and scholars to Atlanta; yet another was that Emory become an educational “home for life” for its alumni.

“I was thrilled to be at the retreat; I’m confident an alumni presence at the retreat brought alums more into the forefront of planners’ minds,” said Andrea Casson, ’88BBA, ’93MBA, president-elect of the Association of Emory Alumni. “It was wonderful to be in a room with 30 people at the top of their career for the sole purpose of bettering an already amazing institution. I admit I came in thinking it would be a day and a half of ‘pie in the
sky,’ unrealistic expectations, but it was not that at all; everyone was both optimistic and realistic.”

President Jim Wagner, who lately has been talking about the strategic plan in meetings with every University constituency, said he senses an energy and excitement that the plan is “real.” Alumni, he said, ask him what he thinks Emory will look like in five or 10 years.

“They’re asking for a simile: ‘Will Emory look like Princeton? Will it look like Georgia State?’” Wagner said. “This runs exactly counter to what we’re trying to do—we’re going to look like Emory. We know of programs that earn us distinctiveness. The opportunity calls, and our situation demands we act.”