Emory Report
October 31, 2005
Volume 58, Number 9


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October 31 , 2005
Wagner: Time for the fun ride to begin

BY Michael Terrazas

After two years devoted significantly to a wide range of planning activity, Emory now is poised at the brink of another “great period of transformation,” President Jim Wagner said in his annual State of the University Address, Oct. 25 in the Cox Hall Ballroom.

Wagner, delivering his third such address since taking office in fall 2003, spent equal time looking back over the past 12 months and forward into the future, as a crowd of more than 200 listened from their chairs and nearly 100 more watched via the event’s live webcast. Following his introduction by Student Government Association President Amrit Dhir, Wagner began with an unequivocal summation.

“Briefly put, the state of Emory University is very good,” he said. “Emory’s direction is promising, and our campus is permeated by an almost palpable sense of optimism and expectation.

“It’s as though we have been on that first, upward climb on the roller coaster—the slow pull that builds anticipation and takes you to the highest point before the fun really begins,” he continued. “We are about to reach the top, and we’re eager to roll.”

The president started by listing several positive developments of the last year, from the fact that—for the first time since the departure of Provost Rebecca Chopp in 2001—Emory has enjoyed a full complement of senior administrators at the cabinet level, to several major awards garnered by Emory faculty, to this summer’s landmark sale of royalty rights to the HIV drug Emtriva.

Wagner also marked last year’s Campus Climate Survey, lauding the leadership of staff employees in making it happen, and the Benefits Review Committee, whose efforts already have resulted in positive changes to the University’s benefits package—more of which, Wagner said, are likely on the way. Finally, the president applauded the success of Emory Healthcare, which “has been able to provide world-leading health services while operating in the black financially,” and the energy of Emory students who organized the previous week’s Classroom on the Quad, calling the afternoon event “one of genuine inquiry that showed off our diversity as a community, especially our differences in political views and perspectives on the world.”

But, in the wake of all its accomplishments, the University has much work to do, Wagner said. Like the work of building community, which is one task of the recently launched Transforming Community Project (see story, page 1). Another tool for fostering community could be a revival of “Wonderful Wednesdays,” Wagner said, a now-dormant University tradition of not holding classes on a single midweek day.

“We will not be bringing back another whole day without classes,” Wagner quickly added. “But on a smaller scale, we are looking at how to carve out a couple of hours midweek, when no classes are scheduled, no committees meet and no obligations prevent us from being a community in ways that refresh us individually.”

Of course, Emory’s recently released strategic plan outlines a litany of duties that are at once daunting and exhilarating, and Wagner re-emphasized many of the plan’s main themes—from the need to build a strong, distinctive faculty and spur a jump in research activity and scholarly accolades, to the critical importance of improving applicant yield among students—while providing benchmarks by which the University will measure its progress.

“These changes and their related rankings are not intrinsically motivating,” Wagner said, “but will be the result of doing things right.”

After all, he said, rankings and numbers—the unadorned parameters of an institution’s efforts—do not tell the whole story of its success any more than bare statistics give the full measure of a baseball team.

“One team may have exactly the same won-loss record, earned-run average, and other quantifiable characteristics as the opposing team, but still not have what it takes to make it to the World Series,” Wagner said. “The difference lies in the intangibles of excellence, whether you call those things spirit, taste, experience, wisdom or heart.

“One thing I have come to treasure about Emory is a distinctive ethos that seeks positive transformation in the world, a phrase that has found its way into the vision statement,” Wagner said. “This outward-looking and service-oriented ethos sets Emory apart and must not only be preserved, but must be accentuated. But what will make Emory greater still is this ethos combined with the addition of certain quantifiable goods—this intangible but evident character combined with real, tangible resources. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Following his prepared remarks, Wagner answered a handful of questions from the crowd. The entire event, including the Q&A session, is archived at www.emory.edu/COMMENCEMENT.