Emory Report
August 24, 2009
Volume 62, Number 1


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August 24, 2009
School’s new name is legacy for Laney

By Elaine Justice

The Emory University Board of Trustees has approved naming the Graduate School in honor of President Emeritus James T. Laney, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, who led the University from 1977 until 1993, a time when it emerged as a national research university.

“The naming of the James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies honors the vision and leadership of Jim Laney, whose ambitious plan for Emory revolved around graduate education,” says President Jim Wagner. “He understood clearly that the core of great research universities lies in the training of new generations of intellectual leaders for the academy and for the public good.”

“Emory’s decision to name the Graduate School for me is the greatest honor of my life,” says Laney. “From the very first, Emory has been in my heart, and I am deeply touched and humbled to always be associated with the University in such a special way.”

Lisa A. Tedesco, dean of the newly designated Laney Graduate School, says that “naming the graduate school is a fitting way to acknowledge President Laney because it recognizes his vision for the central role of doctoral education in establishing and sustaining a great research university at the forefront of discovery in the sciences and humanities.”

“Under Laney’s leadership, Emory embarked on an extraordinary transformation, guided by goals he outlined in his ‘Emory 2000’ address, delivered in 1987,” says Tedesco. “It was a transformation of the very identity of Emory.”

That transformation reached a new milestone in 1995, when Emory was admitted to the prestigious Association of American Universities, “which would not have been possible without extraordinary commitments to graduate education and research that took place under President Laney’s leadership,” says Tedesco.

“One has to realize that Emory didn’t grant a Ph.D. until the 1950s,” says Laney in a recent interview. “We’re a young university when it comes to graduate education at the doctoral level.”

During the early years of his presidency, Laney worked with a team of faculty and administrators to grow both the faculty and student enrollment. “We had to have a foundation, and the foundation was not only financial and resources, but it was also the breadth of faculty and the number of academic departments.”
As the breadth and depth of Emory College grew, so did the Graduate School, says Laney. “Those undergraduate and graduate programs became reciprocal — they strengthened each other.”

In 1979, barely two years into Laney’s presidency, Emory received a gift of $105 million in Coca-Cola stock from the Emily and Ernest Woodruff Foundation, at the time the largest single gift to any institution of higher education in American history.

“There’s no way to overestimate what the Woodruff gift did for Emory in its transformative power,” Laney observes. “The Graduate School was as much as any other part of the University a recipient of that strength.”
Over the next decade, the Graduate School flourished. The size of the gift, the widespread publicity, and the University’s vision for building its strengths in graduate education, meant that Emory was able to attract a number of distinguished scholars. “They saw a future here,” says Laney. “That’s what the Woodruff gift made possible.”

Thanks to that legacy, says Tedesco, the Laney Graduate School is poised to grow in ways that exemplify Laney’s earlier vision. Among the priorities are a commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship in addressing complex problems, and commitment to scholarship for the public good.

Added to the range of programs in social sciences, humanities, and natural, biological and biomedical sciences, Emory’s proposed new master’s degree program in development practice, announced in June, illustrates both these priorities. The program will provide rigorous post-graduate training for a new generation of development experts.

An ordained United Methodist minister, Laney taught at Yonsei University in Korea and Vanderbilt University before becoming dean of Candler School of Theology, where he served from 1969 to 1977.

After 16 years as president of Emory, Laney served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 1993 to 1997, and was instrumental in helping defuse the nuclear crisis with North Korea in 1994.