Campus News

September 30, 2010

President's address outlines opportunities, challenges

The state of Emory University is good as the institution builds on a year of achievement and prepares to tackle a menu of five great opportunities and challenges, declared President Jim Wagner in his 7th annual State of the University address on Sept. 28.

But is Emory in danger of becoming more like a business concerned with the bottom line than an intellectual community? Wagner acknowledged the concern expressed in the phrase  “Emory Inc.” — brought to his attention by the Student Government Association — but asserted that a year of significant achievement underscores the extent to which the University is indeed remaining focused on its goals.

Still ‘true to our mission’
“It is true that the times are having a profound impact on each of the revenue sources that fuel our scholarly community — tuition income, research, philanthropy, investment income, and patient care reimbursement,” Wagner said.  “Nevertheless, I want to assert that we have been true to our mission to create, preserve, teach and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.”

Among the examples:
• Archivists and librarians around the world are watching closely as Emory takes the lead in the path-breaking work with author Salman Rushdie’s “born-digital” archives.

• The Center for Faculty Development and Excellence has in its first full year enriched the art of teaching for more than 400 faculty members.

• Major grants from the Mellon Foundation and Lilly Foundation, and a level of external research funding at an all-time high, are supporting scholarship and research in the arts and sciences.

“Emory has much to celebrate,” said Wagner, and continued to outline the achievements of the past year. Among them:

• The leadership of Emory scholars and administrators among organizations shaping the future of higher education.

• Emory’s ability to attract top students, faculty and administrative leaders.

• The opening of new facilities that expand Emory’s teaching, research and living space.

Opportunities and challenges
Turning to the present, he outlined five opportunities and challenges that will occupy University leadership’s attention, energy and resources this year:

• A commitment to focus on best business practices in higher education that will not only serve Emory better but set a national standard. A continuing challenge, Wagner said, is “to adapt to our new economic climate by developing and adopting practices that, yes, make us the best Emory Inc. that we can be in order for us to become the best Emory University that we can be.”

• Continue to refine enrollment management, particularly for undergraduates: “Part of the challenge will be to ensure that we are a highly visible and desirable destination for a large pool of candidate students, from whom we can shape a class that most contributes to and benefits from the learning environment we aim to create,” Wagner said.

• “Take better advantage of our opportunity truly to be a ‘uni-versity’ and not merely a multi-university,” he said, to build bridges between schools and units, and harness the “unifying potential of Emory College” as the central hub of a liberal arts-based research university.

• Define for the future Emory’s version of an academic medical center, in education, research goals and patient care.

• Continue the growth of alumni engagement with Emory’s extended mission and implement aggressive plans for alums to participate in ensuring Emory's impact.

Emory must be the most efficient steward of the resources that it has, Wagner said, and explore additional sources of revenue beyond the traditional sources.

With an endowment “on a roller coaster” since the summer of 2008, Emory enters into this fiscal year with an expectation that income will be approximately $50-55 million per year lower than before the recession. There are a few bright spots, he noted, in growth in research income, and the continued momentum of Campaign Emory, which has attained more than $1.1 billion of its $1.6 billion goal.

Exploring new paths
The key to continuing to adapt in this new economic climate may lie in “subordinating Emory Inc. to Emory University,” Wagner said.

He explained: “The changing landscape of higher education, pressures on the middle class, new technology, and greater competition from international universities as well as American universities, all mean that Emory must critically assess how it will fulfill its mission in coming decades, taking best advantage of these new conditions.”

But, he said, “as we explore these opportunities — and we must — the fundamental principle here will not simply be to find additional revenue. Rather, it will be to advance Emory’s mission through our current avenues and in new ways, on new playing fields, while meeting or exceeding the standards of excellence and attention to community and character that guide all of our activities.”

Following a Q&A period, Wagner concluded on a personal note. “We’ve come through a few difficult years together.” The recession “has given us a good sense of direction that’s [guided] by our mission and by the strategic plan, whose basic fundamental precepts still hold and still apply,” he said. “I look forward to this year with you, and to coming back and congratulating you on your successes. Thank you for being Emory.”

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