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Scholarship and Research

Students climbing stairs

Although we educate very well, we are not just a teaching university; we are also a research university, committed to that enterprise for more than six decades now, since Emory granted its first PhD in 1948. We pursue this research enterprise not for the prestige of distinguished scholars and scientists, not for the prizes that come with international recognition, and not for the research grants from government agencies and private foundations. Rather, we do this research because we hope to expand and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.

Along these lines, we should note that in February 2011 a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that during the previous four decades, Emory ranked as the most prolific private university in America with respect to the discovery of new drug therapies. Considering that Emory has had to come farther than any other university in our cohort to catch up in the past 40 years, this is a remarkable achievement by our research faculty. And in light of the 10 percent rise in research funding—to $540 million—from external sources to Emory last year (a record high), we can expect that such contributions will continue.

It is not only the sciences that shine in the research arena at Emory. This year Religion Dispatches, the online journal edited by Gary Laderman of the Department of Religion, received sizable grants to enhance the journal’s coverage of issues related to Islam and, separately, issues of sexuality. The James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference—founded and led until his death in October 2011 by Rudolph Byrd— received generous funding from and has collaborated with CNN in launching a series of public dialogues about issues defining our times.

Two internal programs of note have supported creative faculty research.

• Travel grants from the STRATEGIC INITIATIVES FUND made it possible for more than 125 faculty members in Emory College to undertake research in Thailand, Italy, China, Belgium, Israel, and elsewhere, as well as for the School of Theology to enhance research and for Oxford College to provide faculty development funds.

 

David Eltis: Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

In David Eltis's new book, Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, he explores the links between Atlantic and African ports. He says every single port in the Atlantic was a part of the slave trade. It was all about money, not morality.

• The Collaborative Research Program in the Humanities, managed by Senior Vice Provost Claire Sterk with the help of a faculty advisory committee, has underwritten five major collaborative projects, ranging from a long-term study of medieval artifacts to the creation of a digital platform for examining the consequences of Hurricane Katrina, and from the digital reconstruction of an ancient Greek sanctuary to a study of spaces in the work of contemporary poets in the American South. Thanks to funding from this program, the university unveiled the Translatlantic Slave Trade database constructed by faculty in the Department of History and the Institute of the Liberal Arts along with Woodruff Library staff. The fund also underwrote the first International Conference on Tibetan Buddhism, held at Emory in conjunction with the visit of the Dalai Lama in October 2010.

This list could go on, but the point is that Emory faculty members continually bring forth creative, path-breaking ideas for collaborative scholarship, and the implementation of these ideas gives Emory a leadership position in the health sciences, physical sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

As we look to the future, we will continue to capture a growing share of research dollars available to American universities. But even as more of these research dollars are shifted to applied and translational research, we must remind ourselves and others about the irreplaceable value of the freedom to pursue high-risk research. Not all valuable research will or should be expected to succeed. We must tolerate the risk of failure to achieve advances in knowledge. We will continue to provide incentives to faculty members doing innovative and potentially contributive research. It is evident that our research enterprise is strong, and to the extent that we can continue to support creativity, the future will be bright.

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