Campus News

September 29, 2011

At 175 years, State of the University remains strong

President Jim Wagner balanced a note of celebration with a call for vital integrity in this year's State of the University address given Tuesday, Sept. 27.

Wagner's address noted that the achievements of the past serve as prologue to the way Emory can embrace opportunities and seize their momentum in the year ahead.

He pointed out the University's 175th anniversary being celebrated this year. "It is fitting in the face of economic and social challenges that an anniversary invites us to look back," he said.

Wagner urged the Emory community to "remember the vows and principles that have guided us. We must revitalize those principles and vows for the challenge ahead."

His address assessed the state of Emory's three primary enterprises: education; research and scholarship; and health care; as well as financial health and shared community.

• The academic enterprise:  Wagner reminded the audience that "Emory was founded on, formed by and remains dedicated to the principles of liberal learning."

He added, "We need to speak very boldly and unapologetically about what we are doing to serve society's needs through liberal learning rather than merely addressing society's wants."

He also touched on the strategic enrollment plan to improve admissions and yield and discussed the Emory Advantage financial aid initiative, which graduated its first cohort of students last year, each with $15,000 of debt or less.  "We remain committed to raising the philanthropic support necessary to continue to support that program," he said.

• The research and scholarship enterprise: "Emory faculty members' creative ideas and implementation put Emory in a leadership position in the health sciences, humanities and social sciences and will lead to a growing amount of research dollars," he said.

However, he stressed the irreplaceable value of freedom to pursue high-risk research, noting that the University is "working this term to complete an inventory of internally funded research to ensure the largest possible portion is invested to foster and support creativity, especially high-risk research."

•The health care enterprise: Wagner sees the mission of health  care and the mission of the rest of Emory—education and research—as "closely intertwined."

He said, "We need to be sure we're asking and answering the right questions in the health care industry and health care education, including how can we be a health care international leader, manage our assets, explore new models of health care… How do we reduce costs while increasing quality?

"The health care industry and health care education are undergoing uncertain transformations," he said. "The future of health care in America and how it will be paid remains uncertain," buffeted by policy changes and market forces.

But Wagner said he felt "comfortable in declaring boldly that this aspect of our institution is in good health."

• Finance and administration: Wagner noted the "regrettable perception" on the part of some that Emory University had become "Emory Incorporated." Citing shared governance and active engagement, he said "nothing could be further from the case."

The purpose of an ongoing finance and administration initiative for improved business practices to control administrative costs is "so more of the budget can be devoted to Emory's primary mission of education. . . We can't lose sight of the purpose of some administrative decisions," he said. 

But, he warned, "Emory will not be immune from the financial challenges ahead."

• Shared community: "Since last year, our campus community has listened to questions that were raised about Emory's commitment to ethical perspectives and principles. There is anxiety about how we are going to resolve those questions," Wagner said.

He referred to ongoing questions surrounding labor and workforce issues, with a focus on concerns raised by students regarding Emory's food service vendor, Sodexo.

During Wagner's speech, a small group of protesters, largely students, stood at their seats with their backs to the podium, wearing T-shirts with messages related to the Sodexo protest. 

The food service issue, Wagner noted, is about more than a company that "serves us breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's more about whether we can communicate openly and in good faith; whether our arenas of shared governance are strong and thoughtful; and whether with authority there is accountability and intellectual vitality," he said.

During the Q&A period, Wagner responded to several questions related to MARTA passes for Sodexo employees and establishing a labor code of conduct, pointing out that Sodexo  is prohibited by law from offering additional employee benefits during the current labor organizing activity, and that the issue of a labor code of conduct was part of the purview of the Committee on Class and Labor.  Wagner said that responses to these questions are included in a public document (PDF) that had been discussed at a Sept. 20 University Senate meeting.  

Wagner concluded his State of the University address by comparing the process of meeting Emory's goals to that of the journey of a "foot traveler, hiking with trusted and great companions, on a journey, with firm footing -- and though still far from the destination, confident that we are moving at the right pace and in the right direction."

Watch President Wagner deliver the 2011 State of the University address:

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