Sterk’s New Adviser Driven by Ethics

Advising the new University president is no easy task, yet newly appointed Senior Adviser to the President Robert Franklin, Jr. aims to approach the challenge of his new position with his ethical principles. Even in a time of social and campus unrest and an increasingly polarized political climate, Franklin places a high intrinsic value on each person he meets and plans to utilize that empathy to guide him in his new advising position to University President Claire E. Sterk.

Sterk announced Franklin’s appointment Sept. 27. The primary duties of Franklin’s position are still being defined but will include providing “an ear” for Sterk and offering candid, informed advice, according to Franklin. The Candler faculty member, who has held various positions at Emory since 1989, comes to the job with previous experience in administration, including a 5-year stint as Morehouse College president from 2007 to 2012 and a 3-year stint as former presidential distinguished professor of social ethics from 2004 to 2007 and a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory.

Franklin’s professional relationship with Sterk started three years ago. At the time, Sterk was provost and executive vice president of academic affairs and Franklin held the James T. and Berta R. Laney chair in moral leadership. According to Franklin, he provided her “perspective and advice in the areas of community building and inclusion.” When Sterk became University president, extending their professional relationship was seemed logical, since it provided the opportunity to continue their work promoting community building and strengthening the University mission, Franklin said.

The former Morehouse president made national headlines when he addressed the all-male historically black college and university (HBCU) student body in a town hall speech in 2008 that described “five wells,” or five ideals to which Morehouse students should aspire. While some publications lauded Franklin for furthering the idea of Morehouse as the pinnacle of education for African American males, others criticized the speech for creating distance between Morehouse students and the greater African American community.

Franklin said he hopes to similarly examine and redefine the student experience at Emory.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to work with multiple constituencies to reinterpret the mission of an institution for an evolving culture and social circumstances,” Franklin said. “It’s a president’s job to ask, ‘What will we understand about Emory that we have not seen as prominently in the past?’ ”

Additionally, Franklin said that both he and Sterk want to see the University deepen its relationship with the City of Atlanta. He hopes the University will become a public resource to the city, which he believes can be accomplished in part by sending more capital and personnel into the greater metropolitan area from Emory’s “deep well” of intellectual and financial resources.

Franklin “comes in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” who, like the new senior adviser, graduated from Morehouse and spent considerable time in Atlanta working to improve its residents’ lives, Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Candler School of Theology Noel Erskine said.

“Franklin will be an invaluable asset and resource for President Sterk in helping her and the University pay attention to the importance of Atlanta and pivot towards Atlanta,” Erskine added.

Franklin is also an ordained minister, the director of religion at the historic Chautauqua Institution and the former president of the Interdenominational Theological Center. From a ministerial perspective, Franklin said he looks at “the worth of every voice and human soul as the starting point as a professional,” and added that he would like to see Emory community members empathize with one another while holding individuals accountable to be the best they can be.

One priority for Franklin in his new position is to encourage the student body to act as “moral leaders” and to include all minority groups in the campus community.

“Moral leadership is a combination of integrity, imagination and courage aimed at serving the common good,” Franklin said. “I’d like to see Emory students think of themselves as women and men who possess integrity and a vision for human possibility. When we all stand together and say, ‘We will not tolerate injustice,’ it says a lot about what it means to be a great university and I expect us to do more of that.”

Franklin currently teaches a class called Principles and Practices of Moral Leadership in the Candler School of Theology, which explores the idea of moral leadership in the modern world. For his work at Candler, Franklin gained national recognition: he founded the Black Church Studies Program and served as its inaugural director from 1989 to 1995.

Professor of Christian Ethics at Candler Timothy Jackson, who has known Franklin for years, said that Emory is fortunate to have Franklin in his new position.

“[Franklin] is a remarkably wise teacher, scholar, Christian minister and public intellectual,” Jackson said. “[He is] just what we need in this era of moral and political unrest.”