Tuesday, April 12, faculty, staff and administrators gathered in Winship Ballroom for the Employee Council Town Hall, an annual discussion in which employees discuss concerns and ask members of the administration questions.
This year’s panelists included University President James Wagner; Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Claire Sterk; Executive Vice President for Business and Administration and Senior Strategist for Business Initiatives Michael Mandl; Executive Vice President of Health Affairs Jonathan Lewin; and Assistant Vice President of Community Suzanne Onorato.
“Ask the serious questions, the things that are on your mind and your heart,” Employee Council President and Administrative Assistant at the School of Law Linda Jackson said to the audience.
This year marks the 45th year of Employee Council, an organization founded by former University President Sanford Soverhill Atwood to foster communication between the University president and University employees, according to their website.
The Employee Council has adopted the theme “Together our Purposed Destination” for this year, and it aims to “disseminate information to constituents as well as create a positive atmosphere to promote change within the Emory Community” with a focus on increasing awareness among colleagues, according to the Council’s website.
This year also marks the last year of the Employee Council working with Wagner, who will be stepping down from his position as University president at the end of this semester. In his address to the room, he thanked Emory employees and reminisced on his time and legacy as University president.
Wagner said his presidential tenure has been “a challenging time that was guided by moral principle — that gives us courage to take a risk, humility to admit mistakes, joy in the work, achievement and service in our mission, teaching and research and scholarship and healthcare and service and social action.”
When he described his motivations as president, Wagner quoted Emory alumnus and benefactor Robert Woodruff: “The future belongs to the discontented.” Wagner added that he wished the community’s discontent, which he defined as the want for something better, to be remembered as “joyful, justifiably proud and confident discontent” rather than “unhappy, disappointed, complaint-filled discontent.”
After representatives of the Employee Council recognized and thanked Wagner for his services, the panel discussion began.
Members of the audience questioned the panelists, who sat in the front of the room, on various University-wide policies, ranging from campus carry to maternity and paternity leave. Questions were submitted online before the town hall and during the event itself. The questions were asked by employees and answered by panelists, one at a time, until the time allotted for questions ran out. In their responses, panelists explained University policies or initiatives or said that they would take employee concerns into consideration.
One employee asked if Emory, like some other institutions, will be adopting policies that offer paid maternal or paternal leave. When the panelists affirmed that the University will implement such policies in the near future, employees applauded. The panelists said that the specifics are being planned and will be completed at a later time.
With regards to the installation of cameras in parking decks for the safety of employees, panelists said that cameras will be installed in new decks, but that these will take years to plan and build. The cameras will record video, but there will be no staff to monitor live video around-the-clock.
Several employees asked questions regarding the construction of the new Emory Hospital building on Clifton Road. Panelists responded by saying that staffing changes due to the new addition will not be significant. They added that Clifton Road in front of the hospital may be renovated to accommodate structural changes.
Other employees asked questions about the student climate on Emory’s campus.
One asked about the likelihood of guns being allowed on Emory’s campus. The concern stemmed from Georgia’s campus carry, which is a bill that will allow concealed weapons to be carried by licensed 21-and-over individuals on public college campuses.
Wagner replied that Emory will remain a “gun-free community.”
After receiving more questions about parking rates, Winship Cancer Institute and retirement policy, Jackson concluded the town hall. She recommended that employees use the Hot Topic Form on the Employee Council website to continue to ask questions and voice concerns. The Employee Council will then take those concerns and try to work them into policies, she said.
“Certainly [Employee Council] has grown,” Wagner said. “I think this has been a time where [Emory has] become a better place to work. We have shown services that go beyond the bounds of our campus.”