In his inauguration address on April 2, 2004, President James W. Wagner formally pledged to “do all in [his] power to enable our University community to grow in excellence.” Since then, he has developed and situated his presidency within the framework of the University’s vision statement set by him— the mission that Emory will strive to be a destination university that is “inquiry-driven,” “distinctive for its ethical commitment” and “actively working for positive transformation.”
With Wagner’s 12 years as president nearing an end, we can now reflect on the successes and shortcomings of his presidential term. More importantly, the Emory community must now consider the values that we hope the next president will espouse and uphold.
Ultimately, the next president should demonstrate a commitment to the liberal arts, a passion for conversations regarding social justice and sustainability and a reaffirmation of the importance of a proactive presidency. As the chief liaison between the academic institution and the student body, the president serves as the face of the University. While this role should not be beholden to a strict set of standards, incontestably there are certain attributes our next president must embody and values of the institution that he or she must preserve.
As an institution of higher learning, Emory prides itself on synthesizing the strengths of a traditional liberal arts college and the resources of a major research university. Yet there is a stark dissonance between Emory’s brand and its academic reality. In light of College Dean Robin Forman’s decision to phase out certain academic departments and programs during Wagner’s term — namely, journalism, education, visual arts and the Institute of the Liberal Arts (ILA) — the incoming president should actively support liberal arts on campus.
Curricular concerns rest largely on the shoulders of the academic deans. However, it is imperative that the next president encourage the Cabinet members and deans to reaffirm the importance of developing a core curriculum that facilitates open dialogue in an integrated atmosphere. A paramount valuation of the liberal arts creates students who utilize critical thinking skills and have personal commitments to both the diversity and the commonality of humankind — skills that are essential to fulfilling the vision of the University.
In addition to honoring and cherishing the diversity of thought brought by a liberal arts curriculum, the incoming president also has a responsibility to engage the student body by listening and remaining cognizant of conversations regarding social justice, sustainability and other activism on campus. The president should take the time to consistently meet with different student groups to best understand the current discourse of the Emory community. All student groups should feel comfortable approaching the president with their concerns and the president should be open and receptive to these interactions.
Active awareness of the social and racial climate on campus and an increase in transparency will cultivate students who trust one another and their administration.
Being aware of the climate on campus will enable the next president to embrace a proactive approach in managing the University. This approach ought to include creating initiatives to prepare for and participate in the events that will unravel throughout his or her respective term, rather than waiting for circumstances to dictate action. It also includes the confidence to raise his or her voice about such events and to stand his or her ground.
The president has a fundamental duty to set and maintain a strong vision. Continual analysis of campus climate and a fervent dedication to improving both the outward perception and the inward reality of Emory is imperative to its overall institutional vision — to be a conduit for the individual aspirations that each member of this community strives to realize. Only then will the Emory community be fully equipped with the power to continue to grow in excellence.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.