Presidential Selection Committee members met with Emory students last week in an open forum to gauge students’ hopes and expectations for the next University president.
Eight students attended the forum on Wednesday, Jan. 19, and three of them left without providing any comments. Of the 15 students who attended the forum the next day, two left without notice or commentary.
Last September, President James W. Wagner announced that he will resign after this academic year. In response, the University Board of Trustees appointed a 14-member Presidential Selection Committee to conduct a search for a successor to Wagner, according to a Nov. 13 University press release. The committee includes Emory University Trustee Chair John F. Morgan, Emory Trustee Gregory J. Vaughn and Student Government Association (SGA) President Raj Tilwa.
“The main purpose of this meeting is to get input from students … and to get different perspectives during the [presidential] search,” Tilwa said.
Elizabeth Cox, interim senior director of the Center for Community Engagement and Leadership, and David Furhman, senior director of Emory Dining, joined Tilwa to facilitate the forums.
Students mentioned that a challenge Emory’s next president will be faced with includes the need to participate in a mix of student conversations across campus in order to better sympathize with student experiences.
College sophomore Jonathan Peraza pushed the discussion towards inclusivity on campus and explained his wish for a friendlier environment for minority students.
“I want to see more diversity inclusion on campus, where the administration can actively reach out to students with different backgrounds to listen to how they feel about their Emory experience,” Peraza said. “Rather than wait until students agitate to create attention like what black students did last semester, protesting on Clifton Road.”
Strengthening Campus Culture
Other students voiced their desires for the next president to take opportunities to improve and strengthen Emory’s culture.
“Once I had the opportunity to meet President Wagner and he said, ‘Emory is like a stew, coming together for a mix of flavors,’ ” College senior Ryan Stevenson said. “However, I think nowadays I can’t see Emory’s culture as what Wagner said.”
Stevenson suggested that the next president could better the school by promoting and participating in more cross-cultural conversations between different religious groups.
Some students also mentioned that they believe the current academic culture on campus should shift back towards the liberal arts.
“I think there’s a prevalent culture of pre-professionalism at Emory,” College senior Leah Michalove said. “Sometimes, it is hard to get people to do things together since there’s an intense focus on how to get a job after graduation.”
Michalove’s hope for Emory’s academic mission is that “we can truly investigate knowledge for the sake of knowledge and value knowledge as a community.”
Facilitating Faculty-Student Dialogue
At the forum, as Cox asked students what they believe to be the competitive advantage of Emory, students overwhelmingly responded with the school’s faculty and environment.
“What makes Emory special is its faculty,” College junior Henry Chappell said. “They are outstanding in their fields and are passionate about what they are teaching. Everyone I have seen is really dedicated to [helping] students learn.
The school could be made better with the strengthening of ties between students on Emory’s Oxford campus and Emory’s main campus, College sophomore Jake Cronin said.
“I definitely think that [an] Oxford education can be a competitive advantage for Emory, not only in terms of a unique curriculum but also [in] a special approach to liberal arts education — a more inclusive environment for students,” Cronin said.
Morgan said that the committee’s representatives were satisfied with the opinions shared in the open forum.
“We want to take opinions from faculties, alums, staff and, particularly, the students, to get opinions about aspirations of Emory to go forward,” Morgan said. “We aim to create an inclusive selection process.”
Despite the small number of students who attended the forum, for some, the event confirmed that they would have a voice in the impending presidential selection.
“I believe the presidential selection will integrate voices from the students.” Cronin said.