Wagner: “Disruptively innovative”

President Wagner delivered his annual State of the University address to a packed room this afternoon. We bring you some highlights:

  • The state of the university is “goooood” (imagine the pitch dropping halfway through, with a tiny question mark at the end).
  • Campaign Emory is likely to hit its goal of raising $1.6 billion by December. We should also expect an announcement of an “anchor” donation for the next fundraising campaign. This one’s gonna fund really wild things like student financial aid.
  • Speaking of which, Oxford College no longer has a need-blind admissions policy. The Druid Hills campus stands by its policy of selecting students based on merit rather than their deep pockets, but the $84 million a year cost of financial aid is a burden. Everyone wants to reduce attrition rates and put scholarship money to better use.
  • As one of only 200 research universities among 4600 institutions of higher education in the U.S., and one of a smaller group of R1 schools, Emory represents a “tiny niche” in the education market, but an important one.
  • Gray Crouse, professor of biology and president of the Governing Committee, has advised Wagner that the old way of running research universities is economically unsustainable. Crouse warns that “most faculty are oblivious” to this fact. (Wonder if that includes the economists and education policy analysts?)
  • The economy will affect “the college experience at the most fundamental levels”: curriculum, teaching, promotion and tenure standards, lab management, the residential experience… We couldn’t tell you how any of these items will actually change.

Clearly, what we really need are “new income streams.” Apart from expanding our partnership with Georgia Tech, examples were scarce.

  • There is a new holding company called “Emory Innovations Inc.” Officially separate from the university, it will retain patents for things that would “support our revenue goals.”
  • Where business practices are concerned, we should learn from former Emory president Atticus Haygood, who said, “Let us stand by the good and let’s make it better.” Presumably, this only applies to investment portfolios.
  • Pres. Wagner has spoken to Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-Fil-A, on two occasions, but he has not responded to letters on behalf of 9 GLBTQ student groups and GALA, the Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association. He will “not stand in the way of Sodexo” (loaded words) if it chooses to change up the franchises on campus. Emory students seem to have been voting against the company with our wallets…
  • We need to “capitalize on our literary assets” and live up to that #1 ranking in USA Today without encouraging literary scholarship or creativity in other languages or connecting literature to other endeavors.

Thanks to a strong showing by the SRC and supporters, the cuts dominated the Q&A. Andrew Zonderman presented the SRC’s statement of demands and handed Wagner a list of prepared questions. To the question “Are you willing to work with us?” Wagner answered yes.

  • Katherine Bryant of neuroscience asked about the crises facing Emory’s reputation, capped off most recently with the threat of censure by the AAUP (“where we’ll join a long list of eminent peers inclunding the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the University of Dubuque, and North Idaho College”). Wagner responded, “Quite the contrary”: peer institutions have been commending Emory for its courageous leadership. He wasn’t too concerned with the AAUP statement insofar as it represented opinions from on campus. The only faculty who count teach at other universities.
  • Amber Jones of the DES wanted to compare the university’s rhetoric of diversity with its actions with regard to the compromised positions of African American and Latino/a undergraduates, graduate students and faculty (“we know that because that’s part of what we study”). They quarreled over the figures on minority students’ dropout rates. Asked how he justified cutting a division that has produced the highest proportion of black PhD graduates in the country for the last twenty years, Wagner replied, “Whatever rationale the deans have used, I’m sure they took that into account.”

According to Wagner, the faculty need to take more initiative in governing the institution and examining the status of the liberal arts.

  • Professor Kevin Corrigan of the ILA: “Why would you allow the effective dismemberment of the ILA before the committee on the liberal arts, headed by Provost Lewis, got down to business?” No definite answer, although Wagner was sure he had sent Corrigan a warning letter back in March.
  • Corrigan also asked if Wagner had a “real vision for the liberal arts.” Wagner had come prepared. A liberal arts education requires critical thinking, creativity, integrity: “I think we’re failing because we just emphasize the critical thinking part.” (Cf.) The liberal arts also requires an “authentic identity,” something that isn’t defined by an institutional tie–thus, Wagner says, the Goizueta Business School, the medical school and the law school are all liberal arts schools. (I always knew my humanities background made me a phony.)

I’ve compiled this from my own notes, and am happy to correct inaccuracies or omissions. @EmoryCuts and the Wheel are following the speech as well.

Tomorrow The next day, the zombies walked on Asbury Circle.

Edited to add: You can now watch Wagner’s speech–sans Q&A–on YouTube.

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4 thoughts on “Wagner: “Disruptively innovative”

  1. Joe says:

    Sad to see a modestly good private research institution that has never fully capitalized on its enormous resources further squander its reputation, falling farther behind Vanderbilt, Rice, UGa., and Texas. Of course, it is, and has never been. even remotely in the league of UNC, UVa. or Duke.

    • Claire says:

      It’s not as highly ranked, nor has it been a research uni for nearly as long. I’d venture, though, that the pursuit of rankings above all else is part of the problem.

  2. What's Wrong with this Picture? says:

    The Q&A for the State of the Uni is now online: http://bit.ly/TsY24c

  3. […] The administration, however, is refusing to talk to the press. Presumably so that President Wagner can continue to tell trustees about our unblemished public image. […]

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