Autumn 2008: Campaign Emory


Wade Harris

To see the slideshow, please enable Javascript and Flash Player.

The Courage to Leap

Campaign Emory launches with $1.6 billion goal

By Maria M. Lameiras

When James Wagner was being interviewed in 2003 for the job of president of Emory University, the Board of Trustees asked if he had any questions.

Yes, said Wagner. Noting documents that repeatedly referred to Emory as “poised” to make the leap into the realm of the nation’s great universities, Wagner asked:

“How long will Emory be poised for greatness? When will it stop being poised and just do it?”

Wagner got the job, and Emory leapt.

Under Wagner’s leadership, and with the cooperation and effort of the entire University, the past five years have been consumed with the execution of the most focused and comprehensive planning for its future that Emory has ever undertaken. Nearly a thousand members of the Emory community, including, faculty, staff, students, and alumni, helped prepare a powerful and dynamic strategic plan to serve as the road map the University is following to achieve its vision. With this plan in place, University leaders in all divisions and at all levels began taking action to make the plans a reality. Three years ago, the University initiated the advance phase of Campaign Emory, the most ambitious fund-raising venture in its history and the largest ever undertaken in Georgia.

On September 25, University leaders announced a remarkable $1.6 billion goal and celebrated reaching the halfway mark at a gala launch event designed to introduce Campaign Emory publicly.

The campaign is designed to strengthen Emory’s faculty and students, create and bolster programs, and build facilities to provide the best possible educational and research environment. These goals will propel Emory to a new level of leadership among the nation’s foremost research universities in education, in research, and in impact on the world.

By providing the means for Emory’s faculty, students, and programs to thrive, the campaign is expected to transform every school and unit of the University. In addition to raising $1.6 billion, Campaign Emory’s challenge is to increase awareness of the education, research, and action already taking place here. Although Emory is considered among the top tier of American higher education institutions and is highly regarded in the South and Northeast, the University still has a long way to go toward achieving the same national recognition as many of its peers.

Strategic Moves

Wagner is quick to point out that groundwork laid by prior administrations has catapulted Emory from an excellent, largely regional institution to a leading teaching and research university in a relatively short time.

“Emory has clearly moved from the top of the second tier of American universities to a place among the best. Five years ago we began scouring our internal practices and honing them from what was adequate for a good institution to what was needed for a world-class university,” Wagner says.

He readily acknowledges that $1.6 billion is a tough ask. Before Emory could announce that goal, the president sought approval from the University’s Board of Trustees, a major source of both governance and financial resources. Emory’s trustees—most, but not all, of whom are alumni—have an insider perspective on the workings of the University and were well equipped to decide whether the goal was feasible, both financially and philosophically.

Although Campaign Emory has only just made its debut, the thoughts, efforts, and dreams of many Emory faculty members, administrators, and alumni leaders have shaped the concepts driving the campaign.

“One of the things that impresses me is that Emory’s leadership has been so thoughtful when it comes to moving the University forward. Emory is focusing on how we can leverage the things we are good at, things we really do well,” says Crystal Edmonson 95C, president of the Emory Alumni Board. “That sort of thoughtfulness is encouraging and something I can get on board with.”

Campaign Emory fuels the five major themes of Emory’s strategic plan: strengthening faculty distinction, preparing engaged scholars, creating community and engaging society, confronting the human condition, and exploring new frontiers in science and technology. These focus Emory’s attention and resources on communities at home and abroad, wherever there is need.

Inspiring Change

Campaign Emory’s support for this bold plan will strengthen the University’s ability to form productive partnerships, develop leaders, and apply talents and resources to a growing number of global challenges.

Provost Earl Lewis says Emory’s size, in combination with its youth as an institution, allows innovative relationships in teaching, research, and scholarship.

“Emory’s scale and size allow for a certain level of intimate interaction that would be difficult at a larger institution. The boundaries and divides that can prevent really fertile, intelligent exchange of ideas are not present here,” Lewis says. “Emory is also a relatively young research institution, and that gives us a certain nimbleness that is attractive to faculty and to others who believe they can and should invest in Emory and its potential.”

“While campaigns are always about moving universities forward, very few are tied to an institution’s strategic plan,” says Susan Cruse, senior vice president for development and alumni relations. “What we are looking at is a shared commitment to making the world a better place. We are combining our intellectual capital with the donors’ financial capital to make a dramatic impact in Atlanta and across the globe. It’s not charity; it’s philanthropy. There is a difference. Charity is simply giving aid to those in need. Philanthropy involves commitment, taking an active role to improve the welfare of humanity as a whole. People want to direct their money where it can make a difference and are looking at Emory as the place that can make that happen.”

Although national university rankings have purpose and benefit, Wagner says Emory’s vision has little to do with where the University is ranked and even less to do with becoming like the universities at the top of the lists.

“Our vision is guiding Emory to become the very best Emory that it can be, not to be like other universities. I have no desire to ‘beat’ other universities. But I do have a burning desire to see Emory lead them,” Wagner says. “That is the difference between competitive excellence and contributory excellence—the difference between being the best at the old way of playing the game and being the best by showing others how to do it better. That is the part that requires resources of a magnitude that we have not had before, focused in areas where Emory is especially well positioned to lead education in our society.”

Without doubt, Emory will be changed by the campaign, but Wagner emphasizes that some things won’t change: Emory’s character, its focus on leadership, and its humane values.

“What will change is the number of areas where we lead. And we will grow in scope, in international visibility, and in our impact in areas where we already lead. From medical research and development of the world’s leading HIV drug to leadership in political analysis, from critical public health advances to renowned scholarship in literature, history, and culture, Emory faculty, alumni, and students are increasingly gaining national and international recognition as leaders in their fields. And this campaign will propel that even further,” he says.

Courage is a common thread running through Emory’s ambitions, but courage, Wagner points out, does not come without risk.

“Emory is willing to take risks and do things that just might fail,” Wagner says. “Emory has determination and heart. It is the same as when a coach takes a risk on a young athlete. Experience tells him this person is worth the risk. What we are trying to accomplish at Emory is worth the risk.”

Believing in the Possibilities

The Emory of today accomplishes plenty to make people take notice. But Wagner is consumed by the idea of pushing the Emory of tomorrow to a new definition of excellence not limited to number of applications, size of endowment, or any other finite measurement.

“The result of what we are doing is that Emory will become a place through which people can satisfy their passions,” he says. “They could be faculty members who are able to pursue research here that they can’t do elsewhere, or students who can study here because of scholarship support, or alumni, friends, and donors who see that the best way to satisfy their philanthropic passions is through Emory.”

Believing in Emory’s possibilities is a great motivator for those involved in the campaign, either professionally or as volunteers. Sonny Deriso 68C 72L is volunteer chair of Campaign Emory. As head of Atlantic Capital Bank, he’s no stranger to finding investors, having helped raise a record $125 million in capital to open the de novo bank in May 2007.

The veteran banker says every investment should have a return. An investment in Emory is no different.

“The way I’ve approached the campaign is that we are asking people to invest in the possibility of what we can do—whether it’s recruiting the best faculty to teach or researchers to find cures, or preparing students to be leaders in confronting the human condition and improving global health. We are asking people to invest, not give—to take a role in making a better world,” Deriso says. “The personal return is satisfaction in being part of a cause that makes a difference. We are talking about transforming the University and making it the best it can be, a place that inspires change and enables those educated here to go out and make a difference.”

Investors, he says, should choose to support Emory for both the knowledge it will create and the advances it will gain.

“I read once that education is the process of learning how much you do not know,” Deriso says. “We don’t know enough about predictive health. We don’t know enough about AIDS. We don’t understand enough about our differences and the way people should relate. We are willing to challenge those gaps in our knowledge. Emory has the desire and the courage to ask questions and to try to find the answers in ways that are open, fair, and inclusive. There are not many places willing to do that.”

To answer these questions, Emory is creating partnerships with other institutions that cannot happen anywhere else in the Southeast. The University has forged unique relationships with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Carter Center, and CARE. A public-private collaboration created in 1997—the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory—now is the second-ranked biomedical engineering program in the country.

Earl Lewis emphasizes that Campaign Emory is not simply about raising money, but realizing an overall strategic plan that significantly will advance scholarship, research, and the development of leaders across the disciplines.

“One of the critical issues of higher education is not just affordability—the price of education—but also accessibility. One of the things Campaign Emory will do is expand the accessibility of an Emory education,” Lewis says. “We value smart, inquisitive students who can benefit by being a part of this environment. To make Emory accessible to all qualified students despite their financial means, we’ve created Emory Advantage, and support for this program is an investment in the next generation of individuals who will profoundly affect the future.

“In this troubled time, people are worried about the economy. I can’t think of a better investment than the talent of people who can come up with innovative ways to organize financial markets, reform health care, and improve the general lot of our nation,” Lewis adds. “People want a return on investment, even in a down market. They want to make sure they are investing in an institution that promises an upturn, and Emory is that kind of place. It has proven to be since 1836 and will be increasingly so as this century marches forward.”

Emory’s Moment

Emory Board of Trustees chair Ben F. Johnson III 65C says Emory’s youth as an institution and its rise in academic rank to its place among the top twenty universities in the nation are an advantage.

“When you look at when many of our peer institutions were founded—from Harvard in 1636 to Yale, Princeton, and Columbia in the 1700s—Emory is a fairly new entrant into this level of higher education,” Johnson says. “We are looking to improve on the areas where we can define ourselves in our own terms and do things that are uniquely great. We want to create Emory’s place in the world and in time. This is Emory’s moment.”

Johnson points to Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) as one of its richest and most remarkable resources. “The special collections we have in MARBL—the works of Salman Rushdie, Seamus Heaney, or Ted Hughes, the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library or the civil rights collection or the archives of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference—inform scholarship and are active in ways that are distinctly Emory’s,” he says.

Emory’s relative youth also supports a culture of openness that is intellectually vibrant—and sometimes creates conversations not likely to happen elsewhere. Last fall, for instance, Emory held historic events to install His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, as a Presidential Distinguished Professor. At the same time, preparations were being made to strengthen Emory’s relationship with China through the Confucius Institute—an innovative program to introduce K–12 instruction in Modern Standard Chinese throughout the state of Georgia and to foster knowledge of Chinese language and culture in the greater Atlanta area. Emory’s partnership with the Atlanta school system and Nanjing University in China is the first Confucius Institute in the Southeast.

Emory also defended former President Jimmy Carter’s right to his opinions after controversy over the release of his book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his public comments following the publication of the book. Elsewhere on campus, Emory’s Tam Institute for Jewish Studies is academic home to historian and author Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, who is famous for winning her London court case defending her writings about Holocaust denier David Irving.

“All of that is going on right in the heart of Emory. There is something special about the ways Emory is engaging the world: through the Rollins School of Public Health, the Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning, The Carter Center, and on and on,” Johnson says. “The purpose of education is to do something with it, and Emory is out there doing something right now. When people look back in history we want them to see that this was a place that aspired to do great things. We’ve got our moment, we’ve got the right leadership team in place, and we’ve got a plan. Now we’ve got to get the resources to turn unfunded aspirations into reality.”

Johnson’s father, Ben F. Johnson Jr. 36C 40L, attended Emory College, graduated from Emory School of Law, was on the law school faculty, and served as dean of the law school. “I remember when I took my father on a car ride through Emory’s campus shortly before he passed away in 2006,” Johnson says. “I pointed out new buildings and expansion on the Clairmont campus. He was amazed at how Emory had grown. It was hard for him to imagine that, in one lifetime, all that could be accomplished. It was quite a path to come from a good regional, but not unusual, school to one of the leading research universities in the nation in one lifetime. Why not see what we can do in another lifetime?”

Maria Lameiras is senior editor for Development Communications.