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Employee Council Town Hall addresses benefits, diversity and more

New parental leave benefits, traffic concerns, and questions about changes arising from the Emory University Hospital expansion on Clifton Road were among topics discussed at the Employee Council’s annual Town Hall on April 12.

The open forum offers an opportunity for University staff and senior leadership to discuss campus issues “on your mind and in your heart,” said Employee Council President Linda Jackson, an administrative assistant in the Emory School of Law. Questions were presented by audience members and were also submitted in advance through the Employee Council website.

This year marked the final Employee Council Town Hall appearance for Emory President James Wagner, who has announced plans to retire from Emory at the end of August.

But rather than reflect upon his legacy at Emory, Wagner said he wanted to talk about his hopes for the future, borrowing a quote from Emory benefactor and legendary Coca-Cola President Robert W. Woodruff: “The future belongs to the discontented.”

Instead of viewing "discontent" as a negative word, Wagner said he thinks Woodruff meant “a different kind of discontented —those who are seeking possibility and want to reach for it. People who can’t sit still when things potentially better are within grasp.”

National and global impact

Wagner said he looks back upon the last 13 years as “a challenging time, a courageous time, a time that was guided by moral principle — the kind of principle that gave us courage to take a risk and the humility to make mistakes.”

“I like to think of it as a time that we’ve grown as a community,” he observed. “A time when we are filled with a sense of even more possibility, a place to stretch even further.”

It’s also been a time in which Emory has become a better place to work, he said, citing campus growth and construction, improved shuttle services and award-winning sustainability initiatives, and open dialogue around issues of race, social justice, and class and labor.

Notably, the University has become “a place that has been contributing with national and global impact,” he said. “The caliber and number of students who want to be here has grown substantially.”

Overall, he sees “more exciting and joyful discontent of the sort which I believe Mr. Woodruff was seeking,” Wagner said, describing Emory as "a greater place that is more good."

"It is especially satisfying to leave you knowing you have the possibilities to act and to live out even greater discontent," he said. "For all of that, I am very grateful.

A forum for concerns, questions

Joining Wagner to field questions from the campus community were:

  • Claire Sterk, provost and executive vice president of academic affairs
  • Michael Mandl, executive vice president for business and administration and senior strategist for business initiatives
  • Jonathan Lewin, executive vice president of health affairs
  • Suzanne Onorato, assistant vice president of community in Campus Life

Here are some highlights of their answers:

Parental leave benefits:

In response to a question about paid maternity and paternity leave, Mandl was met by applause when he said that Peter Barnes, Emory vice president of human resources, will be announcing “in the near future” the implementation of a new paid parental leave benefit.

Security cameras in the parking decks:

New campus construction standards call for the implementation of security cameras in all new parking decks, including the Emory Hospital J-wing addition, Mandl said. Plans also call for cameras to be installed in entrances and exits of all parking decks over the next five years, he added. Mandl noted that while new security cameras will be recording activity, they will not be continually monitored.

Emory-based affordable childcare options:

Speaking from the audience, Barnes said that surveys conducted in past years found a vast majority of parents felt it was more desirable to find local daycare closer to their homes. He noted that there are two campus-based daycare locations, adding that Emory has also developed relationships with daycare providers in the community that offer priority admission to the children of Emory faculty and staff. The University also offers emergency back-up care, a benefit implemented last year.

Traffic on the Clifton corridor:

In response to a question about traffic on the Clifton corridor — particularly during peak congestion around the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Mandl noted that Emory has had discussions with DeKalb County about “taking ownership of equipment to control the timing of all of those lights on all of Clifton Road.”

Mandl also noted that the CDC has announced plans to expand over the next five to seven years. “They know they can’t do that unless there are significant improvements,” he said, adding that the CDC plans to seek federal funding to help with improvements to aid traffic flow.

Shuttle services/transportation:

With the recent purchase and planned development of properties in Executive Park, including Emory's partnership with the Atlanta Hawks on a new training and sports medicine center, Mandl said new shuttle runs will likely be added in the future. He added that Emory continues to invest in the “political and economic process involved with bringing MARTA to campus.”

Hospital expansion:

When asked if the expansion of Emory University Hospital will result in a large increase in employees, Lewin said that the total number should not increase to the point that it would create “a significant problem” with concern to traffic.

He added that rerouting patient traffic flow in and out of the area has been carefully examined and that Clifton Road “will be redesigned for that.”

Emory and open online courses:

In a discussion about the future direction of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), Sterk said that after examining several platforms, Emory has chosen to work with Coursera.

Rather than offering a broad assortment of online courses, the University has decided to offer courses that “show what is special about Emory,” Sterk explained, including topics such as HIV/AIDS, the Bible’s prehistory, and nonviolence in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Emory and diversity:

In response to a question about how Emory “rates its diversity status as a university,” Wagner noted “one of the wrong ways to rate it is by the numbers. Emory’s numbers are very remarkable in terms of numerical diversity, and yet we are still working very hard to truly be a community that is diverse.”

“Because we have some of the most diverse numbers for a private, major research university — we have some of the best numerical diversity —Emory should be the one that has this special opportunity to work toward better practices of taking advantage of the great promise and opportunity that diverse perspectives, interests and experiences give us," he continued. "To move beyond something that is just ‘tolerance’ to something that is excitement, that is membership, where everybody is belonging.”

“Emory is not there yet, but Emory is active,” Wagner said, noting the work of groups arising from this semester’s racial justice retreat. “It comes down to whether or not every ‘we’ feels that we are moving forward.”

This year’s forum was live-streamed on YouTube. Those who were not able to attend the Employee Council Town Hall can view it here.

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