Perspectives from Emory Provost Claire E. Sterk

At the core of the work of a provost, or chief academic officer, is supporting the university’s mission and providing leadership for an academic life that values creation, discovery, preservation, teaching, and the application of knowledge. I view my role as advancing the university’s academic progress and nurturing its intellectual life, and I do so by engaging and promoting Emory’s entire community of students, faculty, and staff.

In that role, I often am asked why – a question that I myself also tend to ask frequently. I think curiosity is a prerequisite for being a provost. One of the joys of what I do is talking to people across the campus and beyond to gather ideas to make Emory the best it can be so that we contribute to the common good.

[pullquote]Courage requires a willingness to take calculated risks, to advance Emory by rocking the boat, to communicate when we do not have all the answers.[/pullquote]Being an effective and inspiring leader requires not only curiosity but also courage. Courage requires a willingness to take calculated risks, to advance Emory by rocking the boat, to communicate when we do not have all the answers. I view my achievements as Emory’s provost beyond a narrow definition of success. For me, success also depends on wisdom, optimism, and contemplation. Courage at work involves deliberate risk-taking, a willingness to make bold moves that are guided by broad input, setting goals, and having a contingency plan. I prefer directly facing today’s challenges in higher education, including at research universities such as Emory. That involves healthy debate and constructive dissent, pushing forward and showing wisdom rather than being stuck and afraid, and believing in making a difference in the world.

Partnering with the deans of Emory’s schools and colleges is one of my key priorities. Ensuring that we share values is a core component of strategy. Together we can achieve transformative change. It is important that throughout Emory we cherish a culture built on trust, transparency, informed decision making, careful planning, and priority setting. The partnership between the provost and the deans is complex and interdependent, encompassing the Emory University brand and the brand of each of the academic units. Much of what we do in the Council of Deans focuses on developing an in-depth understanding of each school/college, the implications of local actions on the other units as well as the overall university, and recognition of the benefits of horizontal as well as vertical connections.

[highlight]Erika James, in her role as dean of the Goizueta Business School, embraces enterprise-wide collaboration[/highlight]. A provost pushes talented people who are strong individually to do even more, encouraging some to “speak up” and others to be quiet and encouraging collaboration to accomplish goals far beyond our expectations.

This brings us to the business of the university, one where the return on investments may be unclear. Walk across campus and ask students, faculty, alumni, and others who are exposed to the teaching and learning that takes place here what they are getting for their investments. Or, ask the same questions to discover a diversity of opinions about investments in scholarship, contributions to society, or personal growth. You will discover a complex balance sheet.

March is Women’s History Month, and I also have been asked to reflect on the future of women in the academy– a topic of its own, one that warrants more elaborate discussion than the brief reflections offered here. [highlight]Among undergraduate students, women are overrepresented, and data for graduate students show a similar pattern. However, business schools enroll fewer women than men, especially in MBA programs.[/highlight] Among the explanations given are the limited presence of female role models, the lack of gender-matched mentoring opportunities, and an underrepresentation of women in the business world.

Congress enacted March National Women’s History Month in 1987. It provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the role of women in the past as well as to consider the future. Throughout the 20th century, the increased participation of women in the work force served society well. [highlight]However, women remain underrepresented at the highest levels of academia and business[/highlight]. We must strive to understand why this is the case and how we can advance greater participation by women at the highest levels. Without a doubt, we see the advantages of bringing everyone, including women and members of other under-represented groups into the labor market.

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One comment on “Perspectives from Emory Provost Claire E. Sterk

  1. Michael B. Bakeley

    What I find most interesting about this article is its inability to specifically identify “whose” denying “women”(e.g., White) the opportunity to participate “at the highest levels”. This happens when the larger society has been convinced to embrace political correctness in order to placate everyone or not offend anyone even if you’re stating pure facts. It’s quite evident, the majority of upper level academic and business positions are held by White males.

    In my view, the only way these changes would occur, if White males(e.g., in business and academia) willingly relinquished their position of dominance. If this did occur, this would be akin to a paradigmatic shift the Western world has never seen or experienced before. Further, then the United States can serve as a model of a pluralistic and egalitarian society for the rest of the planet. Until then, the United States will still be viewed as and functions based upon a White male patriarchal system.

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