faculty

Think again

That could be the motto of distinguished and talented Emory faculty who are pushing the boundaries of a wide range of disciplines to enact positive change in the world.

It was the most widely shared Washington Post op-ed of 2014. In a year in which headlines regularly featured Ebola, ISIS, Ukraine, midterm elections, and hacking, one city in Missouri catalyzed a movement. And one opinion piece by an Emory professor taught us to think again about what that movement meant.

"Ferguson isn't about black rage against cops. It's white rage against progress," read the banner. In the article that went viral, Carol Anderson, professor of African American Studies and History, explained the recurring waves in U.S. history of white rage against advances in black equality. That op-ed, which garnered a book contract for Anderson, is but one example of how Emory faculty are changing the way we think.

There are many others. Several faculty members -- including doctors Bruce Ribner and Monica Farley and nurses Susan Grant, Crystal Johnson, and Laura Mitchell -- have shared their expertise on treating Ebola virus with national news outlets during the past academic year when Emory successfully treated four patients with the deadly virus. Likewise Emory historians Elena Conis and Daniel LaChance joined national debates over vaccines and capital punishment by contributing think pieces. Both hired as Mellon Fellows for Humanistic Inquiry, they are among a new generation of faculty recruited under the auspices of the strategic plan, Where Courageous Inquiry Leads, who are fulfilling the very title of that plan with bold new work.

Follow the Emory leaders

At the center of the strategic plan was the goal to support and strengthen faculty. These are the "courageous inquirers" of the plan's title, who are making Emory a destination university: a destination drawing other pioneering scholars to the ranks of faculty as well as superb students, excellent administrators, philanthropic dollars, and public notice.

Perhaps more intangibly, these faculty inspire by helping us reframe questions and think in new ways. Alluding to a distinction made by Charles Vest, the late president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Emory President James Wagner observes, "Excellent faculty members do and think things we cannot imagine doing and thinking without their example. They become leaders that others emulate and follow."

Since the start of its plan in 2005, Emory has made major strides in recruiting and supporting outstanding faculty. "Over the past 10 years," Wagner says, "Emory has increased the rigor of its processes for appointments, promotions, and tenure so that we do a better job of recruiting, developing, and retaining this kind of faculty member."

New heights of recognition

Among the most visible measures of the plan's success regarding faculty is the recent steep increase in faculty elections to major national academies. A concerted effort of the plan was to support and retain excellent faculty and promote their eligibility for national academies.

Consider the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Of Emory's 16 members, 75 percent (or 12) have been elected since the start of the plan, with half in the past five years.

Likewise, in the American Association for Advancement of Science, of 42 Emory members, 64 percent have been elected since the start of plan and 40 percent in the past five years. In the Institute of Medicine, one-third of Emory's 27 members have been elected since the start of the strategic plan.

In major awards, Emory faculty also have made recent strides in gaining national and international recognition. Mahlon DeLong in the neurosciences recently won two of the most prestigious awards in the sciences, the Lasker Award and the Breakthrough Prize. Natasha Trethewey became the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2012, an honor renewed in 2013 in recognition of her outstanding service. In 2013 Dennis Liotta, Ray Schinazi, and James Wagner became the first Emory members elected to the National Academy of Inventors; Huw Davies, pictured, joined them in 2014. In 2013 Craig Hill became Emory's first faculty member elected to the Academia Europea. Last year Rafi Ahmed and Christian Larsen were elected to the Institute of Medicine. Debra Watkins Bruner, appointed this year by President Obama to the National Cancer Advisory Board, was the top NIH-funded nurse researcher in the world for two years running from 2012 to 2013 and from 2013 to 2014.

Moreover, Emory has made recent strides not just in growth in numbers but also in breadth in representation. Prior to 2009, all Emory faculty elected to the American Academy were male and solely from the natural and health sciences (with the exception of former President Jimmy Carter). In the past five years, Emory has seen robust new representation in the humanities. These awardees include Brooks Holifield from Candler School of Theology and three faculty members from literature: Shoshana Felman from French and Comparative Literature, Ronald Schuchard from English, and Trethewey from English and Creative Writing.

Momentum continues to build. Last year, the largest cohort ever of Emory faculty was elected to the American Academy, doubling the previous record of two in one year. Last year saw the election of James Curran from the Rollins School of Public Health, David Eltis in History, Carol Worthman in Anthropology, and Stephen Warren in the School of Medicine.

Strengthening faculty distinction

The strategic plan also focused on recruiting and keeping promising faculty who would advance scholarship for decades ahead. Instrumental in advancing interdisciplinary scholarship were the plan's cross-cutting themes, Confronting the Human Condition and Human Experience and Exploring New Frontiers in Science and Technology. The university-wide commitment to interdisciplinary studies, in turn, helped attract a major, multi-year Mellon Foundation grant to support the hiring of young faculty at the intersection of the humanities and natural, health, and social sciences and professions. To date, this grant has resulted in 10 faculty appointments.

A foundation of the recruitment effort was the first plank of the strategic plan: Strengthening Faculty Distinction. Funding from this theme has contributed to the recruitment and retention of nearly 50 faculty members to date -- far too many to thoroughly introduce here. However, to give a sense of the range of their collective work and how they are transforming scholarship and Emory, consider the following.

Mary Dudziak in the School of Law is a leading scholar of the constitution and national security issues. Jacob Wright came from the University of Heidelberg to the Candler School of Theology to teach Hebrew Bible and the history and archaeology of ancient Israel. Haian Fu at the School of Medicine directs the Emory Chemical Biology Discovery Center and is pioneering new pathways to deliver medicines to fight cancer and other diseases. Gary Miller in the Rollins School of Public Health has developed the new concept of the "exposome," the environmental equivalent of the genome.

In Emory College of Arts and Sciences, anthropologist Peter Little studies globalization and the economic development of East Africa and has been instrumental in launching Emory's Program in Development Studies. Deboleena Roy, with appointments in both Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, integrates biology with feminist studies. Her research has been supported by a grant from the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative where she developed a training program for graduate students in biomedicine and bioengineering. Students in the initiative examine the social implications of synthetic biology while simultaneously conducting bench research.

These faculty and many of their colleagues will likely stay in the news as they advance scholarship and contribute to positive change in society. As they challenge us to think in new ways, they are realizing the vision first announced a decade ago in Where Courageous Inquiry Leads. Along with this aspiration, another has been realized for Emory. In 2003, the profile for the new presidential search declared that Emory is poised to provide national and international leadership in higher education. Recalling those words recently, President Wagner noted, "Emory is no longer poised, it has sprung."