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Vision, Principles, and Ebola

Vision, Principles, and Ebola

The Ebola virus, sadly, was in the news in 2014.  Emory University's president, James W. Wagner, wrote about his institution's role in treating the virus in the November/December issue of Trusteeship. A portion of the article is excerpted below; you can read the full article here.

Since late July, when Emory University was asked to receive and care for two medical missionaries who had contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia, I have often been asked what role the Emory board or I played in deciding that we should accept these patients at our hospital. After all, this was wholly unfamiliar territory: Until that time, there had never been a known Ebola patient in the Western hemisphere. Beyond the extreme caution and strict protocols required to care for the patients and ensure the safety of our healthcare workers and the community, we faced the possibility of negative public reaction and understandable fear about possible risks. How was the leadership of Emory weighing those issues?

My consistent reply, probably surprising and disappointing to many, is that the leadership of the university played virtually no immediate role in saying yes to the request; rather, we quite deliberately set the stage years ago. Naturally the leadership of Emory Healthcare, our university-owned system of hospitals and clinics, was fully engaged, and faculty-physicians as well as nursing administrators were involved in preparations. But when the mission, guiding principles, and ethical standards of a university are widely understood and adopted throughout the institution, presidents and boards do not need to weigh in on every matter of importance. None of this is to say that our board members were merely passive spectators who had no role in rising to the challenge presented to us.

In fact, Emory could not have met this challenge without the vision and foresight of generations of trustees past.

As an example, I point to the presence of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adjacent to Emory’s main campus. It was the vision of the Emory board and others some 60 years ago that made it possible for the university to convey the land for that federal agency, keeping it in Atlanta and bringing it close enough to the university for significant partnerships to bloom.

As a community of privileged people, a university bears a burden of responsibility. The events of this summer and fall that thrust Emory into the spotlight and under the global news-media microscope are, to my thinking, an example of shouldering that burden. While exercising appropriate caution, we chose to try to rise to the vision that the Emory community had adopted. In that light, it was an easy decision, and our university, especially our amazing medical team, was the epitome of grace under pressure.

Read the full article, "Vision, Principles, and Ebola," in the November/December issue of Trusteeship.
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