Reviewing the Facts on Emory’s Cuts

In a “revisioning fact sheet” published December 7, 2012, on Emory University’s news page following student protests, the Emory College administration gave a brief account of the rationale and process for its plan to close and reorganize programs “in order to reallocate funds to support others areas of the arts and sciences program.” The first five “facts” offered an account of how the process followed the bylaws and appropriate consultation. I believe these claims warrant another look.  The claims listed below are taken verbatim from the administration’s fact sheet. The alternate account below each claim draws on documents from college and university governance, open letters from and to various official bodies, AAUP documents, and news accounts.  I had help from a few other faculty members in writing this up.  I invite others to use the comments section to make further corrections, both to the university’s account and to the alternative account I am offering. It is indeed a very complicated story.

Claim: The process was guided by the bylaws adopted by Emory College of Arts and Sciences faculty 11 years ago.

Counter-Claim: The ECAS bylaws allow the Governance Committee (GovCom) to appoint a subcommittee.  On 2/11/2009 GovCom announced that it had formed a subcommittee named the College Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC), which previously had been an ad hoc committee appointed by the dean after the financial crisis of Fall 2008.[1]  Per the minutes of the 2/11/2009 meeting, in its new incarnation the subcommittee CFAC would report to GovCom. But in the intervening years all the duly elected members of GovCom did not receive reports from its subcommittee. According to the minutes of its April 2011 meeting, one member of GovCom, Michael Sullivan, “expressed the concern that although this committee reports to GovCom, much of its discussion is deemed confidential. Thus GovCom is seen to be responsible for a committee while being kept in the dark about its work.”  (See these minutes from the April 20, 2011 meeting of GovCom.) While it is true that the bylaws allow the GovCom to appoint a subcommittee and that there are no provisions in the bylaws for how this subcommittee should be constituted or how long its members should serve, that the full GovCom was not apprised of its subcommittee’s work raises questions about how well it could oversee the subcommittee or report to the faculty what was happening.

Without regular and full reports from CFAC to GovCom, GovCom gave only sporadic and brief reports in its minutes to the faculty. (See GovCom minutes on Blackboard.) Moreover, the membership of the CFAC subcommittee of GovCom is not listed on the GovCom’s webpage or in its folder on blackboard, making it difficult for the faculty as a whole to know or inquire about the process. And according to a story in the Emory Wheel, the chair of CFAC had at times purposely deceived faculty members who inquired about the process. This lack of communication departs from the mandate laid out in Article V of the bylaws that GovCom and the other standing committees have (exempting a specified few per Article 5, Sect. 2, H) to communicate with the faculty as a whole.

Emory University bylaws state in Article IV Section 1 that the faculty has “responsibility for… and jurisdiction over” curricula and instructional programming, while Section 2 states that the administration is responsible to “exercise leadership in the development of educational policies and programs.”  Together these statements articulate the principle of shared governance, which is at the core of the statement on governance agreed to in 1966 jointly by AAUP, the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB).  Emory University is a member of both ACE and AGB.

Claim: The process has taken more than three years and involved appropriate consultation with duly elected faculty committees.

Counter-Claim: Appropriate consultation would have followed the principle laid out in section 2 of the Statement on Joint Government of Colleges and Universities:

The framing and execution of long-range plans, one of the most important aspects of institutional responsibility, should be a central and continuing concern in the academic community. Effective planning demands that the broadest possible exchange of information and opinion should be the rule for communication among the components of a college or university. The channels of communication should be established and maintained by joint endeavor. Distinction should be observed between the institutional system of communication and the system of responsibility for the making of decisions.

The shortcomings in full communication described above seem contrary to the Statement’s call for “the broadest possible exchange of information and opinion” within the Emory College of Arts and Sciences.

The situation is even more problematic with the decisions made by the dean of the Laney Graduate School. LGS’s governance structure calls for consultation with Directors of Graduate Study, an elected Executive Council, and an Appointments Committee. In an open letter to AAUP and the LGS faculty, sent to the LGS Dean on November 15, 2012, members of the LGS Executive Council, which bears responsibility for long term program development and planning, expressed dismay that they had never been consulted.

In addition to open communication with the faculties and representatives of the college and the graduate school, appropriate consultation would have also included many other faculty bodies:  the Provost’s commission on the liberal arts, the collective of department and program chairs, and the Humanities, Science, Social Science and Arts Councils, not to mention the full faculty or members of affected departments themselves.

Claim: Consultation appropriately involved faculty rather than students, since faculty have authority over the curriculum.

Counter-Claim: As noted above, consultation did not appropriately involve faculty. If it had been an appropriate process, students should have been welcome to participate. As the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities states,

When students in American colleges and universities desire to participate responsibly in the government of the institution they attend, their wish should be recognized as a claim to opportunity both for educational experience and for involvement in the affairs of their college or university. Ways should be found to permit significant student participation within the limits of attainable effectiveness.

Claim: The authorized faculty committees have endorsed both the process and the outcome.

Counter-Claim: As noted above, the LGS Executive Council has explicitly stated that it was never consulted. Moreover, College faculty have repeatedly questioned aspects of the process. Even former Provost Earl Lewis noted during his address to College faculty on Oct. 30, 2012, that “the process was flawed” although he deemed the outcomes to be correct.

Claim: These decisions and the process by which they were reached have been endorsed by the Provost, the President, and the Board of Trustees of the University. The Board also recently reaffirmed its support for the decision, the process, and the work of the deans of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Laney Graduate School.

Counter-Claim: While these decisions do have endorsement from the upper administration, on December 12, 2012, the Emory College faculty voted in favor of a motion to appoint an independent, faculty review of the process leading to the decisions.

[1] At the meeting of the GovCom held earlier the same day, according to minutes of the meeting, the committee was considering whether or not to make the CFAC a separate standing committee. In the end it passed a unanimous resolution to make it a subcommittee.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.


  1. Hey Noelle,
    This is straight up inspiring work on your part. Being in a “cut” department at Emory we have felt left out and in the dark, and to be honest already dismissed (sympathetically of course) by some of our colleagues at the college. Having faculty stand up and put their intellectual skills to work on the ferreting out what happened takes courage and time, and we are thankful to know that at least some of our colleagues (hopefully more than we know) are willing to stand up for process, principle, and for others.
    I look forward to thanking you in person.
    Aiden Downey
    Educational Studies

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