I can hardly believe the year that has just passed. At the beginning of it I would never have imagined that people would stop and praise me for my mastery of Robert’s Rules of Order or for my leadership on campus. A year ago today I’d never read RRO and I was still very much a newcomer to my campus. But then this past September the dean of Emory’s College of Arts and Sciences announced a roster of cuts to undergraduate and graduate programs and everything for me changed.
One of the programs he cut was one that my husband was teaching in as a senior lecturer, so that was an immediate incentive. I suppose I could have then gone to the dean and tried to strike a deal, but I didn’t. It seemed better to stand up on principle for everyone so affected, not just those with my particular circumstances. I got deeply involved because I’m a democrat all the way down, and the long-standing principles of faculty governance call for faculty control of the curricula. Emory’s administration just swatted that principle away as if it were a gnat. I find this abominable.
So I got deeply involved in the newly reconstituted Emory chapter of the American Association of University Professors. And I spoke up often during faculty meetings and occasionally on the college faculty listserv. And I posted a bit on this blog about what was going on.
Colleges and universities across the country and the world are under financial pressure. But the stupidest thing they can do is cut programs. This is the time to expand the crucial role of higher education not the time to shrink it. The leaders of my U are definitely leaning stupid. Buck up, guys. Get it together. Don’t succumb to the marketization of the university.
I’m hopeful that our new provost, a gal, Claire Sterk, can help Emory chart a better direction. And maybe the board of trustees will wake from their deep slumber and realize that they have some fiduciary responsibility to make sure that the bylaws of the university, which guarantee its nonprofit status and its accreditation with SACS, are actually being followed–but which are not.
And here’s link to Emory’s board of trustees.
Emory University President Jim Wagner’s recent piece in the Emory Magazine has created a huge stir because it invoked the 3/5 compromise (between the US North and South around slavery — leading slaves to be counted as 3/5 of a person) as a model of compromise during polarized political times, such as we have now. I won’t be surprised if this huge gaffe of Wagner’s — and his entire office — gets him fired. Better, he should just resign. But in the twitter firestorm that has ensued, little attention has been paid to the supposed polarization he was really pointing to: those who think the liberal arts are integral to human flourishing and those who don’t.
At Emory of late we have had many discussions about the ideal—and the reality—of the liberal arts within a research university. All of us who love Emory share a determination that the university will continue trailblazing the best way for research universities to contribute to human well-being and stewardship of the earth in the twenty-first century. This is a high and worthy aspiration. It is tempered by the hard reality that the resources to achieve this aspiration are not boundless; our university cannot do everything we might wish to do, or everything that other universities do. Different visions of what we should be doing inevitably will compete. But in the end, we must set our sights on that higher goal—the flourishing liberal arts research university in service to our twenty-first-century society.
As shocking as Wagner’s invocation of the 3/5 compromise to make a point is, let’s not lose sight of the point he was trying to make: that maybe the value of the liberal arts should be compromised. That is the issue he is addressing. But if there’s a debate on the value of the liberal arts, let’s have that debate. But rather than do so, the Emory University administration has been unilaterally deciding the outcome of this question. The vast majority of programs chosen for closure in the recent cuts at Emory have been in the arts and humanities. Rather than any open opportunity to come to a collective compromise, the process for the decisions (consulting a committee sworn to silence, which never kept minutes, and hugely underrepresented faculty in the humanities) compromised any chance that those targeted in the humanities could have their say.
So, in sum, Emory’s president uses an egregious example to make a case for compromise but is not in fact interested in real compromise at all.
Emory President James Wagner gave his annual State of the University address last week. For those, like me, who weren’t able to attend, here are some links.
First, click here to read the story in the student newspaper plus comments.
University President James W. Wagner engaged in heated discussions with faculty, staff and students at the ninth annual State of the University Address Tuesday evening.
Second, a link to the youtube video of the address itself (minus the heated question and answer session).
And third a link to an audio file of the Q&A.