A Letter to the Board of Trustees

To the Emory University Board of Trustees:

We write as leaders of the Emory faculty, representing departments and programs slated to be eliminated or cut by the forthcoming curricular changes announced by Dean Robin Forman on Sept. 14, 2012. We know that the Board is a stakeholder in this historic decision, having formally ratified the plan prior to its public disclosure. For this reason, we believe it is imperative that the Board understand the impact of the position it has endorsed, that it register a plurality of perspectives on the situation that the announcement has created, and that it proceed with more rather than less information.

We hasten to make clear that we are realistic about the fiscal exigencies that Emory College faces. We applaud Dean Forman for the diligence he has brought to the budgetary crisis that has plagued the College since the global financial collapse of 2008, and we likewise recognize that the College’s financial model must change.

To the extent that the Board has played a role in eliminating the College’s $12 million operating deficit, we are grateful. Like the Dean, the central administration, the Board and not least — our students, we too wish to see Emory thrive as one of the nation’s great universities in the 21st century. We strongly believe, however, that the recently announced plan will weaken Emory. Our principal reasons are as follows.

First, the changes significantly undermine Emory’s commitment to the liberal arts, whose core tasks remain essential to higher education: the development of critical thinking, independent mindedness, and free inquiry into the human and natural worlds we inhabit.

In the disbanding of the graduate program of the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts, Emory loses one of the few explicitly interdisciplinary Ph.D programs in the United States, whose work is vitally intertwined with graduate faculties and students across the academy.

In closing the Journalism program with its Cox-endowed chair, Emory divests itself of core area of critical, participatory citizenship, in one of the most important cities for media production in the world.

Suspension of the graduate program in Spanish and Portuguese and limitations on Russian, Hindi and Persian language instruction run counter to Emory’s stated commitment to internationalization and a globalist outlook. The decisions threaten to impoverish students from many disciplines for whom language and culture is fundamental, and suggest a disturbing move toward monolingual education.

In eliminating the Division of Educational Studies, Emory loses one of the top producers of African-American Ph.Ds in the nation for the last 20 years, whose work is vital to the legacy of the Civil Rights movement in Atlanta, regionally and nationally.

In eliminating the Visual Arts Department, Emory alone among its peer institutions denies the deep relevance of creative work in the arts to critical thinking — and does so just as Harvard, Stanford and Duke have recently announced new initiatives in cross disciplinary research in the arts, the sciences and the humanities.

In short, we believe that the cuts and closures send precisely the wrong message to the high-caliber faculty and graduate students we want to recruit, and to our peers across the country and the world. That message is that Emory is a place of narrow rather than broad academic opportunity, that its intellectual environment is increasingly desiccated, and that its own venerable liberal arts foundation is structurally vulnerable. Second, these decisions result from a deeply undemocratic process that has prompted widespread controversy. For us as faculty, many troubling details have emerged about the lack of administration consultation with faculty over the cuts and closures.

We have learned of the extensive but deliberately secretive consultative activities of the College Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC), which failed to provide mandated reports to its overseeing body, the Governance Committee, and which ostensibly decided not even to keep minutes of its own meetings.

We have discovered a pattern of opaque communication, and indeed patently disingenuous oral and written responses from the College Office in departmental planning sessions, in case after case praising the targeted “weak” departments, even into Spring 2012 meetings for AY 2012-2013.

We have been unable to obtain the data and information that the College Office used as evidence in making its decisions, though we do know the history of errors in the College Office’s previous reports to us about our own teaching and professional activities.

We see that the administration deliberately did not consult with existing faculty deliberative bodies in its re-visioning planning, most importantly the Humanities, Social Sciences and Science Councils (comprised of the chairs of departments in these divisions), and the Commission on the Liberal Arts. The latter specifically charged in February 2012 by Provost Lewis “to take a broad and deep look at liberal arts education at Emory over the next quarter century.”

Grave concern about the administration’s failure to consult more extensively and to engage diverse viewpoints is shared by faculty across the campus. Strikingly low attendance at the Oct. 25 reception for Arts and Sciences faculty at the Carter Center was a resounding expression of this concern, as was the overflowing attendance at a highly-charged special meeting of the College faculty and Dean Forman on Oct. 3. At that meeting, to our shock, faculty were blamed for non-participation in a process that was specifically designed to be opaque and exclusionary. In addition to challenges by many faculty to the adequacy of process, we also note the unprecedented action of students. The Emory Wheel’s persistent reporting has been a key and galvanizing factor in public understanding of events, as evidenced in the long, often-substantive threads of online comments to its articles. Students too took the lead in the Q & A following President Wagner’s recent State of the University address, but their penetrating questions have been omitted from the YouTube version of the event. Third, we believe that the decision-making process was not only ethically wrong — the more painfully and embarrassingly so for an institution whose rhetoric about itself continuously celebrates its superior ethical engagement — but holds serious questions for the university’s governance.

In deliberately foregoing broad and meaningful consultation with the faculty over curricular changes, the administration has effectively proclaimed that the Dean’s responsibility to “exercise leadership in the development of educational policies and programs” (Emory University Bylaws, Article IV, Section 2) trumps the faculty’s “responsibility for … and jurisdiction over” curricula and the instructional, programming (Article IV, Section 1). Such a stance violates Emory’s own tradition of shared governance, and the guidelines of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), opening Emory to national censure.

As one important aspect of that violation, the CFAC issued recommendations to close programs in another unit, the Laney Graduate School (LGS), and LGS Dean Lisa Tedesco implemented CFAC recommendations without bringing proposals to the LGS Executive Committee. This unidirectional process of reallocation, from the administration to the faculty without properly constituted faculty deliberative bodies, represents from our perspective the collapse of a fair process of institutional checks and balances, inaugurating the equivalent of a constitutional crisis.

Altogether, we urge the Board to consider the deleterious effects of the academic losses these cuts and discontinuations will bring, the serious impact on minority and women faculty and students, and the damage to Emory’s institutional culture. We believe that there is palpable sense that we are losing the trust and confidence of key constituencies of the Emory community — faculty, students, parents, alumni and donors — not to mention prospective students. The feedback from those constituencies continues unabated seven weeks after the announcement, and we worry for Emory’s national and international reputation.

We urge the Board to be proactive in endorsing an immediate faculty-led review of these decisions and the processes leading to them, and a halt to the announced changes pending that review. Likewise, we urge the creation of a legitimate, transparent body comprised of faculty and administration to engage in the meaningful long-term institutional planning that Emory College needs.

Respectfully submitted,

Maria Arbatskaya, DGS, Economics and Associate Professor

Kevin Corrigan, Director, ILA and Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities

Jason Francisco, Professor, Visual Arts

Robert Jensen, Chair, Division of Education Studies and Mathematics Education Professor

Julia Kjelgaard, Chair, Visual Arts

Hank Klibanoff, Chair of Journalism and James M. Cox Jr. Professor