Contradictions Have Come to the Fore

This past Friday’s abrupt and ineffectual negotiations between the Student Re-Visioning Committee (SRC) and President James Wagner, Dean Robin Forman, and Vice President Gary Hauk is the most recent expression of nearly three months of widespread campus and community opposition to the September 14th cuts. Students were shocked by the flawed process and faulty principles behind the elimination and suspension of various programs and departments, frustrated by the bromides and non-answers offered by administrators at various informational sessions, and troubled by the wider implications for their own education, the values of shared governance, and the future of Emory University. It is out of this tumult that the SRC emerged.

Through a widely-attended and democratic cross-campus consultation process, as well as extensive research into governance documents and administrative meeting minutes, the SRC produced three demands: (1) Reversing the cuts, (2) Formal and meaningful student, faculty and staff participation on all key decision-making bodies, and (3) Full disclosure and investigation of the entire proceedings that led to these cuts.

Since September, the SRC has organized to raise its concerns to the Emory administration in a number of ways. We have held public meetings on a weekly basis, planned three large campus demonstrations, tabled consistently during Wonderful Wednesdays, and challenged President Wagner with pertinent questions at the State of the University address. We have also given numerous interviews with local and national media, and hand-delivered letters articulating our questions and positions to Dean Forman and President Wagner’s representative, Mr. Hauk. Our efforts have consistently hit a wall of silence and misdirection. To our letter, for example, which was published in the Wheel, President Wagner responded with obfuscations that avoided the central issues, while Dean Forman did not respond at all.

After months of fruitlessly trying to engage the administration in a substantive re-visioning of the process and content of these cuts, the SRC elected to escalate. On Tuesday December 4th, hundreds of Emory students, faculty, staff, and community members walked out of classes and offices to rally on the main quadrangle, with over 120 later staging a sit-in of the Administration building’s fourth floor. Our intent was to force the administration to take serious our positions in order to work towards addressing the unrest on campus. While initially threatening arrest, Mr. Hauk later offered a meeting between a small group and President Wagner. Through a democratic process, this offer was accepted and delegates were selected to begin talks. Yet the only result of over three-and-a-half hours of negotiations on Tuesday was the scheduling of another session later in the week. Though dissatisfied, and with television and print media watching, we in the SRC accepted that postponement in good-faith and accordingly lifted the sit-in as a gesture of good will.

On Friday, however, the administration quickly undercut the spirit of this past agreement. Hours before the meeting, officials locked down the Administration building and bolstered the number of visible police on campus. There were also numerous uniformed and plainclothes officers throughout the Candler Library building where the negotiations took place. In addition to this blatant intimidation, when the SRC team arrived and requested either the presence of outside media or permission to make an electronic recording in the interests of transparency, Mr. Hauk denied both requests. Although unilaterally recording the meeting was within the bounds of the law, the SRC nonetheless respected these refusals and proceeded with the talks. During the negotiations, the administrators also complained that their outline was not being followed, although the focus was to be the SRC’s three demands – a shared item on both proposed agendas. More importantly, President Wagner had assured the SRC on Tuesday that students, and not administrators, would set the agenda for Friday.

Despite all of this, we will not be drawn into a prolonged and ultimately distracting dispute over the atmosphere surrounding these negotiations alone. For anyone interested in following the details, the SRC has provided comprehensive notes to be published in the Wheel and later linked to on our Facebook page, blog and Twitter feed. We suspect that the administration would like nothing more than to again avoid addressing the issues at hand by simply running out the clock. We therefore mention the above tactics less as a complaint and more as a lesson for others who will undoubtedly challenge unresponsive authorities and their culture of opacity in the future.

The critical issue at present, then, is that opposition to these cuts can neither be denied out of existence nor ignored into silence. The administration must realize that there is a serious problem at the university and that the present state of affairs cannot continue. In fact, the administration’s own position reveals a contradiction that tacitly acknowledges the merits of the SRC demands. During the negotiations, President Wagner rejected the first demand to reverse the cuts and was ambivalent towards the third demand for disclosure and investigation. Yet he did admit that the second demand of formal and meaningful participation, albeit reduced to “student engagement,” was important and necessary. If that is indeed the case, if there ought to be student engagement on all decision-making bodies – which there was not for these cuts – by what logic can that be limited to a distant future and not applied to the current impasse? We ask: how can President Wagner agree with the SRC that students and faculty should be meaningfully and formally engaged in deciding the university’s future but not its present? To sequester an earlier decision from reconsideration – cuts that are both the cause of so much opposition across campus and yet to be fully implemented – reflects a troubling rigidity and unwillingness to broaden the vision of the university. It also provokes the question of the Emory community’s confidence in its leadership.

An equally disconcerting point mentioned by President Wagner during Friday’s negotiations was the likelihood of more changes to come. The administration is already trying to force a first round of misguided cuts through a secretive, illegitimate, and hurtful process. Given the current lack of shared governance and the administration’s obstinacy towards reviewing their previous actions, what is there to stop further waves of cuts and closures from being enacted in this same manner? The message should be clear: no department, no faculty and no students are immune from the possibility of their lives and scholarship being turned upside down by a handful of unaccountable individuals. The distinction between “affected” and “unaffected” is thus a fallacy conjured up to perpetuate division, selfishness and apathy. Against this, we in the SRC believe that only by honestly addressing and correcting the manifold problems of these cuts can the administration begin to recover its credibility to move forward in a different direction. It is this re-visioning, which entails harnessing the energy, creativity and expertise of the entire Emory community, which can make our university a truly world-class and innovative institution.

We therefore remain committed to our three demands and will not allow opposition to these cuts to be dismissed, co-opted, or suppressed. Our campaign will not end with the turn of the calendar, but rather 2013 will witness a renewed commitment and effort to produce a genuinely participatory and inclusive university. The SRC will continue to mobilize in order to build a university that not only fulfills but exceed its own potential.

The statement was drafted by Andrew Zonderman and Navyug Gill, both graduate students in the history department and both members of the SRC negotiation team. The statement is officially-endorsed by the Student Re-visioning Committee. 

  • We.

    The spirit and humanity of those in the photo capture the beauty of Emory University.

    Emory University should be guided by this spirit and this humanity.

    #OurUniversity

  • Patrick Blanchfield

    As a member of the seven-person SRC negotiating team, I would like to address two issues in relation to Friday’s events. First is the issue of transparency and the character of the administration’s repeated refusals to allow for objective record of our interactions with them in the form of an audio tape. Second is the question of “education” and the rather puzzling understanding of that concept displayed by the administration at Friday’s negotiations and in their comments since.

    First, the issue of transparency as it relates to Friday’s meeting happening behind closed doors, and sans the objective record that an audio tape would have provided. In Georgia, there is no legal grounds for forbidding someone to record a conversation (see the specific provisions beneath Title 16, Chapter 11, Article 3, Part I of Georgia Code §§ 16-11-62(1), 16-11-66 ). You can certainly refuse to participate in a conversation that one party opts to record – although the recording party doesn’t even need to disclose their intention! – but that’s not how Friday played out. As a gesture of good faith before the meeting started, the SRC team asked if the administrators were comfortable with our recording the proceedings. In response, Emory VP Gary Hauk, with an armed police officer and a security office standing behind him, said “No, you may not.” Rather than not consenting, which was his right, he forbade, which was not. In this instance, as in several others, the university appears to demonstrate a rather perplexing attitude towards student expression and dialogue. All their offers to “give students a voice” appear as top-down gestures of power that ignore the rather self-evident facts that students already *have* voices, and that their right to them is not a privilege granted by administrative authority. I am deeply troubled by this attitude.

    Second of the issue of “education.” As quoted elsewhere in the Wheel’s coverage, Mr. Hauk appears extremely indignant at how the negotiation team invoked the concept of education in our opening statements. Mr. Hauk perhaps did not recognize that that word choice was in fact precisely the same as that used by Dean Forman during his meeting with the SGA this past September. At the time, Mr. Forman repeatedly deferred questions from the student audience by saying that his primary purpose at that event was to “educate you [us] about the college plan.” Those who attended that meeting at the time may also recall that Forman’s “education” on the plan ran so long that he was lamentably unable to actually take any of the audience questions which he had promised to field once said process of “education” was complete. It is possible, of course, that Mr. Hauk was unaware of that particular episode. But I strongly doubt that the other part of the statement with which the team opened Friday’s negotiations was unfamiliar to him. In fact, our stated aim of “fostering a deeper understanding of the situation on Emory’s campus” borrowed directly from the University’s “Statement Regarding the December 7th Meeting” published in the Wheel earlier on Friday. In that document, Mr. Forman’s office stated that “The president and dean are looking forward to fostering a deeper understanding of how these decisions were reached and to a productive discussion of the ways in which students, faculty and administrators can continue to work together to implement the Emory College Plan over the next four years.” Setting aside how this particular framing represents a particularly gross distortion of the SRC’s understanding of the outcome of its meeting with President Wagner on Tuesday, it is perhaps more striking that the Hauk et. al. should find themselves so deeply indignant and offended when they find themselves on the receiving end of the very same language and tone with which they had previously patronized both the SRC and the Emory community more broadly.

    This brings me to my final point. The mockery and umbrage with which Messrs. Hauk and Forman appear to have dismissed the very possibility that we students might have something to teach *them* indexes a profoundly misguided understanding of what education truly is and should be. Education is not an exclusively top-down enterprise, nor should it be a heavy-handed and authoritarian one. My own experiences of nearly a decade of teaching at multiple institutions and in various contexts have driven home to me that “education” is a fundamentally collaborative, dialogic process. Students learn from each other as well as from their teachers, and at Emory in particularly I feel that I have learned just as much, if not more, from my students than what I might have taught them. Yet on Friday our interlocutors did not seem attuned to those dynamics. Never mind that on Friday the administrators appeared surprised at how much we already knew about the processes behind the cuts or Emory’s governance bylaws and history –- the fact that they seemed to think that the only possible educational traffic at our meeting could have been one-directional, with their edifying *us* while we were to passively sop up their wisdom and ultimately abandon the error of our misguided ways, bespeaks a deep arrogance and blindness as to the very enterprise of education which they are supposed to safeguard and nurture. “They just don’t get it yet,” said Forman on Friday, dismissing the continued and escalating dissent on campus as so much misdirection and ignorance. I for one have to wonder if maybe it’s them who don’t.

  • Emory Alum ’10

    The content of the meeting notes is shocking – not just in terms of what the admins say, but how casually they appear to say it. What is going on at Emory????

  • There’s a lot more of this to come

    CLICK ON THE BLUE LINK. It’s awesome. It’s infuriating. It’s hilarious. It is a must-read for this holiday season.

  • Thought Leader, My Thought Leader

    [Here’s a taste:]

    Professor Jason Francisco: I think that for the moment we can table the GovCom discussion, though there’s much more to be said about it. And anecdotal evidence from email inboxes is also something we can put aside for now. The bottom line is that the proposed cuts simply don’t have sufficient buy-in from the faculty and students, and the media coverage is increasing everyone’s awareness of that. You are implementing a vision, but you haven’t developed anything close to consensus or sufficient buy-in.

    James Wagner: One of the letters I got from a thought leader at Emory stated just the opposite.

    Student: What is a “thought leader?”

    James Wagner: You’re asking what a thought leader is?

    Student: A “thought leader”? What kind of term is that?

    James Wagner: (patronizingly): A thought leader is a leader of thought.

    [ You can also find the PDF pages scanned and viewable for your browser, or available as a downloadable PDF here: http://bit.ly/VCXVEo.

  • ellen

    I’ve tried to carefully understand the issues and positions reflected in the disagreement about the departmental changes at Emory. For a while, I felt like I was able to follow the positions of both sides and could understand why sincere people differ. But lately, the numerous articles in the Emory Wheel are so full of vitriolic rhetoric that I’m losing affinity for the student protesters. I believe that many “silent” students and faculty are tired of the self righteous rage and register their exhaustion by distancing themselves. If student protesters want to influence people to support their cause, sound rational and thoughtful. Win people by making convincing arguments. I believe you are in the process of losing your supporters as you escalate your accusations and get off topic. Do something useful and helpful to others instead of simply restating your outrage in new and increasingly disrespectful tones.

    • confused

      Are they losing supporters? Didn’t they just stage a rally/sit-in last week with 200 participants?

    • GSAS AP

      Have you read the notes from the Friday meeting, Ellen? The delegates were incredibly respectful, rational, and well-informed. The bit that Hauk and Forman found most disrespectful (the language of education) was actually the SRC people quoting the administration’s own press release back to them!

    • Seems fishy.

      Ellen, the students have been clear, rational and evidence based in their rhetoric, questions and approach. Your assertion is certainly not based in fact and you sound like you are pushing the administration’s most recent tactic to paint the students as the aggressors.
      The administration made the first attack by undemocratically cutting academic programs and departments. People’s jobs would be lost. Integral academic programs would be gone forever.
      Secondly, the administration has not hesitated to call in armed police officers to actively engage with and monitor Emory students. That is intimidation.
      It is curious how you are not concerned with the use of armed police forces to intimidate SRC students yet are concerned that this mystical silent majority has been kept hushed.

  • grad student

    Ellen, what would you suggest they do?

  • Alum ’12

    I disagree with Ellen; I think that SRC’s points have been valid, reasonable, and sufficiently respectful given the circumstances. If their rhetoric appears increasingly vitrolic it is because the administration’s intransigence has left them no other alternative. However, she raises a valid point. Even if this sort of rhetoric is called for given the administration’s behavior, the organization cannot alienate its student base (i.e. people like Ellen) if it expects to win.

    • SRC member

      SRC meetings are open to all interested members of the Emory community, and announced publicly on twitter or facebook. Those interested in participating in the discussion are always welcome. I disagree with the claim that the SRC is alienating its student base – it’s a dynamic and democratic group. More voices are always welcome.

  • DZ

    when did respect, reasonableness, and sensibility in discussions with those wronging you become overarching criteria of validity? emotions and passions, consternation and frustration, disappointment, and even some indignation, are not bad things. people are getting screwed over here. and the university is making decisions in an opaque, exclusive way for sheisty reasons. (“am i the only one seeing this? i feel like i’m taking crazy pills”). if bunk decisions are being made that adversely affect folks… it seems ok… to get a little mad. some might even say it’s necessary, or at least an indication of some sort of vitality.

  • Biggest Question Still Not Answered

    Notice how, when the student reps mentioned the disparity between the different administrators’ characterization of the cuts, the administrators promptly sidestepped the question.

    Are these “cuts” or “re-allocations?” And if they are cuts, why were the represented as re-allocations?

  • Wencong Chen

    What are some of the EFFECTIVE or CREATIVE ways of STAGING A PROTEST you would suggest?

    Guys, lets contribute some ideas here. I will start off, since the protest is only limited within the Emory campus, the scale of impact is directly under control of the school administration. Let’s bring it to the city or national level, let more people become aware of our situation, and use outside support to place more pressure on the administration. One way of protest I would suggest is,

    1.have one student representing each department or program that will be eliminated, have them all lined up, kneeling down in a begging position in Olympic Park right outside of CNN,

    2. each one of them have a sign in their neck, “HELP! – Aspiring Photographer”, “HELP! – Aspiring Economist”, “HELP! – Aspiring Journalist”, “HELP! – Aspiring Painter”, “HELP! – Aspiring Educator”, etc.

    3. Then have their Emory ID on the ground in front of them, and their best work next to the ID (can be a painting, a sculpture, an introduction of an academic paper, an explanation of his/her dream or career goal),

    4. then with a huge printout explaining Emory’s Elimination, and there will be a very large blank space on the printout.

    5. Next to the printout, have many stickynotes and pens available, asking the people watching to write their reactions and thoughts down, and stick their notes on the blank space of the printout.

    6. Before staging the protest, let’s call all our friends in the media to come and report this.

    7. Such activity can be simultaneously staged in different cities by Emory Alumni or friends who are genuinely concerned!!!!