Faculty Letter to President Wagner

Dear President Wagner:

The undersigned faculty from the Departments of History and African American Studies at Emory University would like to respond to your article, “As American as … Compromise,” which appeared in the winter 2013 issue of Emory Magazine. While we endorse your plea for civil debate, free exchange and compromise in public affairs, we regret that you chose to illustrate your argument with the infamous three-fifths clause from the Constitution, wherein 55 white men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 concluded that in the “more perfect union” they hoped to create, a slave would count as three-fifths of a person for purposes of representation and taxation. This is the first time that any of us has seen anyone point to the three-fifths clause as an example of what good, right-thinking individuals can accomplish when they avoid ideological fixity. It is also, though we are sure unintended, an insult to the descendants of those enslaved people who are today a vital part of the Emory University community and our nation.

The Constitution is filled with compromises, the most famous of which is the Great Compromise between the Virginia and the New Jersey plans for representation. For two weeks, after nailing the windows shut so that they could speak freely without fear that their words would come back to haunt them, the delegates from the large states and the small states debated their competing views. The result, of course, was that one house in the two-house legislature would be apportioned by population and the other apportioned equally. We believe that the Great Compromise would better serve your argument and avoid the racial denigration inherent in the compromise you chose.

Although the Founders were careful never to use the words “slave” or “slavery,” the Constitution recognized, guaranteed and thereby perpetuated the institution of slavery. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, there were 700,000 enslaved people in the United States; on the eve of the Civil War, there were 4,000,000. Abraham Lincoln recognized that the long string of compromises between South and North was over. In his first inaugural, he identified the issue dividing the nation: “One section of our country believes slavery is right … while the other believes it is wrong …”

When white Americans fully faced the moral issue of slavery, it cost the nation between 620,000 and 750,000 lives. In 1865, the 13th Amendment finally erased slavery and the constitutional provision that a black American was three-fifths of a white American.

The very meaning of the Three-Fifths Compromise still resonates negatively today, and nowhere more strongly than in the African American community. Many African Americans within and outside of the academy see only the most glaring aspect of the compromise — that they were valued only a fraction as much as a white American — no matter for what purpose or the context; and many others abhor the denigration inherent in that failed compromise.

Compromise is necessary to the public good, but we urge you to be careful about the compromises you hold up for emulation. Some compromises don’t hold; others shouldn’t hold. Surely if the goal is to make Emory, and our nation, a “more perfect union” that is inclusive instead of exclusive, and if compromise is a possible model, there are more admirable choices than the Three-Fifths Compromise.

 

James L. Roark 

Leroy Davis 

Mary Odem 

Leslie Harris

Jonathan Prude 

Mark Sanders 

Joseph Crespino 

Nagueyalti Warren

Judith Miller 

Dianne Diakite 

Sharon Strocchia 

Brett Gadsden

Clifton Crais 

Pellom McDaniels 

Astrid M. Eckert 

Randall Burkett

Nathan McCall 

Pamela Scully 

Gyanendra Pandey 

Matthew Payne

Kristin Mann 

Brian Vick 

James Melton 

Yanna Yannakakis

Ruby Lal 

Elena Conis 

Tonio Andrade 

Vanessa Siddle Walker

Cynthia Patterson 

Valerie Loichot 

Fraser Harbutt

  • Wagner’s Blind Spot

    “It is also, though we are sure unintended, an insult to the descendants of those enslaved people who are today a vital part of the Emory University community and our nation.”

    It is indeed doubtful that Wagner consciously intended to insult those people – in fact, he simply didn’t stop to consider them in the first place. Our university President wrote a 750 word essay in a publication that goes to 115,000 alumni subscribers uncritically adopting the perspective of the white powerbrokers who struck the deal, lauding their decision as “honorable” and their motivations as “noble” – without sparing a moment of critical reflection for the perspective of those human beings over whose bodies the deal was cut. His “clarification,” in which he asks how “we” would have voted on the Compromise, only doubles down on this identification, since so many of us who make up today’s Emory wouldn’t have been the agents of a vote on the Compromise but rather its objects – chattel for those with “noble aspirations” to bargain over with *their* votes. There are words for this kind of obliviousness.

  • Dean Forman

    You heard it here first, folks. The next departments to be “restructured” will be History and African American Studies. Congratulations!

  • MoveOn

    Was this really necessary? We get it, it was in poor taste… let’s move on.

    All Wagner was saying was that the constitution is a result of compromise and that compromise is in our history. That’s all. His facts were all correct, nothing he said was wrong. Enough already.

    • Hm

      Seeing what Wagner has done these years makes me wonder if this foot-in-mouth incident could trigger his doom. The anger has been built up for quite a long time and now it’s about time.

    • SAS

      Are you serious? He is the President of an institution of higher learning where education is the sole purpose……and he is a scholar who should know the ramifications of publishing….once it is published, you own it and therefore you should always have it reviewed by a peer or two for other perspectives before you submit to be published!

      No excuse for this and may you can move on but there many decendants and historians that would beg to differ!

  • EmoryStudent

    Thank you African-American Studies and History Department!!!

  • Emory Graduate

    What an elegant response! MoveOn, perhaps you should do as your handle states.

  • c/o2013 grad

    Here, here Emory Graduate and cheers to the African American Studies and History departments!

  • Joan C. Browning

    Emory University Chandler Library was my employer when, in December 1961, I spent 10 days in Albany jails as a Freedom Rider. My papers in MARBL include a memo from Emory’s president stating the university’s position that Emory would admit AfricanAmerican students when Georgia laws permitted it without jeopardizing Emory’s tax-exempt status. I read this president’s alumni magazine commentary just after reading David Waldstreicher’s Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification — and while thinking through a paper in progress about the persistence of (southern) white male entitlement, as demonstrated in my encounters in 1961 -and 2005 with Georgia State College for Women president Dr. Robert E. Lee. Will consider this Emory president’s commentary as an auxiliary example, when will they ever learn?

    • Emory Grad Activist

      Joan would you scan this document and put it online?

    • BC

      Seems like a prudent decision on the unnamed Emory president’s part. If we are gripping about how the recent budget cuts are dooming Emory as an institution of higher learning, then imagine what the repercussions would have been if Emory’s budget was chopped IN HALF. (The corporate tax rate in 1961 was 50.25%) The institution would most likely cease to exist, or at the very least be a magnitude below its current status of one of the few leading centers for higher learning in the South. Whatever complaints one may have about Emory, it would be ludicrous to suggest that the country would be a better place without it.

  • http://www.macknificentwords.com MACK-Nificent Words

    Its thinking like that of this president that resonates in the minds and hearts of so many White males who have little regard for the impact of their comments and acts on Black America. Those Black Americans who look on, seeing that these comments are made and thoughts harbored, with no consequence further confirms the PTSD Slave Mentality that continues to haunt many Black Americans.

    What one must recognize is that much like the Holocaust, the wounds run deep and remain raw but Black America has largely been expected to endure the pain and smile, turning the other cheek as if its over and done.Clearly, its NOT over and done when White men are making comments such as this and cursing Black babies, calling them NI$%ER and slapping them in the face.

  • Harvard Graduate

    This should be seen as an embarrassment, not just to Emory University, but to peer institutions and to academe in general. The Three-Fifths compromise is one of the ugliest moments of hypocrisy and dehumanization in what is paradoxically celebrated as the American “Enlightenment” or as our declaration of “freedom.” Not only does this “Compromise” allude to the inability of blacks to either vote or to be counted as citizens; it takes away their very humanity by considering them to be less than an entire person, even as they are being considered to be mere chattel. What is a person? What is a thing? What does it mean to be an American “subject,” rhetorically or ethically? How was/is American subjectivity constructed such that even today, somebody can refer to this “compromise” as anything other than an atrocity, given that it also allowed for the near-total violation of the human, sexual, economic, and moral rights of the beings whose living, breathing bodies were, in the words of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, turned into “god-breathing machines.”

    I am grateful, at this moment, not to have ever attended or even considered attending Emory University, but I am wondering where the outrage is in the rest of academe and outside of these two Emory departments.

    • Outraged Yet?

      Harvard lost Larry for less. But we’re not actually that eminent.

  • Juan Ramon

    The letter is correct in its argument that there were much better examples to use. More importantly, the argument is not a subtle one that requires academic expertise. Any number of people in the publication process should have picked up on it. None of them brought it to his attention? He ignored them all?

    It would be interesting for the two academic departments represented to follow up on their initial point by considering what would have happened had the 3/5’s compromise not occurred and the Constitution had not been ratified. Given the central role that the U.S. played in the hemisphere and the world, the possibilities are many and intriguing.

  • An Emory Alum

    Wow, beautifully said. I was absolutely shocked when I heard about this. Did his letter not go through an editor before it was published? I can’t believe no one involved in publishing it said “hey, wait a second….”

  • Slavery was Rape-filled Genocide

    This letter is weak. Why not emphasize the number of black lives lost during slavery? Why not tie the issue of racial oppression, discrimination, and economic exploitation to larger problems plaguing Emory (i.e., labor and structural issues); why not finally use this opportunity to call out Emory for its partnership with corporate entities which have heinous effects on minority populations? Killer Coke? I know that you have to start somewhere, but still, this letter takes little risk. It does little more than pad the good conscience of the undersigned departments. “Well, we DID something,” they can say. But did they? Let’s not celebrate yet. I think that remains to be seen.

    • http://anotherdamnedmedievalist.wordpress.com anotherdamnedmedievalist

      I think saying anything is doing something. Whether it’s enough is something else. But as a department alumna, and as a faculty member who has joined in the writing and publication of similar letters, my guess is that this letter probably represents a compromise much like the historic examples pointed to by the authors. I also think that it’s somewhat unfair for an outsider to assess the risk that even signing such a letter can pose for some faculty members, or for the futures of the departments themselves. University administrations the world over have demonstrated that they have no problems with punishing departments by cutting budgets and faculty lines, re-allocating graduate student funding, etc.

      Having said that, I understand your anger and frustration. The letter does a fine job of explaining why the Three-Fifths Compromise is a poor example, but in so doing, it carefully avoids any meaningful discussion — or mention — of race. Frankly, I’m more embarrassed by that than I am by Wagner’s letter.

  • Vivien Sandlund, PhD, Emory University History Department, 1995.

    Compromise is not always good. The 3/5 compromise is an example of a bad compromise. It left slavery intact in a republic that was supposedly free and equal. The compromise effectively prevented political abolition from succeeding by giving southern members of Congress the power to block abolitionist efforts at every turn. While many in the North believed the constitution would allow them to end slavery eventually through the political process, the 3/5 compromise shut their efforts down. The compromise stalemated Congress over slavery and preserved the existing slaveholders’ republic. Because they were blocked from abolishing slavery through the political process, opponents of slavery turned to trying to prevent slavery from expanding in the new territories. This led to the growing sectional divide and violence in Kansas. The Dred Scott ruling then slammed the door on political abolition. Some like John Brown saw violence as the only way to end slavery. And that is how slavery was ultimately abolished. What President Wagner seems not to recognize is that there are issues on which compromise is neither possible nor desirable. Slavery was one of them. As Abraham Lincoln said in 1858, “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.” The 3/5 compromise kept the nation half slave and half free. And because of that, slavery was abolished through terrible bloodshed.

    • Tom

      I’m genuinely curious, Professor Sandlund. Do you believe the Constitution would have been ratified at all by the southern states if the northern position (not counting slaves at all) had succeeded? Might the South have opted instead to form a sovereign union of its own, one that maintained unfettered slavery? Would we have a United States today?

      • Vivien Sandlund, PhD, Emory University History Department, 1995.

        The short answer to your question, Tom, is no. I think the southern states would not have ratified the constitution if the northern delegates had insisted on not counting slaves at all. I think the republic would have split apart at that point. The compromise helped to keep the republic intact for another 73 years, which meant many more decades of children born into slavery. And then, of course, the republic did come apart. Would a split in 1787 have brought about a war? I don’t know. We are into counter-factual history here. The problem, of course, was that there was no way for the delegates to the constitutional convention to abolish slavery and keep all the states in the union. They chose to put aside ending slavery in favor of holding the nation together. Did they choose, as President Wagner wrote, to look beyond “ideology” in service of a “higher aspiration?” It depends on whether you regard keeping the nation together as a higher aspiration than creating a truly free and equal republic.

        We will recall that some of the radical abolitionists later called for “no union with slaveholders.” They viewed universal liberty as a much higher aspiration than maintaining a union with the slave states. Theirs was a deeply held moral position, and many were frustrated that the 3/5 compromise made the use of the political process to abolish slavery impossible.

        Jumping to the issue of today, I think President Wagner’s controversial article, for which he has apologized, dismisses opposition to slavery as a mere “ideology” that should be set aside in favor of compromise for a “higher aspiration.” Why should we regard holding the union together as a higher aspiration than creating a truly free and equal republic? Not everyone who engaged the issue of slavery in that time was willing to dismiss universal liberty in favor of keeping intact a slaveholders’ republic. For President Wagner to hold up as a model for today a flawed compromise that allowed an evil system to persist is not merely foolish. It’s a failure to recognize how terrible slavery really was.

        • Tom

          Thanks for your response, Professor Sandlund. I appreciate that you’ve limited your remarks to addressing my actual questions and not speculated on my own personal morality for asking them. Others on this page might learn from your example.

          And your response does get us to an important question. Which was of greater moral importance: forming a single union or abolishing slavery? That might be an argument worth having. But it sort of begs another question. You’ve rightly said that the compromise kept the union intact. But was it responsible for “many more decades of children born into slavery?” After all, if the North and South had formed separate countries, would a single slave have thus been freed? Would choosing not to compromise have brought us closer to “creating a truly free and equal republic?”

          You’re right, of course. We are speculating on counter-factual history here. I think it’s a useful exercise if only for the purpose of teaching us what the important questions are. But I’m not prepared to condemn Jim Wagner, a man who has done much to try to openly address Emory’s history of racial segregation, for believing that maintaining the union was a worthwhile “higher aspiration.” After all, some of the as-yet unrealized aspirations of those privileged, land-owning white men have inspired many since to continue to work towards perfecting the union for the benefit of all.

        • Trail of Tears

          Lots to speculate on if the 3/5 ‘compromise’ did not occur:
          (1) Slave-holding states form own union and do Indian removal asap. Non-slave-holding nation in the North intervenes to prevent ‘ethnic cleansing’ in neighboring Southern nation.
          (2) Union is formed with lower proportional representation for slave-holding states and Indian Removal Act fails to pass in 1830. [It passed by just 5 votes in the House,102-97.]

  • Justin Musella

    The continuation of this foolish nonsense means the eternal ripping apart of our inner-health. America is dying because of identity politics, political correctness, and liberalism. This “compromise” controversy is a giant irony insofar as we are told not to think of race yet certain groups retain the right to promote and institute the furtherance of their own race. It seems as if the sacred black experience will never perish–it lives in the consciousness of millions of people who despise Western civilization and the EUROPEANS who built it!

    • Diva BMW

      Who says we are not to think of race? Only someone in the dominant “race” could utter such nonsense.

      • Justin Musella

        I repeat your question right back to you–only an absent-minded individual in the “in but not of race” would labor under such delusions

    • Tell Me More!

      “It seems as if the sacred black experience will never perish–it lives in the consciousness of millions of people who despise Western civilization and the EUROPEANS who built it!”

      That is fascinating. But tell me, how does the continued persistent veneration of the “sacred black experience” make you FEEL?

  • shirish waghmode, atlanta ,ga.

    As someone who is familiar with the challenges of exorcising the demeaning and dehumanising effects of the caste system in my country, I understand and endorse your reaction to this discofiting even repellent effort to exhume these long-buried dogmas.It is a thinly veiled effort to use the constitutional gun to fire one’s own bullets and deserves to be strongly excoriated!

  • Greg Eatroff

    Everyone here (including the president of Emory) agrees that slavery was a great social, political, and moral evil. This letter is correct in pointing out there were other examples of compromise which do not remind us of this terrible aspect of our history.

    However no one here has yet made the case that the 3/5 compromise strengthened slavery or worsened conditions for slaves and free blacks compared to the situation under the Articles of Confederation, and no one here has made a case for a better compromise that would have been politically feasible.

    A proportional House of Representatives, even with the 3/5 clause, reduced the power of the slave states from what they held under the “one state, one vote” unicameral legislature that operated under the Articles of Confederation. Unless you can demonstrate that the Constitution could have passed without the 3/5 clause, you’re left with two options: The new balance of power created by the Constitution (3/5 clause included), or the old balance of power which favored the slave power even more.

    In short, while it’s been amply demonstrated that the president of Emory was extremely insensitive to use the 3/5 clause, no one here has made the case that his argument is actually wrong.

    • Tom

      Thank you for this, Greg. I think Salon and Gawker have served Jim Wagner up as some sort of racist in order to generate hits on their websites.

      We should recognize and mourn the fact that it was impossible to abolish slavery by political means in 1787. Recognizing this, the northern states saw fit to maintain the Union and attempt to limit the slave states’ power. Do we fault them for this? If they had insisted on abolishing slavery, would we even have a United States of America today? Would that have been an acceptable price?

      Important questions.

      • Oh Please.

        Definitely important questions! And definitely the place to raise them is in an 750 page article in an alumni fundraising magazine! And totally the way to best do so by taking the brave stance of describing the compromise as unqualifiedly noble and honorable, and without saying a word about the evil of slavery or considering the perspective of the slaves involved!

        Come on. I don’t think anyone here or among Wagner’s critics thinks he believes slavery was a good thing, or that he secretly despises black people. The problem is more that he’s willing to deploy the issue in a pontificating sermon in advocacy of his program cuts, and that he doesn’t really care to think about what black folks and anyone else who isn’t a tone deaf idiot might think about his doing so.

        Though-leader? No. Poltroon? Yes.

        • Tom

          I’d like to believe you’re right, my friend. But I do precisely think that Wagner’s critics — informed solely by inflammatory pieces from Salon and Gawker — believe him to be a racist and sympathizer of slaveholders. (Have you seen the comments on their articles?)

          Can there be a reasonable critique of President Wagner’s essay? Of course. I think many folks are demonstrating that here. But I think much of the media storm has been irresponsibly sensationalized. And I’d like to see more people from the Emory community stand up for him against the character assassins.

          • History Department Alum

            Wagner may not be a racist but his insensitive comments upholding the Three-Fifths compromise as a model has really set Emory University behind in race relations by more than 50 years. In fact, all the gains made under Bill Chase’s presidency have been wiped out by Wagner’s comments and disturbingly revealing thoughts. And for this, I think Wagner should leave.

          • http://transform.emory.edu/ Tom

            I’m sorry, History Department Alum, but I couldn’t disagree more strongly. I find that the very people screaming for Wagner to leave are the ones who know the least about him. While as student at Emory, I actually participated in a community-wide conversation (including faculty, staff, and students) aimed at confronting the legacy of racism and segregation at Emory. This program was called the Transforming Community Project, and it took place largely thanks to financial support from the President’s budget.

        • Tom

          Oh, by the way. I had never heard the word “poltroon” before. Thanks for introducing me to it. I disagree with how you employ it, but I nonetheless give you props for using it.

    • Crafty

      …since when do we need to make the case that his argument is “wrong”? I could analogize Catholic priests to heroin dealers and I wouldn’t be “wrong.”

      That’s not even close to being the main issue here.

  • Ethical Engagement

    The professors’ letter is well-reasoned, but it misses the point that others have made: Wagner’s poorly-chosen analogy is being used to create doublespeak. Many recent decisions have been top-down and non-transparent. Wagner’s analogy implies that equal parties have been at the table trying to work out a compromise so that they can move forward together. Lots of good things are happening at Emory, including the ideals of being in conversation together and being framers together, but the university is not a democracy and there is doublespeak at the top.

  • History Department Alum

    The history department’s response is very timid. Given the magnitude of the implications of the Three-Fifths compromise, the department should have generated a stronger response that explains to the readership how the compromise in fact strengthened slavery in America, perpetuated racism, and worsened conditions for African Americans. Because of the compromise, the U.S. ended up being the last developed nation in the world to formally end slavery on its soil.

    So the idea of President Wagner holding the Three-Fifths as a model of compromise is indeed DESPICABLE. The history department should do better: call a spade a spade.

    • Tom

      “Because of the compromise, the U.S. ended up being the last developed nation in the world to formally end slavery on its soil.”

      I just don’t see how this is true. The compromise didn’t cause this. Could the northern states have abolished slavery? Sure. But there was no political means by which to abolish it in the South, whether before the compromise or after. The southern states simply would not have ratified any constitution that abolished slavery. To think they would have is ridiculous. There was no political way for the abolitionists to win. In the face of that, they compromised to get the best position they could.

      By what other means might slavery, then, have been abolished? War? If that is the case, would you say that the bloody Civil War just should have been fought earlier? A mere decade or so after the Revolution? Okay, then make your case.

      Alternatively, the two parties could have just amicably parted ways. Two separate countries: a northern one that existed without slavery and a southern one that kept it. Okay, perhaps that would have been an option. Is that your case? If so, then defend it. How might it have helped to free any slaves?

      I think many here are confused in thinking that the Three-Fifths Compromise somehow codified that slaves were only morally worth three-fifths of a person. This is folly. In the slave system that existed, slaves had no moral worth at all. This compromise was the best means by which to limit the power of the slaveholding South in the House.

      • wow

        Cool story, bro. So people should calm down because slaves actually had “no moral worth at all”? I heard there might be an opening soon in the communications dept here at Emory – sounds like you’d fit right in.

        • Tom

          Drop dead, jackass. Anyone with a brain can see that you’re distorting my words to paint me in a bad light. I’ll happily debate with anyone who wishes to do so honestly, but as long as you refuse to argue in good faith, you’ll have to do so without me.

          • BC

            I’m with Tom on this one. To “wow”, I think there might be an opening soon at Fox News – sounds like you’d fit right in.

      • Emory LGS Student

        Does anyone else suspect that “Tom” is President Wagner himself? I’ve never heard anyone else argue so vigorously in favor of the three fifths compromise. Whoever you are, I’ll offer the argument you suggest: perhaps it would have been better for the country to have been divided at the beginning rather than have the entire nation accept slavery for so long. Perhaps there would not have been the bloodshed of the Civil War if the founders had dealt with slavery then. Perhaps slavery could have been ended earlier if the North had been a separate country and had treated the South like Apartheid South Africa. I’m not an historian and I’m not sure what would have happened. But from a moral perspective, that compromise was unacceptable. And that compromise undermines the integrity of the Constitution.

        • Tom

          Hi “Emory LGS Student”. I’m a little taken aback by your suggestion that I’m somehow being dishonest about who I am. I am, after all, using an actual first name (which also happens to be my own name), while you’re not even doing that (which is fine, as far as I’m concerned). And if you’ll look back through the comments, you’ll find that all I’ve done is argue a perfectly reasonable historical case. I’m not saying that you therefore should agree with me. Reasonable people can disagree, and that’s fine. But that’s what argumentation is for. Your suggestion that I’m being dishonest doesn’t serve to advance the discussion in any way. And it gives the impression that you think I’m somehow a bad person for making a historical argument with which you disagree.

          That aside, you’ve made a case that perhaps the United States itself was not the greater good. That the abolition of slavery was of more importance than forming a single country. I thank you for actually dealing with my questions (once you got past the irrelevant question of who I am). That said, I’m not convinced that forming two countries would have freed a single slave.

          • BC

            To continue the discussion that “Emory LGS Student” actually engaged in instead of solely name-calling (I give you some respect for that), I would like to point out that the Emancipation Proclamation was in 1863 while Apartheid in South Africa did not end until 1993. So it seems like the path America took was more effective than the international community pressuring South Africa.

          • Embarrassed Alum

            Hi Gary Hauk….sorry I meant “Tom”

        • Embarrassed Alum

          I think “Tom” is Gary Hauk.

          • http://transform.emory.edu/ Tom

            Hi Embarrassed Alum. If you can’t understand why someone might argue for a position that you disagree with unless there’s some ulterior motive, then that’s a reflection on your poor critical thinking skills. It has no bearing on the strength of my arguments, so I’ll just consider you a troll until you begin contributing meaningfully to the discussion.

            Sound fair?

            And it’s Tom. Just Tom. I used to go by TJ, until my family moved next door to my cousin, whose name was DJ, at which point I became Tommy to avoid confusion. When I went to college, my friends decided to just call me Tom. This is what I went by when I met the woman who would become my wife, so it pretty much stuck.

            But you go right ahead and call me whatever you like, troll. It’s your prerogative.

          • wow

            I guess Tom just wishes he were Gary Hauk.

  • History Department Alum

    Wagner has set Emory University behind in race relations by more than 50 years. In fact, he’s erased all the gains made under Bill Chase’s presidency. Emory is now again seen as “that school in the South.” And for this, Wagner should leave.

  • Let’s put it all together

    Even after his apology, I’m still not certain that Wagner grasps what the Three-Fifths Compromise actually was: a compromise of silence between northern and southern elites premised on a mutual acceptance of slavery. Wagner’s praise of the Three-Fifths compromise requires severe ethical blinders, and to me expresses an astonishing tolerance of barbarity. It also indicates an embarrassing ignorance of the ways that “pragmatic” deals of this sort are strategically very ill advised, failing to resolve the problems at hand, and displacing them into more destructive forms later.

    Lest we forget that the issue is not just Wagner’s poor historical understanding, his praise of the Three-Fifths Compromise also puts a fine point on his vision for Emory. According to Gary Hauk, Wagner wrote the piece in early December 2012, just when Emory students and faculty conducted a walk-out and sit in of the upper administration’s offices, and students forced the administration into direct dialogue over the cuts (December 4th-7th). You don’t need to read too far between the lines to see Wagner’s essay as a coded attack against his internal opponents: those arguing for accountability regarding the cuts, those arguing for a broader rather than a narrower Emory, those favoring an inclusive conversation about Emory’s academic priorities, and those unwilling to accept double-speak about Emory’s finances—“inspirational” fundraising success out of one side of Wagner’s mouth, “the hard reality” of “limited resources” out of the other.

    The cuts are at the very heart of Wagner’s “pragmatic” argument that Emory will only prosper by jettisoning disciplines, most in the liberal arts. Much like the Three-Fifths Compromise, Wagner’s pragmatism has proceeded imperiously, as a deal between elites—administrators and carefully screened faculty members—and it has proceeded secretively, without meaningful consultation with all those whom the decisions impact, including students. Even now, no substantive argument has ever emerged from Wagner about the academic judgment that would justify these decisions. For all his talk about excellence, Wagner has never articulated precisely how his compromise—desiccating the liberal arts—produces a “flourishing liberal arts research university.”

    With Wagner’s apology, we are left with a plea that we not see him as a racist, and also with a muddled moral. “Compromise…[is not] defeat, but a tool for more noble achievement,” he tells us, but then again “[i]f something is compromised it is inherently weak, unstable.” He then briskly implores that we affirm even admittedly odious compromises in pursuit of what he calls “higher truth” and “higher purpose.” I for one remain deeply suspicious at the sight of a leader clinging to the rhetoric of transcendence while engaging in realpolitik.

  • Gina Keel

    A Must read: American Taxation, American Slavery by Robin Einhorn…”antigovernment rhetoric in the United States stems from the nation’s history of slavery rather than its history of liberty”

  • Emory LGS Student

    Not only are President Wagner’s initial words embarrassing to the university, but so are his strange elaboration in his apology and the apathetic response of some Emory students. I don’t know what motivated Wagner’s original comments or his insistent continuation of that argument in his later apology (http://www.emory.edu/EMORY_MAGAZINE/issues/2013/winter/register/president.html). Is he worried about sequestration? Is he really talking about angry members of the university community who were protesting his sudden elimination of several departments? Along with the horrifying racial and political insensitivity (proving he is a tone deaf leader), his argument is baffling. As the rhetorical questions in Wagner’s response indicate, Wagner simply assumes that the good of the nation was worth the repugnant 3/5 compromise. Hypothetically projecting ourselves back in time as those white, male, elites working out the foundational legal document of a new nation, Wagner expects us to agree that the deal was worth it, and somehow led, eventually, to the end of slavery. If we are meant to analogize the nation to Emory University, what kind of demonic compromise is he expecting us to consent to? What deal could be so horrible as to be compared to the 3/5 compromise? I’m no fan of the cost-cutting moves Jim Wagner has taken this year, but before his ill-advised column, he hadn’t done anything so amoral as to merit that comparison.

    Obviously nothing Wagner has written means that he hates African Americans.

    It does, however, prove that 1) Wagner still doesn’t get that the 3/5 compromise was really bad and is a terrible model of political compromise 2) Wagner is embarrassingly tone deaf to issues of race 3) he does not know when to shut up and stop repeating a destructive line of argument 4) Wagner is now really bad for Emory’s public image. In short, he can no longer function as an effective university president.

    • ankur m

      asf

  • Emory grad

    I have always been proud that I attended Emory as a graduate student until I read about this. If a President of a southern university does not understand how appalling his comment is, then I am I concerned about the future of Emory. Thank you, faculty, for writing this letter. That’s the Emory I remember.

  • Queen

    There were some departments missing in this response. Where is the Women and Gender Studies? Where is The Center for Women? What about the Provost of Diversity? Their absence in the open letter speaks volumes with regard to the allies of the African American community at Emory University.

  • Embarrassed Alum

    How many of you would support a petition (Change.org) calling for Wagner’s resignation? This man is a total disgrace to the university.

    • emorycuts

      There are some people working on creating one. It should be up by the end of the week – it’ll be posted on the EmoryCuts facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/EmoryCuts) once it’s created.

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