GHS Does Not Support the Cuts
On Sept. 14, 2012, Dean Robin Forman of the Emory College of Arts and Sciences sent a letter alerting students, faculty and staff to several changes initiated by the university. Emory will be cutting the Physical Education, Educational Studies and Visual Arts Departments, along with the undergraduate journalism major. Graduate admissions will be suspended in the Departments of Spanish and Portuguese, Economics and the Institute of the Liberal Arts (ILA).
Emory’s administration has also decided to reduce the number of permanent Russian language staff and has initiated discussions with the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies regarding the future of language programs in Hindi, Urdu and Persian.
This course of action, which has received the support of Emory’s provost and president, is meant to “enhance areas of distinction and to reallocate resources to support new and emerging areas.” Although the History Department is supposedly an “unaffected department,” we can say unequivocally that no department is unaffected. The history graduate students depend on faculty with joint appointments in targeted departments, innovative cross-listed courses and a range of extra-departmental resources to learn about, and to produce, cutting-edge scholarship.
We are deeply concerned that the proposed changes will negatively affect the graduate history experience at Emory. Any attempt to end or outsource language programs will limit students’ ability to fulfill language requirements during coursework and necessary language acquisition for research. Students who need language evaluations for grant applications and for language learning programs outside of Emory will have greater difficulty securing them. In addition, as the graduate divisions of Economics, the ILA and Spanish are to be eliminated for the foreseeable future, this overhaul will mean fewer courses available for enrollment and less diversity within course listings.
These changes will also damage the caliber of scholarly interchange available to history graduate students. Many students rely upon engagement with interlocutors from the targeted departments as well as colleagues in the History Department. The presence of members of the ILA, Spanish and other departments in our seminars has been invaluable, as has the opportunity to take part in theirs. Therefore we do not see the cuts as strengthening the canonical discipline of history but as weakening it.
Not only will students already attending Emory feel the effects of these changes, but so will prospective graduate students. For potential students who are interested in an interdisciplinary approach, these cuts signal that Emory will be less adept at supporting their development. The narrowing of options also communicates to new or prospective students that changing focus or exploring alternate paths of inquiry is not desired.
In addition to the problematic implications of the restructuring itself, we as a community are deeply disturbed by the way in which these decisions have been made and communicated. While Dean Forman claims that the planned changes were the result of collaborative efforts, the vast majority of the faculty (including directors of departments), staff and students in question had no knowledge of what was planned until the eve of the announcement. We are appalled by the administration’s failure to consult with members of affected departments before decisions were announced and by its subsequent inability (or unwillingness) to provide a coherent and thorough explanation of its rationale.
Not only is this disrespectful to those directly and indirectly affected by the proposed changes (all of us), it casts serious doubt on the soundness of the decisions themselves.
The administration’s lack of transparency and collaborative effort during these deliberations also demonstrates the weakness of its commitment to shared governance, a fact that should be worrying for the entire Emory community.
We recognize that restructuring, especially in situations of financial constraint, can be an important tool to strengthen Emory as an institution. We have no confidence, however, that the proposed changes will do anything but weaken Emory’s existing programs, undermine its reputation, and betray its most valuable assets — its employees and students.
We recommend that these decisions be reversed immediately and placed under review to accommodate feedback that should have been sought before their finalization. As part of this review process, we also call for more clarity about the methods and reasoning behind any future changes.
The GHS is a student organization representing the graduate students of the History Department.