Graduate Students Host Rally in Protest

When Otto Lenhart opened his email last Friday morning, he saw a message he thought was so bizarre that it had to be a joke.

The email — sent by Elena Pesavento, chair of the economics department — said the University planned to suspend the graduate economics program.

For Lenhart, who had started his second year of studies in the program just a few weeks before, this news came as a total shock.

According to Lenhart, the graduate program in economics had improved its reputation significantly during the last five years.

“A week ago, they announced that we had [our] highest ranking ever, in the top 50,” he said. “The weird thing was that we had a meeting of the [economics] department, and everyone was happy because this was a really good development.”

Edouard Wemy, a fourth-year graduate student in the economics program, also recalled the praise that the department received from Laney Graduate School (LGS) administrators for their recent improvements and rise in rankings by the Southeastern Economics Journal.

“[The chair of the economics department] mentioned that [LGS] is so proud of the department, and the school encourages us to continue our pursuit for academic excellence,” Wemy said. “Then, on Friday, a bomb is dropped.”

Though current economics doctoral (Ph.D) students will be able to finish their degrees, the University will discontinue any new admissions to the program, according to a Sept. 14 University statement.

Emory has also suspended admissions to the graduate programs in educational studies, Spanish and the Institute of Liberal Arts (ILA).

The press release explains that these changes will begin at the end of this academic year and conclude by the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

In the days following this announcement, graduate students across the University have come together in opposition of these changes, which the LGS made in conjunction with the College.

Luke Donahue, a graduate student in the comparative literature department, created a Facebook event to organize a “meeting to discuss Emory Graduate School’s recent cuts” on the University Quadrangle, the page states.

Donahue declined to comment on any involvement he might have had with the event.

The meeting, which took place yesterday afternoon, gathered approximately 350 graduate and undergraduate students as well as administrators and faculty onto the Quad. to voice their opinions about these ongoing developments.

Amidst chants of “stop the cuts” and “how about democracy,” student speakers led those who attended in discussions on ways to move forward.

Administrators, including College Dean Robin Forman and Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair, were also in attendance.

“I am almost on the verge of tears,” said Sarah Melton, a graduate student at the ILA who attended the event. “I have been so thankful that so many people across the University have spoken in solidarity. This decision is a decision that affects the most vulnerable staff, faculty [and] students. Shame on you. No, you do not have my permission to do this.”

Those against the changes have also reached out to the Emory community through various social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The “Future of the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts” had more than 600 members as of yesterday.

Members created the group “as a way to streamline communications among all the people working together to organize students in the ILA, alums, and supporters” to respond to program changes.

In addition, the “Save the Economics PhD Program” Facebook group, which an undergraduate student started late last week after administrators first announced the cuts, now has over 1,700 members.

Students and faculty have used this Facebook group to disseminate an online petition against the moratorium on the economics Ph.D program — which had approximately 600 signatures as of yesterday.

Some of those opposed to these developments have also created a Twitter account under the name @EmoryCuts, which is geared toward posting articles and sharing more information about the announcements from administration and how students have responded.

The Twitter account, which began posting on Sept. 16, currently has more than 100 followers.

Contributing Writer Dustin Slade contributed reporting. 

— By Stephanie Fang