Open Letter Says Not All Oppose Forman, CFAC

Members of the Emory faculty have circulated an open letter among their colleagues in support of College Dean Robin Forman and the Financial Advisory Committee’s involvement in the decision to reallocate resources and close programs and departments.

The petition — which was sent to faculty members on Dec. 12 by Harvey Klehr, the Andrew W. Mellon professor of politics and history — currently has more than 100 faculty signatories.

“The comments and questions that were raised about the dean’s decisions on the cuts were overwhelmingly made by people who were opposed to them,” Klehr said in an interview with the Wheel.

He added that following the administration building sit-in on Dec. 4, a number of comments made by individuals opposed to the cuts to media outlets were disconcerting.

“I felt that both the students and the general public were getting the impression that there was near universal faculty opposition or hostility towards the dean’s decision, and I didn’t think that was true for a variety of reasons,” Klehr said.

The letter begins by recounting the influence faculty and students in the affected departments have had in campus discussion. The letter adds that although the faculty sympathizes with their affected colleagues, the action taken to “phase out” certain departments was the best decision to stabilize Emory College.

The letter continues, “As the protests have become angrier and more raucous, however, there is a danger that the absence of faculty voices in support of the dean’s difficult but courageous decision will leave the impression that the Emory administration is imposing draconian cuts on a uniformly resistant and disaffected faculty. This is not the case.”

A few faculty members, including Steven L’Hernault, a biology professor, assisted Klehr in wording the letter in a way that would accurately reflect the opinions of its signatories.

“The hope is the letter will tone down the rhetoric and allow us to have a measured conversation about what has really gone on here,” L’Hernault said. “There seems to be people that are overly speculating about the process that has gone on and they think it went on in haste without any considerable deliberation.”

Although the letter has garnered significant support among faculty, some faculty members emphasize that they believe the letter does not represent the majority opinion of the group.

Noelle McAfee, a philosophy professor, said she believes opposition to the letter is not exclusive to faculty members and students in the affected departments. She noted that many individuals who are concerned and calling for review are faculty members in the history, English and philosophy departments.

“People who are calling for review have the best interest of the College at heart,” McAfee said. “What is unfortunate about the letter is it seems to close down discussion rather than keep an open discussion alive.”

McAfee noted in a faculty-wide email response to the letter that the petition seemed to make several distinct and not necessarily compatible claims. One of the claims she cited in her email was the petition’s condemnation of ad hominem attacks toward the dean.

“Most anybody on the faculty would be against ad hominem attacks and being disrespectful,” McAfee said. “The letter seemed to suggest if you didn’t sign it, you were in favor of ad hominem attacks.”

Jason Francisco, a professor in the Department of Visual Arts, agreed with McAfee. He said he believes the inclusion of “ad hominem attacks” in the letter works solely to suppress future conversation.

“The letter suggests that the discussion has been poisoned by ad hominem attacks toward the dean,” Francisco said. “This is the thing I find most troubling. I think this is a diversionary tactic. From the meetings I have attended, there have been no ad hominem attacks, no lack of civility and no raucousness.”

Although both Francisco and McAfee believe faculty disapproval of the petition is significant, Klehr said that only five individuals in opposition of the letter have contacted him.

“I happen to think the majority of the faculty is in agreement with the sentiments of the letter,” Klehr said.

Forman received the letter in early December following its initial circulation.

In response to the letter, Forman wrote in an email to the Wheel: “It is natural for those who disagree with my actions to speak the loudest, and for all of us, including the media, to focus attention on those voices. And those are important voices, and need to be heard. It is helpful, though, to be reminded that those are not the only voices.”

Forman described the relationship between the faculty and the administration as often complicated. Therefore, to him, the fact that so many faculty have expressed strong support is enormously gratifying.

Klehr said he hoped the letter would show a faculty in support of the dean. Klehr noted that the letter will be presented at the next faculty meeting on Jan. 23 as a resolution.

— Contact Dustin Slade at dustin.slade@emory.edu

Update 1/24/13, 3:23 p.m.: The letter of support has been attached.

  • Anonymous

    In his letter, Klehr says “As the protests have become angrier and more raucous, however, there is a danger that the absence of faculty voices in support of the Dean’s difficult, but courageous decision will leave the impression that the Emory Administration is imposing draconian cuts on a uniformly resistant and disaffected faculty.”

    I, like Professors McAfee and Francisco, do not agree that the protests have become “angrier and more raucous” to begin with; nor have there been ad hominem attacks against the Dean that I have heard or seen. The Emory College faculty is not a monolith and we do not speak with one voice which is a good thing. But to characterize the Dean’s actions as “courageous” is a bit hard to swallow. If they were truly courageous, the affected departments and programs would have been consulted with, department chairs and DGSs spoken to earlier than the token meeting that took place on September 13, 2012 (one day prior to the public announcement), and the suspension of the ILA and Economics doctoral programs would have been voted upon by the Executive Council of the Laney Graduate School.

  • Emory Alum

    how many of the professors who signed this letter lost their positions? I’ll wait…

  • So Pretty, but So Untrue

    Glad to hear Klehr thinks a (silent) majority of the faculty agrees with the “sentiment” of the letter. Gladder still an (actual) majority of the faculty voted to subject the cuts to a thorough and independent review – including many people who initially signed this latter. I’ll take daylight, transparency, and real votes over chain letters and putative support any day of the week.

    • Crafty

      True, but even if Klehr overestimates how many people actually agree with the cuts by using the word “majority”, he does have a point.

      The faculty vote you’re talking about was 64-54. Not a bad margin, but not a landslide either.

      And I don’t exactly know how these meetings go in terms of procedure, but I imagine there were some absences. In my mind, the absences would count in favor of Klehr’s so-called majority because they would represent professors who simply don’t care one way or the other.

      Just saying.

      • A Student Voice

        I think that glossing no-show votes in favor of one position or another doesn’t really hold water. I think it would be a particular stretch to see faculty being disgusted with what’s going on with the university and not showing up to vote as a endorsement of the recent changes, let alone as signalling agreement with Klehr’s cynical claims about the state of discourse on campus.

        • Crafty

          Maybe so, but I was under the anecdotal impression that the faculty members who self-idenity as “disgusted” were the ones who turned out to vote against the plan.

          And I never said that no-showers signaled literal agreement. Merely apathy which, for the administration, would serve the same purpose.

          • ILA Friend

            I can think of a bunch of faculty who didn’t show up because they are looking for other work at other institutions and no longer give a damn what happens to this school.

        • Crafty

          …and anyway, it’s still valid to say that a healthy proportion of faculty do not oppose the cuts even if we assume that the 64-54 vote represents all concerned parties.

          • ILA Friend

            Sure, but do they agree with the claim that the people directly affected by the cuts have “dominated” the cuts? Or that the cuts themselves were “courageous”? the fact is that this letter was signed by people BEFORE they voted to review in December, but only circulated by Klehr to the Wheel and faculty listserves AFTER the vote was taken. which is a pretty sleazy move – people who signed this may even have voted for the review, but now their signatures are being brought to bear against it.

          • Crafty

            The letter was circulated on December 12th, and the story on the vote broke on January 18th. I doubt many faculty members had such a drastic change of heart over winter break, if any at all.

            “Courageous” is a bit of a stretch, but “dominated?” I guess that would depend on one’s interpretation of the word. Certainly they have not dominated procedurally or politically speaking, or else something would have been done by now.

            But in terms of the actual discourse, I think it’s accurate to say that the anti-cut camp has pretty much dominated the conversation in every media outlet relevant to Emory.

          • SRC member

            Why is the burden of proof on the faculty that showed up and voted in good faith?

          • Crafty

            It’s not about burden of proof. It’s about the precariousness of arguing that faculty somehow had a major change of heart a) over winter break, when nothing of substance developed in the story and b) after all of the most active cycle of protests and publicity had already crested.

            It seems counter-intuitive.

          • SRC member

            That makes no sense. The vote already passed the first time. That the faculty probably have not had a “change of heart” over break is exactly the point. By the way, the resolution was just voted on today and passed again.

          • Crafty

            …what?

            The point ILA Friend was making was that the letter was signed by people BEFORE the actual vote took place, implying that faculty who signed the letter ultimately swung against the cuts.

            That’s what we were talking about, so that’s what I assumed your good-faith comment was in reference to.

          • ILA Friend

            that the story about the vote didn’t break in the wheel until mid january is besides the point. the letter was circulated among faculty in the first half of the second week of december, and all the signatures were added to the file by the night of the eleventh. it was then released to faculty listservs on the night of the twelfth – after the faculty meeting, where many of the undersigned actually voted for the review. if you have a copy of the word document that was sent out to faculty listservs after the review you can view the electronic timestamp that substantiates this.

          • ILA Friend

            also bro I’m not saying that everybody who signed the petition then had a change of heart – I’m saying that several people who signed the petition DID vote for a review after signing it, but that administration supporters (Klehr) held off on releasing the petition until after the review vote passed so as to make it appear they the administration had a broader-based support than in fact it fact did. that doesn’t speak highly for the strength of the administration’s position, as does the fact that a majority of faculty just yesterday AGAIN voted in favor of the review only further undermines the claim that a silent majority of faculty support the cuts.

  • Chuck

    Dustin Slade with another fantastic piece. Great work

  • hamilton

    Klehr falsely says that questions about the decision process have been “overwhelmingly” limited to faculty in the affected departements when clearly there many members in departments like English, history and philosophy who have openly criticized how the administration went about this whole thing.

    In reality, the real criticism that should be made here is that the only people who seem to embrace Klehr’s petition and its stance are the ones who have the most to gain from the cuts in terms of an increase in funding for their departments. There are plenty of faculty members who could in theory accept the philosophy behind the changes, but rightfully question them because of the suspicious lack of transparency. However the only people that seem to blindly accept the process that has transpired are the ones that directly benefit from the final result.

  • reader

    The version of the letter that I’ve seen includes signers who are chairs of the depts of soc, film studs, womens studs, art history, english, and religion. That’s a pretty diverse group of depts.

    • Who Are These People?

      none of whom are directly affected by the cuts…