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