Students, Faculty: Walk Out

It’s time for a walk out. On December 4th, do not sit in class. Come to the quad at noon. If you are teaching a class, bring your class. Atlanta media will be there. Department heads and dozens of graduate students and their classes will be there. We will have music, board games and punch and pie to enjoy until our demands are met. Emory University, like any corporation, needs public relations. A successful walkout will make Forman and Wagner look bad. It will create the pressure necessary to reverse the cuts, and it will make a national AAUP censure that much more likely.

A walkout is necessary because Wagner and Forman do not consider themselves answerable even to department heads, much less students. ‘Dialogue’ for them means telling the Emory Community what is going to happen and us accepting it.

They do not care about your opinion, whether you are a freshman undergraduate or the Chair of the ILA, which is why they did not ask you about their decision before they made it.

They expect you to sit idly by while they disembowel our university. Wagner said the cuts are in the spirit of the civil rights movement because he claims in the civil rights movement people did not question their leaders. His arguments are so absurd his wager is that you just won’t be paying attention. The walk out will call his bluff.

Wagner’s response to the SRC letter is only meaningless noise. To take but one example: he doesn’t think we should worry about eliminating the profoundly diverse education department because ‘diversity should not be dependent on one department.’ This is a bit like murdering the only doctor on a desert island because “we should not be dependent on one person for medical knowledge.” The reality is the Education department is our best connection to Atlanta schools and our best hope of retaining minority and female graduate students.

Wagner’s philosophy for the cuts is “cut inferior, boost superior.” But what is superior?

Wagner won’t tell. Diversity, critical thinking and a pattern of improvement are considered superior by many, but not by Wagner. I don’t think even he knows what he means by superior.

Journalism is too job-focused, but Economics doesn’t place enough jobs. It’s about interdisciplinarity, but the exceptionally interdisciplinary ILA must be removed. It’s about publications, but the Spanish and Portuguese departments impressive publication history doesn’t save them. It’s about the cutting edge, but the must-cite education department scholars don’t cut it. It’s about what students want, but dozens of visual arts majors are turned away. It’s about the budget, except when Forman says it’s not.

All these contradictions are not a coincidence. The real, unstated reason for the cuts is undeniably university rankings.

The ironic part is Forman and Wagner’s strategy will fail to improve our rankings. US News and World Report is a fickle mistress – there is no guarantee they will like Twitter and China more than art, languages, economics and diversity.

Wagner and Forman have submitted no data and no evidence that would support the prediction of a rankings boost. The choice to narrow a University away from the liberal arts and towards science and technology is ambiguous for rankings – it works for some colleges (extremely prestigious and specialized tech schools) and not at all for others.

A walkout is necessary, in the final analysis, because the cuts will make Emory a much worse school. I understand science is hard. That is why a diverse and critically engaged campus is necessary to cross-pollinate the scientists.

China studies are indeed important; they could also be totally funded by downsizing the excessive landscaping budget. Or we could dip into the unexpected $102 million our endowment made last month, almost twenty times the value of the cuts.

It’s not unreasonable to imagine the loss of alumni dollars will approach the total value of the cuts (6.5 million), as several alumni from affected departments have already threatened to withhold over $100,000.

Many students who would have majored in an affected department will transfer or not enroll. The perception that Emory is going downhill is palpable almost no matter whom you talk to.

As a student who benefits from the academic environment of Emory, you have a responsibility to defend it. Tell your friends. Tell your professors. Do not skip the walk out.

David Mullins is a member of the Student Re-visioning Committee.


  • Letitia Campbell

    Hi. I may not have caught all of the Emory Wheel articles about the proposed cuts, but I’ve read quite a few of them. Can you direct me to a place where I could find the quote from Wagner that is interpreted in the piece above as follows: “Wagner said the cuts are in the spirit of the civil rights movement because he claims in the civil rights movement people did not question their leaders”? I’m curious about the context in which that sort of sentiment might have come up.

    It’s very hard for me to imagine that President Wagner actually believes that the Civil Rights movement did not involve internal disputes and challenges in which particular leaders, visions and initiatives were debated. I would be curious to know what Wagner intended to communicate in the comment above, however badly articulated.

    • http://twitter.com/lauramariani Laura Mariani (@lauramariani)

      Emory has not published their video of the Q&A at the end of the State of the University address, but here is an audio recording: http://gonepublic.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/wagner-10-30-12.mp3 Wagner’s unfortunate analogy about the Civil Rights movement came during one of the last questions, when he was asked about his philosophy of leadership.

      • Emory Alum

        It comes up in response to a question posed at 38 minutes. You may note a certain additional irony in that the programs being cut by this “courageous leadership” include the Educational Studies program, which has a hundred-year history of engagement with black communities in Atlanta in the South and which has produced numerous Civil Rights luminaries in its own right. … You can see why they didn’t release the tape!

  • Andrew Zonderman

    While the university did not provide audio or video of the question and answer session at President Wagner’s State of the University. The #EmoryCuts facebook page has audio from the Q and A portion of the event in a November 5th posting. From their notes the question on leadership that led President Wagner to make his comparison to the civil rights movement is around the 38 minute mark.

  • https://www.facebook.com/groups/481397321892932/ Shomu Banerjee

    Thank you, Dave! That is a hard-hitting article that hits the nail. Some may say that your tone lacks the deference due authority, but when our leaders are tone-deaf and refuse to revisit their positions in the light of a groundswell of protest, someone has to call it like it is.

  • Letitia Campbell

    Andrew, thanks for the reference. I think the exchange/quote in question is between :38 and :40. I am very concerned about the cuts, the vision for the university that they reflect, their impact on the diversity of the faculty and the student body (especially graduate students), and the decision-making processes behind them. And I am very, very grateful for the work of #EmoryCuts and the other groups who have helped to keep this discussion going.

    That said, I did not interpret Wagner’s comment in the way that this article suggests. Rather, I took him to be saying that in some cases — including the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s — leaders (in that case, elected representatives, or maybe LBJ?) make decisions that would not have been confirmed by a majority of the voting population. I think that the analogy is not terribly illuminating in this situation, not least because of the differences in the institutional contexts and decisions in question, and the fact that academic administrators are rarely elected. In any case, calling up the legacy of the civil rights era is always a loaded rhetorical strategy. He acknowledges that he and Earl [Lewis, presumably] have their disagreements about this interpretation of history, which may be a way of saying that he doesn’t intend the analogy to be read too closely.

    In any case, the point I take him to be making (again, however awkwardly) is that leadership sometimes involves taking unpopular positions, and even making decisions that violate the will of the majority. I don’t think that this is *necessarily* an outlandish position, but I do think that this vision of academic leadership raises a host of important questions that should very much be on the agenda, not only questions about academic governance and transparency in decision-making, but also about what we expect from leaders (at all levels of academic institutions) in the way of accountability, openness to debate, willingness to compromise, and basic skills in building consensus and navigating situations of profound disagreement.

    Thanks again to everyone who is working to enable more thoughtful engagement on the cuts and the issues raise, and to the Wheel for ongoing coverage.

  • David Mullins

    I agree with your reading of Wagner’s comment (I am the author of the article) but I don’t think it is inconsistent with the way I tried to frame it. It is banal to observe that sometimes what is popular is not what is best. Wagner is using the civil rights movement to justify destroying diversity. He knows what he is doing. That is not a matter of historical interpretation it is cynical manipulation with zero academic credibility. I or someone more qualified (perhaps in the Education department) would be happy to tutor him on the civil rights movement anytime.

    • Claude Crider

      Great article! I’m an alum of ’71. The last time I demonstrated at Emory it was about the war in Vietnam and the first Earth Day.

      I can’t pass this one up. I’ll see you there.

  • Dangett Plume

    All liberal arts courses are a waste of time and money. Only a empty shell of a person has to sit in class and be lectured to instead of picking up a book and reading it themselves.

    • Trolling Troll is Trollish

      Yes if there’s any one thing that says “humanities” it’s dessicated, empty souls. Also – ever tried to teach yourself a new language, become a teacher, or learn how to report news from a library book?

    • RA

      What a pointless argument. I’m certainly not a humanities major, but what makes you think that you couldn’t say the same for math? I am motivated enough to study it on my own, yet I choose to major in it at an educational institution. What a waste of money it is, right? You’re a laughably easy read. I assume you think higher degrees in such fields are worthless too.

      Certainly, the payoff for humanities majors are variable to say the least. But outside of pre-professional majors (and do not be so gullible; even law and medicine are feeling something) the same can be said for any field. Do you have any idea how little PhD researchers at Emory and other universities are paid? Even at federal institutions? These are how much the scientific innovators of today are valued. You have no clue what you are talking about.

      Who’s to say that there aren’t people who choose these majors because, god forbid, they actually like them? I have classmates in philosophy and classics, and frankly, they are more intelligent than some of mine in ‘practical’ majors. They are certainly more intelligent than you and have a much better sense of judgement.

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