Tone, Direction of Meeting Disappointing, Admins and Students Say

Members of the Student Re-visioning Committee (SRC) and top administrators butted heads over the recent department changes at a private meeting last Friday.

Seven students and three faculty members met with University President James W. Wagner, College Dean Robin Forman and Vice President and Deputy to the President Gary Hauk to voice their concerns, but by the meeting’s end, came up empty handed in their efforts to have the department changes reversed.

Forman, who spearheaded the changes, first announced the reallocation of resources and closing of programs and departments within the College and Laney Graduate School in a Sept. 14 University-wide email.

Both administrators and students say they are disappointed by the meeting’s tone and disagree over who strayed from the agreed-upon agenda set last Tuesday. At the conclusion of the meeting, administrators said that they saw no reason to hold additional talks with the SRC.

The meeting was the result of a six-hour sit-in that took place on the fourth floor of the Administration building Dec. 4. Near the end of the sit-in following a three-hour meeting with select students, Wagner and Forman agreed to meet with 10 individuals at a later date. By the next day a date had been set for Friday, Dec. 7.

Discussion and Debate 

According to both administrators and members of the student-faculty delegation, tension rose early on over the set agenda.

The meeting, held in Forman’s private conference room, opened with members of the delegation reading a prepared statement to administrators.

“We are looking forward to educating you about the SRC and to fostering a deeper understanding of how we arrived at this current point of crisis on campus,” they said, according to the SRC’s transcript of the meeting.

In an email to the Wheel, Wagner wrote that during the Dec. 4 meeting, a tentative agenda had been agreed upon for the next discussion. Administrators say that the delegation dismissed that agenda from the beginning.

“The first thing they declared when they sat down was that they were dismissing the agenda,” Forman said.

Wagner agreed with Forman that the group simply dismissed the agenda at the beginning of the meeting and did not wish to hear from the Dean about the processes and considerations that had gone into his decision.

To the contrary, members of the SRC say that administrators altered the agenda prior to the meeting.

“This is exactly why we wanted to have both the Dec. 4 session recorded and the Dec. 7 session recorded,” said Patrick Blanchfield, a member of the SRC delegation and a sixth-year graduate student in comparative literature. “Our agenda was changed.”

Throughout the meeting both administrators and delegates debated as to who was educating whom. Administrators saw the meeting as a chance for discussion, but members of the SRC delegation saw the meeting as a chance for negotiation.

Hauk said he had believed the delegation wanted more information concerning the principles, processes and criteria about which decisions were made regarding the reallocations.

“It was hard to feel that we were going to be moving in a positive direction,” Hauk said. “It felt like, as the first student said, ‘we’re here to educate you,’ it didn’t seem like they were there to listen.”

According to members of the delegation, the group was not seeking to be informed regarding the department changes but to negotiate them.

“We were not there to be informed by them on stuff we already knew, nor were we there to collaborate with them on the process,” Blanchfield said. “We have objections to the plan, and we wanted to talk those out.”

As the meeting continued, it became evident that both parties were not going to reach a solution, explained Katherine Bryant, a fourth-year neuroscience graduate student.

“We wanted to discuss our three demands, and [the administrators] wanted to discuss more philosophical ideas about how the University can move forward,” she said.

Forman said that communication between administrators and the Emory community was not intended to end following the Sept. 14 announcement. He anticipated that the announcement wouldn’t be the end of the conversation, but he had hoped the community would look forward.

“With the [committee’s] insistence on revisiting past, it’s hindered our ability to really focus on the future,” he said.

Jason Francisco, a member of the SRC and a professor in the department of visual arts, attended the meeting as a faculty observer and noted that the two parties did not speak particularly well to one another and that the conversation didn’t progress towards a resolution.

In the meeting, Forman said that he has received more positive than negative emails from faculty in support of the process by which the decisions were made. Although he was unwilling to provide a number to the Wheel, he said the purpose was to counter the delegation’s portrayal that the entire community opposed the decision.

Forman did not show the delegation any emails that disapproved of the cuts, according to Blanchfield.

Late into the meeting, Forman also accused the SRC delegation of creating a climate of fear in which individuals no longer felt comfortable expressing their support for the department changes.

“The [SRC] has created an environment in which those that do support the process don’t feel comfortable expressing that view which has made it difficult to hold open and honest conversations in certain settings,” Forman said.

Members of the SRC say that Forman’s accusation of intimidation is both “revolting” and “upsetting.”

“We were outside dancing to the Beatles,” Blanchfield said. “We didn’t have a bunch of jack-boots with guns.”

Members of the delegation, in turn, believe that administrators acted unprofessionally during the meeting.

“[Administrators] were highly tense and extremely patronizing,” Blanchfield said. “The behavior of the administrators in that room shocked me. There were moments of mocking laughter.”

Francisco added that he felt administrators were mostly evasive, dismissive and combative during the meeting.

Following the conclusion of the meeting, Wagner sent an email to the Wheel in which he summarized what the meeting had accomplished.

“By the end of the meeting we had reached three conclusions: 1) The planned cuts will not be reversed; 2) The Dean agreed that greater engagement of students is important and was optimistic about the new committee to be set up by the College Council; and 3) The Dean is willing to provide specific details on processes and criteria which underlie the decisions he has made,” he wrote.

Wagner added, “since the decision about reallocations is final, and given the unproductive tone of this meeting, I agreed with the Dean that scheduling a future meeting would not make sense or be a good use of anyone’s time.”

During the meeting between administrators and the SRC delegation, security officers were staffed in both the administration office in Candler Library and the Administration Building across the Quad.

Earlier in the day, Hauk sent out an email to administrators and staff inside the Administration Building notifying them that the building would be locked down and the exits would be manned by security officers in response to a gathering of protesters on the Quad.

In an interview with the Wheel, Hauk said he did not want to risk the possibility that protesters would once again occupy a hallway in the administration building.

Hauk and a security officer greeted the delegation at the door of the administration office at 5 p.m. in Candler Library at the beginning of the meeting.

Multiple security officers stood outside of the conference room during the discussion.

“There was a lot of uncertainty about what would be taking place that evening,” Forman said. “We were just trying to make sure that there would be no concerns about the safety of anyone as well as the spaces in the building.”

Some members of the SRC say that the presence of officers outside of the meeting put them in an uncomfortable position.

“I was very confused. I didn’t expect to see any officers. It made us feel that we were not trusted,” Bryant said. “It made us feel that [the meeting] was not in good faith.”

Some members of the delegation believe administrators utilized the presence of security as an intimidation tactic.

“I was appalled by the [police presence],” Francisco said. “It was clearly an intimidation tactic.”

Hauk said that he wanted dialogue with the delegation and hoped it would happen in a civil and non-violent manner.

“We didn’t want people pushing in doors [like during the Dec. 4 meeting] and taking over a floor of the building,” Hauk said. He added that at the time, he believed it was a possibility that the SRC would hold another sit-in within the Dean’s office.

— By Dustin Slade 

  • Patrick Blanchfield

    As a member of the seven-person SRC negotiating team, I would like to address two issues in relation to Friday’s events. First is the issue of transparency and the character of the administration’s repeated refusals to allow for objective record of our interactions with them in the form of an audio tape. Second is the question of “education” and the rather puzzling understanding of that concept displayed by the administration at Friday’s negotiations and in their comments since.

    First, the issue of transparency as it relates to Friday’s meeting happening behind closed doors, and sans the objective record that an audio tape would have provided. In Georgia, there is no legal grounds for forbidding someone to record a conversation (see the specific provisions beneath Title 16, Chapter 11, Article 3, Part I of Georgia Code §§ 16-11-62(1), 16-11-66 ). You can certainly refuse to participate in a conversation that one party opts to record – although the recording party doesn’t even need to disclose their intention! – but that’s not how Friday played out. As a gesture of good faith before the meeting started, the SRC team asked if the administrators were comfortable with our recording the proceedings. In response, Emory VP Gary Hauk, with an armed police officer and a security office standing behind him, said “No, you may not.” Rather than not consenting, which was his right, he forbade, which was not. In this instance, as in several others, the university appears to demonstrate a rather perplexing attitude towards student expression and dialogue. All their offers to “give students a voice” appear as top-down gestures of power that ignore the rather self-evident facts that students already *have* voices, and that their right to them is not a privilege granted by administrative authority. I am deeply troubled by this attitude.

    Second of the issue of “education.” In his quote above, Mr. Hauk appears extremely indignant at how the negotiation team invoked the concept of education in our opening statements. Mr. Hauk perhaps did not recognize that that word choice was in fact precisely the same as that used by Dean Forman during his meeting with the SGA this past September. At the time, Mr. Forman repeatedly deferred questions from the student audience by saying that his primary purpose at that event was to “educate you [us] about the college plan.” Those who attended that meeting at the time may also recall that Forman’s “education” on the plan ran so long that he was lamentably unable to actually take any of the audience questions which he had promised to field once said process of “education” was complete. It is possible, of course, that Mr. Hauk was unaware of that particular episode. But I strongly doubt that the other part of the statement with which the team opened Friday’s negotiations was unfamiliar to him. In fact, our stated aim of “fostering a deeper understanding of the situation on Emory’s campus” borrowed directly from the University’s “Statement Regarding the December 7th Meeting” published in the Wheel earlier on Friday. In that document, Mr. Forman’s office stated that “The president and dean are looking forward to fostering a deeper understanding of how these decisions were reached and to a productive discussion of the ways in which students, faculty and administrators can continue to work together to implement the Emory College Plan over the next four years.” Setting aside how this particular framing represents a particularly gross distortion of the SRC’s understanding of the outcome of its meeting with President Wagner on Tuesday, it is perhaps more striking that the Hauk et. al. should find themselves so deeply indignant and offended when they find themselves on the receiving end of the very same language and tone with which they had previously patronized both the SRC and the Emory community more broadly.

    This brings me to my final point. The mockery and umbrage with which Messrs. Hauk and Forman appear to have dismissed the very possibility that we students might have something to teach *them* indexes a profoundly misguided understanding of what education truly is and should be. Education is not an exclusively top-down enterprise, nor should it be a heavy-handed and authoritarian one. My own experiences of nearly a decade of teaching at multiple institutions and in various contexts have driven home to me that “education” is a fundamentally collaborative, dialogic process. Students learn from each other as well as from their teachers, and at Emory in particularly I feel that I have learned just as much, if not more, from my students than what I might have taught them. Yet on Friday our interlocutors did not seem attuned to those dynamics. Never mind that on Friday the administrators appeared surprised at how much we already knew about the processes behind the cuts or Emory’s governance bylaws and history –- the fact that they seemed to think that the only possible educational traffic at our meeting could have been one-directional, with their edifying *us* while we were to passively sop up their wisdom and ultimately abandon the error of our misguided ways, bespeaks a deep arrogance and blindness as to the very enterprise of education which they are supposed to safeguard and nurture. “They just don’t get it yet,” said Forman on Friday, dismissing the continued and escalating dissent on campus as so much misdirection and ignorance. I for one have to wonder if maybe it’s them who don’t.

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