Editorials

A university president’s responsibilities are largely uncontroversial: serving as a figurehead, cozying up to major donors and representing the University’s interests. But these are not ordinary times. In signing a letter opposing President Trump’s “travel ban” alongside 47 colleagues from peer institutions, President Claire E. Sterk upheld her obligation to advocate on behalf of Emory’s best interests and, indeed, the best interests of American higher education.

Our past editorials have advocated against designating Emory a sanctuary campus, an ineffective and potentially dangerous label. This letter was a more tangible — and more importantly, indisputably lawful — statement that directly coincided with Emory’s mission and core interests, but did not give the Trump administration legal ammunition to justify retribution (e.g., cutting funding). A call to “rectify or rescind the recent executive order” and implement evidenced-based vetting is distinct from vowing to break federal law.

Education is not, and should not be, a partisan issue. In academia, the free movement of people between institutions in different countries and their ideas is fundamental to progress; conversely, isolation impedes this progress. Researchers stand on the backs of their predecessors’ findings to reach greater heights. They glean inspiration from global conferences, visiting lecturers and cross-continental collaboration with scholars. President Trump’s travel ban hinders academic dialogue and with it, Emory’s capacity as a research institution.

Had the Ninth Circuit Court not upheld the temporary restraining order against Trump’s executive action last Thursday, Emory and every other global academic institution would have suffered. From Emory’s perspective, the knowledge and experience these immigrants bring far outweigh any risks they might pose.

Sterk’s co-signing of the letter was criticized as both an unnecessary politicization of the University and an action that alienates Emory’s conservative community. But her decision was not only logical, but necessary for Emory to continue occupying a place at the helm of American higher education. Emory has achieved global recognition as an academic force over 180 years — let us not turn back now.

Over 1,000 people gathered peacefully to protest Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at the University of California, Berkeley, last Wednesday. Yiannopoulos is a right wing provocateur who has been widely criticized for his views on homosexuality, Black Lives Matter activists and feminism. He had been invited to campus by the Berkeley College Republicans.

Then, to disrupt the event, roughly 150 individuals smashed windows, threw Molotov cocktails and assaulted two College Republicans and a woman wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. The Daily Californian, the student newspaper at Berkeley, published several op-eds that defended the violence as a necessary measure against hate speech.

Violence may have forced the cancellation of Yiannopoulos’ speech, but blocking him from speaking did little to stop his message. In fact, the protests drew more attention to Milo and his platform; if there had been no violence, his speech at Berkeley would have been a routine stop on his campus tour. This aggressive strategy is neither sustainable nor effective at implementing social change. The violent protesters may not like Yiannopoulos or his message, but their actions infringed on a basic human right — free speech. The best way to combat radical ideas is not to suppress them but to let them be heard, then combated with more speech. Yiannopoulos’ campus appearance was cancelled, but his ideas remained, temporarily silenced by violence rather than being disproven by reason.

To be clear, this is not an endorsement of Yiannopoulos. Rather, it is a defense of the First Amendment, especially as many on college campuses, including The Harvard Crimson’s Editorial Board, have begun to question its value.

Yiannopoulos’ message may be unpalatable, but he should be given an opportunity to speak to any who wish to hear him. Those who oppose the things he says, too, should be allowed to speak refute his claims. This is not only the most productive way to combat hateful speech, it’s the only effective way.

Last week, the Wheel published an editorial praising Emory’s decision not to designate itself a “sanctuary campus.” This past week, 221 Emory faculty members signed a petition calling for the opposite. Additionally, Emory Sanctuary Coalition organized a walkout, set to take place this morning during President Sterk’s inauguration, in response to her rejection of the “sanctuary campus” title. Regardless, the facts haven’t changed — the “sanctuary campus” designation is still an empty label and adopting it would do more harm than good.

Students and faculty are calling for Emory to adopt this label as a sign of solidarity against discriminatory policies toward undocumented students upheld by both the state of Georgia and President Donald Trump. However, some undocumented students themselves oppose the designation. Though well-intentioned, the petition’s call to adopt a politically charged label devoid of legal meaning may endanger current Emory students and turn the school into a target for Trump’s executive power.

In their petition, faculty members claim the sanctuary designation must be adopted “to uphold Emory as a place of safety in which all of its members can pursue higher learning without the fear of discrimination or persecution.” However, rejecting the sanctuary label does not threaten Emory’s ability to protect its undocumented students; Emory already protects them.

Indeed, it is actually the decision to become a “sanctuary campus” that risks losing Emory’s state funding and jeopardizes the quality of all students’ education, documented and undocumented alike, the very “human right” the petition aims to safeguard.

The faculty petition goes on to equate the current situation to Emory’s stand against segregation more than five decades ago, a misguided and dangerous comparison. Emory produced a petition signed by 250 faculty members opposing the closure of public schools in the wake of federally-mandated public desegregation in 1958 and fought Georgia state laws denying tax exemption to integrated private schools in 1962. While these were concrete actions with powerful ramifications, the “sanctuary campus” moniker is only a hollow symbolic gesture that would subvert the ultimate goals of both the University and its students.

Faculty intervention on behalf of undocumented students is laudable. But the University and President Sterk have already vowed, on multiple occasions, to continue supporting qualified undocumented students. If activists want more protection for undocumented students, Emory’s administration should not be their target.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

 

Since Trump’s unexpected victory in November, universities across the country faced calls from their students, faculty and staff to call themselves a  “sanctuary campuses” for undocumented students given temporary immigration benefit by the Obama administration in 2012. This week, Emory’s administration denied similar demands from its own community.

This decision may not satisfy progressives keen on challenging Trump, but University President Claire E. Sterk did what is best for the Emory community. Continuing to admit undocumented students and provide them with financial aid is in the interest of the Emory community at large; taking sides in a contentious political debate may not be. What matters in the coming months are the tangible actions Emory’s administration takes to ensure that DACA students at Emory receive financial aid.

Undocumented students at Emory have expressed fear that declaring Emory a sanctuary campus would draw unnecessary attention to the University and the undocumented students on campus. Emory’s decision to reject the sanctuary campus label does not reflect maligned values or poor judgment. Instead, it highlights the administration’s restraint and foresight.

Sterk directed Emory’s focus toward helping current and future undocumented students at Emory, rather than fighting for the rights of undocumented immigrants in general. Protest is powerful, but the University itself should not assume the role of a political activist.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

Correction (2/7/17 at 1:55 p.m.): The article originally stated that Obama’s executive order was put into effect in 2011 and gave legal status to undocumented students. This is not the case. It was put into effect in 2012 and gave undocumented students temporary immigration benefit. Also, the article originally stated that Emory provides undocumented students with campus resources. This is not the case. Emory only provides undocumented students with DACA financial aid. The article has been edited to correct these inaccuracies.

Our newly inaugurated president was voted into office vowing change. Such change has the potential to impact Americans of all ages. Federal law regarding sexual assault on college campuses–an aspect of college life vital to Emory students — is potentially up for revision.

Federal policy affects our lives in subtle ways; sexual assault policy is a notable example. Although individual schools are responsible for the enforcement of federal policy, the Department of Education has a wide mandate to dictate how universities interpret the law.

In a 2011 Dear Colleague letter, the Office of Civil Rights, a branch of the DOE, clarified the way it interpreted Title IX, a 1972 federal law that prohibits federally funded schools from discriminating based on sex in educational programs. This clarification, called historic by the then-assistant director of civil rights, changed the way universities handled sexual assault charges. Most notably, it required universities to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard when adjudicating sexual assault cases and brought the issue of campus sexual assault to the top of administrators’ agendas.

President Trump and his Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos could alter how campuses approach sexual assault, not just by changing the way Title IX is understood, but by reducing the Obama administration’s emphasis on sexual assault education and prevention efforts.

A shift will likely happen. In her confirmation hearing, DeVos refused to commit to keeping the 2011 letter in place. The current system has shortcomings: the number of students accused of sexual assault who successfully sued their universities for due process violations rose after the Dear Colleague letter. In May 2016, 21 law professors from schools such as Harvard and Stanford wrote a letter alleging the Department of Education actually changed the legal definition of sexual assault as opposed to just clarifying it in their letter.

Nonetheless, the 2011 letter has been greatly beneficial and must be kept in place.  Any significant action will attract critics, but the moral imperative of eliminating an issue as systemic and pervasive as campus sexual assault requires drastic steps that inevitably incite backlash.

The nationwide push for increased sexual assault education, prevention and enforcement bolstered by Obama must not be abated. While significant progress has been made, much work remains. We are on the right path, and we must continue to walk it with or without the Oval Office.

Emory administrators assured that they have their priorities straight. In a meeting with the Wheel, Emory’s Title IX Coordinator Judith Pannell vowed that “regardless of the new administration, Emory will remain committed to maintaining a community free of harassment. We will remain committed to education, prevention and response.”

While Pannell’s reaffirmation is comforting, it is not an excuse to fall asleep at the wheel. Ultimately, students must remain attentive; pressure on the administration to uphold the standards we want them to uphold must come from the student body. Even if DeVos weakens enforcement and prevention of Title IX policy or tries to raise the required standard of evidence for sexual misconduct cases, the DOE cannot stop Emory’s community from making their voice heard.

Ensuring the 2011 letter remains Emory’s guiding principle is paramount. A new federal government means that responsibility is on our shoulders, and on this critical issue, the stakes are too high for us to shrug off.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

Over the course of the past election, President Trump faced multiple sexual assault claims and marital rape allegations. He was caught bragging about committing sexual assault and claiming that “all women are bimbos.” Trump’s businesses were investigated for racial discrimination, and he made multiple racist remarks against Muslims and other minorities.

This past Saturday over 147,000 protesters gathered for the Women’s March in Washington; thousands more gathered at sister protests around the country and the world to oppose Trump’s questionable attitude toward and treatment of women. The protest was one of the largest in American history, drawing far more supporters than the inauguration of President Donald Trump the day before.

The Women’s March was not only a success for American women, but for women worldwide, 2as it showed that many Americans do not support Trump’s stance on women’s rights. It also communicated a strong message that President Trump’s disrespectful attitude toward marginalized groups, personal liberties and freedom of speech is opposed by millions of Americans willing to fight for personal liberties and rights.

News coverage of the march was generally positive, but backlash and criticism were quick to surface. The March was strongly criticized by New York Times columnist David Brooks for overemphasizing women’s reproductive rights over less contentious issues. The critique of the march is not entirely warranted, and misses a crucial point — women’s reproductive rights are not only important for women, but society as a whole. Support for women’s healthcare includes important issues besides abortion. Access to reproductive health care, birth control and education, for example, are causes that need support from women and politicians across party and religious lines.

Despite these praises for the protest, the protest failed to be inclusive of the range of political and religious affiliations that surround abortion after the removal of a pro-life group from the Women’s March official website’s list of registered participants. The protest’s “Unity Principles” championed “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion.” It is imperative that women who believe in equality come together to fight for respect and personal freedom, regardless of their stance on abortion.

The March’s focus on reproductive rights also largely overshadowed the need to fight for the rights and fair treatment of all women, including transgender women and minorities.

Though Trump carried 42 percent of the women’s vote nationally this past election, the Women’s March was a strong rebuttal to Trump’s offensive attitudes toward women displayed during the election. In the face of political upheaval around the world, this peaceful protest was a victory for conscious and active citizenship.

The March’s ideals and successes should certainly be applauded, but if women aim to influence these important decisions, sustained action throughout Trump’s presidency is necessary. The Women’s March should serve as a catalyst for continuous dialogue and as a call to action for all Americans. After winning an election on a populist campaign, public support is Trump’s strongest ally and his greatest liability. This march showed the world that millions of Americans do not support Donald Trump or his policies.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

On the surface, the upcoming proposal to separate the graduate schools from the Student Government Association (SGA) seems unnecessary. Since its founding, SGA represented Emory’s graduate students with an internal branch that had its own elected representatives and governed alongside undergraduate representatives.

According to SGA President Max Zoberman, this is “not a new issue.” Graduate students believe this system has never been equal and needs a dramatic shift to fix the structural inequalities in leadership. Currently, the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) is under the Student Government Association (SGA), meaning that the GSGA president has less power and opportunity than the SGA president, not to mention that more SGA legislator positions are reserved for undergraduates than for graduate students . This is the only prompt that brought about the proposed referendum. The Editorial Board initially had reservations about endorsing this referendum, but after conversations with the members of the leadership of SGA, we the Editorial Board of The Emory Wheel endorse this proposal and believe it will create the necessary structure to cater to the differing needs of undergraduate and graduate students.

At Emory, like most universities, the graduate and professional school experience is fundamentally different. Graduate students do not usually live on campus. Their priorities are drastically different from undergraduates. GSGA once proposed the creation of a daycare on campus; undergraduate representatives could not understand why such a plan would be necessary to fund. For a person with a family, this could be the difference between being able to pursue graduate studies and not. The age difference can (and will) determine how distinct students utilize their student government. Postgraduates and undergraduates need separate associations to cater to their respective needs.

Furthermore, the executive branch of SGA was never equipped to handle issues unique to graduate students. Undergraduates have historically had majority representation in SGA and currently fill 23 of the 39 legislative seats. Undergraduates tend to support other undergraduates while postgraduates tend to be apathetic towards or too busy to work on student government, resulting in fewer postgraduate members running. Not only do undergraduates compose the majority of the legislature, the executive branch “never [had] a graduate student at the top of SGA,” according to William Palmer, SGA Governance Committee chair. This is a structural inequality that requires large-scale constitutional and structural reform or the current, simpler solution — a complete split of the graduate and undergraduate student government associations into independent bodies.

Emory’s current structure is unique among its peer universities. Many institutions including Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, UPenn and Georgetown have separate governing bodies for graduate and undergraduate students.

Initially, we had concerns with technical parts of the transition, such as how university-wide organization (UWO) evaluations would be handled between the two different associations. According to SGA, UWO evaluations will be handled by the proposed Joint Governance Committee (JGC) of executive representatives from both the graduate and undergraduate schools if the referendum were to pass. The JGC is an effective solution to handling issues that require  consideration from both graduate and undergraduate students.

Another concern is the unusual structure of the current SGA. The Student Programming Council (SPC) is an executive agency established beneath the President of SGA. Organizations such as SPC can potentially lose funding due to the upcoming UWO evaluation: if the referendum passes, there is a higher chance that more organizations will not be considered university-wide.

Ria Sabnis, the president of SPC, currently represents a UWO that could lose funding. Regardless, she supports this referendum as a member of SGA and does not acknowledge that her stance is not in SPC’s interest. It is our opinion that a representative of a divisional council or executive agency should not prioritize the interests of SGA over their own agency. This is unacceptable and requires further insight as to how SGA itself is structured.

In the long run, the Editorial Board believes this referendum will create a useful separation and resolve issues currently affecting graduate students. Over the years, this issue has been revisited to exhaustion. The creation of a separate Graduate Student Government Association is the only clear-cut solution to a perennial problem.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

Add/Drop/Swap at Emory University is a failing, antiquated system. That was the case this time last where, when the Wheel published an editorial saying so. It remains true today.  The point of Add/Drop/Swap, a period of time to pick classes before enrollment, is for students to ensure that their schedules meet their requirements and choices for the rest of the semester. In the spring, this period is interrupted, as it must be, by the celebration of the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., which means students only attend one Monday/Wednesday class to receive a syllabus. They are then forced to enroll without any substantive class exposure. An extreme example is Introduction to Fiction Writing, a Monday-only class, in which students can enroll but have no opportunity to sit down for the course before Add/Drop/Swap ends. Currently, Add/Drop/Swap does not meet the needs of the student body.

Add/Drop/Swap allows students to test out new professors or different departments without enrolling in the class for the rest of the semester. But when that test does not involve any tangible sources such as adequate Course Atlas information or a portal to access previous course syllabi, Add/Drop/Swap is truly a matter of chance and probability. College Dean Michael A. Elliott sympathized with this particular frustration.“We’ve struggled with how to disseminate this information, he said in an interview, “[The] Course Atlas and OPUS can only contain so much information but yet, more detail is obviously better.”

Financial aid award distribution can justify maintaining Add/Drop/Swap in its current form; certain funds cannot be distributed until this enrollment period ends. However, that does not excuse the lack of a comprehensive process for assessing a course prior to enrollment.

In the past, there was a system for students called LearnLink that served as an informational database for Emory course offerings. LearnLink provided a means of helpfully assessing professors in a way that would aid students during Add/Drop/Swap, but was taken down before BlackBoard was introduced. Students can no longer utilize the database.

According to Elliott, the best way for students to propose a policy change would be through College Council and the Student Government Association (SGA). College Council has already tried to fix this problem by creating a database to which students upload syllabi on OrgSync. This site however has empty folders for certain majors and is a poorly marketed alternative to a simple solution. Allowing qualified students on the Calendar Committee, an administrative group responsible for all changes to the academic calendar, would address the disparity between student concern and administrative reform. This solution would address the problem by going straight to the people responsible for the scheduling, instead of having to work through student government.

The Emory student body has a responsibility to organize desired change. The student body should address the current failure of the Add/Drop/Swap system by persistently contacting the Registrar, deans and faculty members. They must know that students are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until the current system is updated to an acceptable standard.

With the inauguration of President Trump drawing near, highlighting the role of facts in the countless upcoming policy debates is crucial.

The press has traditionally parsed truth from fiction in presenting their findings to the American people. It is often said that a free press strengthens the government’s civic accountability. A free press, however, means little if the American people do not trust it.

Trust is hard to build and easy to lose. A 2016 Gallup study made it clear that news organizations have been losing trust. The most visible manifestation of this trend is the dramatic rise in fake news: a threat to the nation’s public discourse regarding important political issues. With fraudulent stories like the Pope endorsing Trump going viral, the American public has become susceptible to misinformation.

Though media organizations have their share of blame, Trump’s actions contributed to the diminishment of public trust in America’s mainstream press. He has routinely berated and dismissed those institutions that break from his view of reality or have the gall to run a story he views as unfavorable towards him. For example, during his campaign, Trump revoked the press credentials of reputable media outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and The Huffington Post.   

Central to the mission of Emory is finding and spreading truth; the seal of the University consists of a crossed torch and trumpet which represent knowledge and its proclamation, respectively. Faculty, staff, students and alumni of Emory ought to combat fake news by perpetuating truth.

Each member of our community ought to stay loyal to this mantle by subscribing to those newspapers — The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal — which have proven themselves trustworthy sources. These papers are not perfect, but each maintains a long history of ethically reporting news on the national level. Students are more than capable of accessing these news sources given complimentary or subsidized subscriptions Emory offers.  

While members of our community should be free to read other news sources, we should remain vigilant and critical of publications that favor sensationalism over the truth. Moreover, our community’s efforts to eliminate fake news must be an active one. We must proactively elevate the truth and weed out everything else.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board.