Laney Students Vote ‘No Confidence’ in Wagner

Laney Graduate School students voted through an electronic ballot Tuesday that they do not have confidence in James W. Wagner as University president. The Graduate Student Council (GSC) passed a bill earlier this month that allowed the vote to take place.

Twenty-two percent, or 433 students, of the approximately 2,000 total Laney students voted. On the question — “Do you have confidence in James Wagner as President of Emory University?” — 68 percent of voters, or 295 students, voted no, while 27 percent, or 117 students, voted yes, and five percent abstained. The results were announced on the GSC website this afternoon.

GSC President and fifth-year Laney student Rob Rankin wrote in an email to the Wheel that the voting process went well overall. He said about one percent of voters experienced problems.

He added that the voter participation rate was “not surprisingly low,” noting that he wishes Laney students “would be more involved in the University.”

A vote of “no confidence” does not affect Wagner’s employment position as president, but indicates that the Laney student body feels Wagner is no longer fit to lead. In a separate electronic ballot held last week, College faculty rejected a motion of “no confidence” in Wagner after five days of voting.

“Of course I respect the actions of any of our governance bodies to adopt resolutions and make decisions in what they consider to be in the better interests of Emory,” Wagner wrote in an email to the Wheel last week, in regard to the passage of the GSC bill that enabled the vote to be held.

At the Wheel‘s open forum with Wagner yesterday evening, Wagner said he spoke with Dean of the Graduate School Lisa Tedesco “to understand some of the issues in the graduate school” soon before the Laney vote took place.

“There is some listening and discussion that needs to be done. … I don’t really know much about the grievances as expressed by [those who voted yes],” Wagner said at the forum. “That’s part of what I look forward to learning from. It might be nice to be invited to the Graduate [Student] Council and talk to them.”

Voting for Laney students was held online at emory.edu/vote. Those who voted “no” on the ballot represent 15 percent of all Laney students, while those who voted “yes” represent six percent.

“The vote was important to get the students’ perspective of the perception of President Wagner and how we think the University has been run this year,” Rankin wrote. “Personally, I think the results indicate a large number of [Laney] students are unhappy with how the University has been run [and] President Wagner’s actions.”

In the first place, fourth-year student in the Laney Graduate School Andy Ratto presented the bill calling for the vote at an April 4 GSC meeting. The bill passed after it was amended from its original version to add a space on the ballot where voters could type an additional response. Ratto declined to comment.

The voters’ additional comments have not yet been posted on the GSC website.

Ratto had presented another bill at a Student Government Association (SGA) meeting last month, which would have added a question on the student leadership elections ballot about whether students have confidence in Wagner. While the bill was amended to focus on the direction of the University as a whole rather than Wagner himself, the legislature ultimately failed the bill by a vote of 6-14-3.

Some members of the Emory community have questioned Wagner’s leadership this semester after the publication of his controversial column about the Three-Fifths Compromise in the winter edition of Emory Magazine. The column sparked local and national criticism, and Wagner issued an apology, most of which was later taken off the magazine’s website.

The Laney bill did not specifically cite the column or Wagner’s role in the department changes announced last semester — a topic that College faculty members have discussed at their monthly meetings — as reasons for the vote.

Instead, it was meant to serve as a “method of evaluating performance,” according to the bill.

Following the College faculty vote, Wagner sent out a University-wide email Monday morning, in which he wrote, “I pledge to do my best to lead that change and to grow along with you, in order to help Emory change and grow, while making best use of our resources to serve and lead in our challenging times.”

Wagner’s employment at the University ultimately lies in the hands of the Board of Trustees.

In a statement released shortly after the results of the faculty vote were announced, the Board’s Chair Ben F. Johnson III said on the behalf of the Board that Wagner “remains extraordinarily well-suited to maintain Emory University’s forward momentum.”

— By Jordan Friedman 

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