Here’s the truth: I had planned to write an article this week discussing the dynamic between former President Jimmy Carter and the Jewish community at Emory. But after a series of events, I’ve changed my mind.
Many articles in the past week have been discussing the disappointment and effects of Dean Forman’s recent academic cuts, or “phase outs,” to be more politically correct. In fact, I was quoted on Tuesday, September 18, sharing my feelings of sadness that my plans for being a journalism major were ruined. Well, now I’d like to discuss something a bit foreign to the average Emoryite ear: what happened next.
I won’t deny that I spent countless hours on the phone and writing emails to my parents, friends, and advisers. Everyone had been telling me how sorry they were, as if a relative had passed away. There was the indescribable feeling inside my gut that was telling me that things would get better, although at the time, it seemed like all motions were set in stone. It took three words from my adviser and journalism professor, David Armstrong, to help open my eyes and realize what must be done: “hang in there.” Three words that transformed a mournful and disappointed freshman into an investigative and goal-oriented college student.
I met with the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, Deborah Lipstadt, originally for guidance regarding my Jimmy Carter piece, but only after did I realize that I obtained something greater. Upon introduction, Professor Lipstadt said, “So it must be tough considering your plans went under.” I paused for a moment to think about whether or not I had told her about my involvement in the movement towards saving the Journalism Department. I then realized that she had read the article. That’s when I realized how powerful the word could be. Professor Lipstadt told me that she found Emory to be an “overall pretty apolitical school,” and I certainly agreed. Yet, in times of need, students did not hold back from organizing protests and rallies nor writing and posting petitions, letters and flyers. This was an Emory-wide battle and not just one of my own.
I can’t attest for any of the other departments or programs that have been “phased out,” but I can say confidently that professors Hank Klibanoff, David Armstrong, and the entire Journalism Department, have been working tirelessly and endlessly trying to making the transition as easily and as smooth as possible for all of those enrolled in journalism courses. Less than a week after the royal decrees were made last Friday, Professor Armstrong informed me that “we’re making progress.” In fact, freshmen who were currently enrolled in the introductory course Journalism 201 were being extended an exclusive and rather rare opportunity to complete the journalism co-major or minor by the end of their sophomore years. “It’s not going to be easy and you’ve got to be ready for the ride, but it’s doable, definitely doable,” Armstrong said.
The atomic clock was ticking, since no one really knew what decisions would be made presenting us with yet another hurdle to jump over. So, after a discussion with my parents, Professor Armstrong, and multiple drafts of the classic “pros and cons list,” I decided I was ready to declare my journalism minor. Although I came to Emory with the co-major in mind, I realized that I had to compromise somewhere. Time is of the essence, and I wasn’t confident enough I could pull off the co-major in just three semesters.
The next morning I was reminded that the track is round and even after you jump over the hurtles once, you’re bound to have to reface them. And so I did. “Neither the College nor the Journalism Program has given blanket approval for all students now taking JRNL 201 to co-major or minor. What we’ve won is the right for you to make a case for earning a co-major or minor.” In a separate email, Professor Klibanoff characterized the College’s Office of Undergraduate Education as “very helpful and supportive.” However, less than twenty-four hours after the submission of my petition, I was emailed by Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, Joanne Brzinski, that my petition was declined. I was informed that because I wanted to go to the Business School, I was not able to take the journalism minor.
That was when I showed up at Professor Lipstadt’s office, ready to write my piece on President Carter, but mentally distraught after a series of unfortunate events. Our discussion of Middle Eastern affairs was spectacular- but immediately as I left her office, I knew that’s not where I wanted to go with this story.
“There was a student I was just talking to who wanted to be a high school teacher and is now conflicted after the closing of the Educational Studies program,” Lipstadt continued, “But I told her that it’s more valuable to be an expert, to have a specialty, than it is to be generic.” In my case she told me, “If you want to write about the Middle East, learn Arabic, keep the Hebrew, and become an expert. The writing will be there the entire step of the way. Tom Freidman was not a journalism major.” And so that’s what brought me to computer- a week of chaos, confusion, anger, as well as inspiration, motivation, and optimism. I’ve yet to find out whether or not my dilemma has been solved and whether or not I’m going to have to compromise again with my decisions, but what I do know is this: Emory University professors would make great politicians- the constituents, their students, always come first.
I’m left without much answers although at 12:35 a.m. Friday morning, Professor Armstrong sent me another short message, this time containing four letters: “I’m working on this.” Often times when drama and chaos hits the fan, we forget to try and find the light in the situation- wherever it may be hiding.
Brett Lichtenberg is a College Student in the Class of 2016.