Our Opinion: After Open Forum, Questions Remain

The Wheel hosted an open forum yesterday with University President James W. Wagner, the first in what we hope will be a series of Wheel-sponsored forums. Our forum sought to give students the opportunity to hear President Wagner speak first-hand about many salient issues on campus — including race and social justice, sexual assault prevention and awareness, community and governance and advocacy for the liberal arts.

We would like to thank President Wagner for making himself so accessible and being willing to speak before the student body on short notice. We hoped that the forum would be an occasion for him to speak frankly and resolutely about key issues but ultimately, we feel that he did not take full advantage of this opportunity. Instead, he reiterated many of the same talking points that we have been hearing since the start of the academic year.

We were left feeling dissatisfied.

Many of our own questions, as well as those we received via Twitter and Facebook, asked Wagner to address concrete initiatives. Instead, we were repeatedly informed of committees that had been formed to investigate or discuss the issues but given few details about the actual actions of those committees. We at the Wheel feel that it would be a better use of time for Wagner to outline the specific actions these committees plan to implement.

An example of Wagner’s ambiguity was his response to a question regarding benefits that Emory faculty members receive, that contracted workers — for instance, those employed by Sodexo or Emory Document Services — are not entitled to. Instead of answering the question in a straightforward fashion, Wagner commented that contracted workers are, in fact, entitled to benefits that Emory faculty are not. But Wagner did not elaborate what those benefits are or whether they are comparable. If Wagner’s ambiguity is a result of his hesitancy to speak directly to the heart of the issue for fear that his responses would be upsetting to some, we encourage him to do so anyway. We would prefer to hear the hard truth rather than ambiguous non-answers.

Two other examples of this ambiguity were Wagner’s answers to questions about the existence of racism and a “rape culture” at Emory. In response, Wagner talked broadly about these issues without offering any suggestions as to how sexual assault could be prevented or how a rape culture could be deterred. He did make reference to the work of the Respect Program but did not speak directly about their actions or proposed actions.

We do not expect Wagner to be the one implementing such actions directly. We understand that he, instead, oversees the programs or departments in charge of such initiatives. But do expect him to know about those initiatives and speak to them directly.

We feel that Wagner responded best to questions when he was confronted directly about an issue. In response to a question about the effect of the department cuts on Emory’s high-ranking writing programs, Wagner said that several new writing professors had been hired, using funds the College saved by cutting other departments.

Again, we are thankful that Wagner was willing to participate in this forum. But in the future, we hope that he will provide concrete answers to questions rather than reiterating what has already been said.

The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel‘s editorial board.