Emory’s main governing faculty body has rejected the notion that “faculty governance was done improperly” in response to criticisms from a national organization that supports academic freedom at universities.

The national office of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) sent a letter to University President James W. Wagner in December in support of AAUP members at Emory calling for a full review of the department changes. The local group consists of more than 60 Emory faculty and former administrators and is part of a national organization comprised of more than 500 campus chapters.

College Dean Robin 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.

Former and current chairs of the Governance Committee reject the AAUP’s claim that the University did not follow AAUP-recommended procedural standards.

“The Governance Committee has held faculty meetings in response to the College restructuring, has met with faculty representatives of the affected departments and has decided that the procedures followed were in fact appropriate,” the letter reads.

The letter stressed the College Financial Advisory Committee’s legitimacy in making the decisions before elaborating on the basis for them.

“It is surprising that you would identify those decisions as curricular rather than financial, because they were clearly made out of financial necessity,” the letter reads.

The letter also criticized the AAUP for sending a letter to Wagner first “without the common courtesy of communicating with those involved in faculty governance in the College.”

Earl Lewis, Emory’s former provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, also responded to the national AAUP on behalf of the University just before his retirement. Lewis wrote that the University abided by the bylaws of Emory College Faculty and that Gov. Com, as elected faculty representatives, was a proper avenue for consultation regarding the department changes.

Lewis also noted that the decisions cannot be described as “purely ‘educational’ or ‘financial.'”

“They are decisions about our academic priorities and aspirations in the face of a continuing set of intense financial challenges,” he wrote. “They are designed to ensure the financial health and sustainability of Emory College…as it pursues its academic aspirations in both scholarship and teaching.”

Whether the motives behind the department changes are rooted in either finances or curriculum has been a lingering question since September. In an interview with the Wheel, Forman said that the decision was “not about addressing the financial challenges we’ve faced. Rather, we feel like we’ve emerged from under the yoke of those financial pressures and can begin to think again what are we trying to accomplish [at Emory].”

Forman has said that the College is in a unique position since it has no reserve fund, no debt and has projected a balanced budget for 2013 FY. The College had been operating at a multi-million dollar deficit for years, and, in the process of paying off its debt, exhausted its reserve fund, resources typically used for faculty recruitment and renovations as well as other operating costs. By that same token, the College had no financial flexibility. The department changes, though, will free up an estimated $4.5 million to be invested into other programs.

With regards to the letter from the national AAUP, Forman said that the content did not reflect any independent research but rather was commentary on the information sent to them by the local AAUP chapter.

“The letter from our local chapter has some important questions that we do need to answer but it also contains some incomplete or misleading statements,” he said. “Our first order of business is to clarify things and try to create a space in which we can really focus on those questions that deserve our attention.”

Barbara Ladd, a professor in the English department and president of the local Emory AAUP chapter, remains hopeful that the University will agree to a faculty review of the decisions, a move which the national AAUP office supports. Should the call for a review go unanswered, it is possible that the national office will conduct its own investigation.

“It is the kind of investigation that would probably take a couple of years,” Ladd said. “It’s a very serious undertaking with very serious consequences.”

–Contact Evan Mah at [email protected]
Dustin Slade contributed reporting

Update: 1/18/12 1:55 a.m. The original print story did not include the exert from Provost Lewis.