During a webinar yesterday, Emory University President Gregory Fenves discussed the April 25 encampment on the Emory Quadrangle, the subsequent 28 arrests, continued campus protests and the student referendum in which undergraduate students voted on their confidence in the president.

The University Senate hosted the webinar. Senate Executive Committee members repeated their questions from their May 2 emergency meeting to allow the Emory community to hear Fenves’ answers first-hand. Additionally, Emory student government leaders relayed questions from their respective schools to Fenves.

In response to a question from the Executive Committee, Fenves said Emory called the Atlanta Police Department (APD) during the April 25 encampment because the Emory Police Department (EPD) is a small police force that needed assistance clearing the demonstration. Fenves said it was his decision to end the encampment, but that it was up to the three police units — EPD, APD and the Georgia State Patrol — to determine how to end the protest. According to Fenves, Emory still does not know who decided to call the state patrol officers.

Emory University President Gregory Fenves answered questions during a webinar hosted by the University Senate on May 6. (Spencer Friedland/Managing Editor)

Student Government Association (SGA) President Abigail Dubinski (25B) asked if there are plans to better prepare EPD for future protests so the department does not have to rely on outside law enforcement. Fenves said EPD is continuing to train on how it can better support open expression but reiterated that EPD is a small department that needs to rely on outside law enforcement agencies.

Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) President Francis Albright (25G) asked why Fenves did not engage with protestors or try to de-escalate the encampment. Fenves responded that Emory did not know an encampment would happen on April 25 and that the risk of allowing the demonstration to continue was “substantial.”

In response to a question from Oxford College Student Government Association President Kenan Bajraktarevic (25Ox) about whether charges against protestors who were arrested on April 25 have been dropped, Fenves said that if someone broke a law, it must be adjudicated through the “legal process.”

Bajraktarevic also asked why Oxford did not modify its exam schedule. The Oxford student who submitted the question added that some students may feel that the lack of modifications demonstrated the “second-place nature” of Oxford, as the Emory College of Arts and Sciences extended all earlier deadlines to April 30 at 11:59 p.m. Fenves said that Oxford did not adjust its exam schedule because it was up to each school’s deans or individual faculty members to make accommodations for students, as opposed to an administrative decision.

“It was an accommodation for students who were here in the Atlanta campus and either were directly affected by the protests on the 25th and ongoing,” Fenves said.

Dubinski also asked Fenves about “hateful language” that some students feel protestors have used at the demonstrations on campus. Fenves responded that Emory “effectively” follows the principle of the First Amendment, which dictates that hate speech is protected speech. According to Fenves, hate speech also does not violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI states that no one can be subject to discrimination due to their color, race or national origin at any program or activity that receives federal financial assistance, which includes Emory.

There is no policy currently in place to stop hate speech, and Fenves said he has no future plans to limit it. However, he said that hate speech is “awful.”

Bajraktarevic asked Fenves if Emory plans to meet protestors’ demands to divest from Israel and the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, commonly known as “Cop City.” Fenves said that Emory is not considering divesting from Israel and that he does not support doing so.

The president added that Emory does not have a position on “Cop City” and that Atlanta’s elected leaders decided on its construction. While Fenves is not an elected leader of Atlanta, he sits on the Atlanta Committee for Progress, which supported the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.

Former SGA President Khegan Meyers (24B) asked what Fenves wanted to tell students with the pending referendum on their confidence in his ability to fulfill his role, which closed for voting today at 3 p.m. Fenves said that he hoped the information from yesterday’s meeting would be helpful for students when making their decision. He added that he is committed to working with Emory students in an “ongoing process.”

Dubinski asked Fenves about this year’s changed commencement plans, which he announced yesterday morning. Fenves said that it was not possible to safely host the expected 14,000 attendees on the Quad for commencement.

“We worked with EPD, we have had an external security consultant, and we worked with other agencies in the area to ask the question, ‘Can we have that many people on the Quad — and throughout the campus, not just on the Quad — and be able to do it safely?’” Fenves said. “After an analysis that took place last week, the recommendation was that it was not possible.”

Meyers then asked if there would be any accommodations to make the new commencement location accessible. Emory will share more information regarding transportation for commencement, according to Fenves.

Former GSGA President Neeti Patel (24PH) attempted to ask another question toward the end of the meeting when Senate President and Professor of Law George Shepherd cut her off, saying it was Fenves’ turn for closing remarks.

Patel said that she was being “censored” and that “this is really not a good look for y’all.”

In a closing statement, Fenves said that he is focused on creating an environment where students can focus on their exams and celebrate the Class of 2024.

+ posts

Spencer Friedland (26C) is from Long Island, New York and is the Emory Wheel's Managing News Editor. He is a Philosophy, Politics and Law major and has a secondary major in Film. Spencer is also a part of the Franklin Fellows program at Emory.