There is a problem here at Emory.
What brought all of us together today is what appears to be only the latest in a series of blunders by the administration. From exploitative labor practices to the suppressing of student dissent, the dishonesty of data-reporting, the ignoring of racism, the drastic cuts to programs and the latest comments by President Wagner – Emory is all the more prominent for all the wrong reasons.
In fact, this time last semester, opposition to the sweeping and unilateral cuts to academic programs announced by Dean Forman animated our campus. It was to these very cuts that President Wagner referred to in his infamous article.
One indication of what these cuts are about is through the logic of proportion.Whenever people in power attempt to implement narrow-minded and regressive decisions, they always present them as neutral, efficient, responsible, prudent, inevitable – or, in this case, “in the pursuit of eminence.”
Yet when we use the critical faculties that are a central purpose of the university – when we examine the details, read and discuss carefully and analyze the processes, we see that these cuts were far from neutral
As you all know, the cuts target the Division of Educational Studies (DES), the department of Visual Arts, the Journalism program, the Institute for the Liberal Arts, the department of Physical Education, the graduate programs in Economics and Spanish and language instruction in Russian.
Taken together, these programs contain some of the highest numbers of students of color and from abroad. Just two examples: 25 percent of the ILA students are minorities, and 40 percent of students in the DES are African-American, the greatest population in any department in the university. In terms of faculty, whereas only 15 percent of the total University faculty is of color, the cut departments are comprised of anywhere between 20 percent and 48 percent faculty of color. And the decision to make these cuts was made by a group of eight white people, six of whom were men.
In other words, these cuts disproportionately impact people of color: students, faculty and departments that play vital roles in communities across Atlanta.
To make sense of what this means, contrast it with another glaringly disproportionate element of our society. For example, U.S. incarceration rates.
While African-Americans are 14 percent of the general population, they are 40 percent of the prison population. Unless one is either hopeless or ignorant, it is clear that issues of poverty, criminality and the justice system are far from neutral but are instead deeply implicated in a politics of race and racism.
The further question to ask, however, is that if African-Americans, as 14 percent of the general population, came to constitute 14 percent of the prison population, would the problem be solved? Would proportional representation in prisons be the answer to the contradictions of poverty, crime and justice?
Disproportion is therefore an indication of a problem, but it is not its entirety. This is where President Wagner’s comments are actually illuminating. What he said in praise of the decision of a few white, property-owning men to quantify the humanity of slaves as a fraction is not merely clumsy and insensitive. It also contains an insight into how the administration understands governance and the process of decision-making.
President Wagner’s use of the Three-Fifths Compromise example unwittingly draws a parallel across centuries, connecting the actions of those in power. In this case, in mobilizing against these cuts, the Student Re-visioning Committee organized three major public demonstrations, wrote scores of op-ed pieces in different publications, sent letters, requests and petitions, met and spoke with administrators for hours, garnered local and national media coverage and held a seven-hour sit-in at the administration building. In response, the administration listened, shrugged and proceeded to do exactly what they set out to do.This is what the language of dialogue and compromise is designed to conceal: the disparities of power that, again in this case, exclude students from meaningful participation in how our university operates. President Wagner’s error was therefore not only an odious comparison, but an honest revelation. And it is a profound lack of vision that allows him first to make the mistake and second to apologize and deny its truth.
Indeed, by their own words, the administration acknowledges that they do not have the right set of eyes to edit their own publications. While I agree that they are grossly inadequate, this issue involves more than simply iris color and skin pigmentation.
So, there are problems at Emory. What is needed is a movement of people in a range of capacities to come together to think through a different way of identifying priorities, addressing needs as well as aspirations and implementing sound policies. We need a project of re-visioning to democratize our university.And for that, this latest uproar demonstrates that we are probably better off attempting this difficult task without the current administration.
Navyug Gill is a graduate student in history and SRC member.