Disclosures re: Faculty Financial Advisory Committee

Evan Mah at The Emory Wheel goes into some of the talks that have been happening behind the scenes for the past 4 years, culminating in what looked to the rest of the faculty and students like a sudden announcement.

The Faculty Financial Advisory Committee was established in the 2007/2008 year in response to what were then the early days of a nationwide recession (but before the worldwide market crisis of September 2008). It was comprised of 8 faculty members, none of whom were part of any of the departments that ultimately incurred cuts. Michael Giles, of political science, was the chair.[1]

The committee set to evaluating the various academic departments in terms of their running costs, enrollment numbers, reputations, and (more amorphous) value and viability. Giles explains:

“Thinking in terms of scholarly distinction and potential for eminence of programs, how much does it take to move a program up? Some are more costly than other,” Giles said. “How distinguished is a department? What’s its role in the liberal arts? How essential is it? If it’s excised, can you still have a viable liberal arts program? Interdependence [with other departments] goes into that [criteria] as well.”

Giles also said that a key consideration was a department’s centrality in the liberal arts. Without mathematics, for example, physics and biology would be undermined.

Many readers of this blog will no doubt take issue with the findings: Is Spanish, with high demand and a nearly 100% job placement rate for its PhD graduates, not central or distinguished enough? How about the ILA, the first interdisciplinary PhD program in the U.S.? Or the economics department, whose U.S.-wide ranking improved by about 30 points over the last decade (placing it among the top 50 nationwide)?

Hank Klibanoff, chair of the journalism program, takes the committee to task for its refusal to communicate its goals and fears openly, especially at the height of the financial crisis. Giles maintains that greater transparency would have caused “widespread panic.”

(I was here in 2008. I doubt that one more voice, speaking rationally and factually, could have generated any more panic than the constant flow of rumors or the culture at large.)

The Wheel also includes a graph of the “Number of students affected by department cuts,” which we believe is misleading (especially in regard to the undergraduate figures). The number of majors is not an accurate measure of impact, given elective courses, on-campus visibility and public conferences, the amount of teaching done by grad students, and the impact of departments’ research and publications.



[1] The other members were Keith Berland of physics; Huw Davies of chemistry; Dean Forman; Pam Hall and Bobbi Patterson of religion; Stefan Lutz of chemistry; and Associate Dean Rick Rubinson of sociology.

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One thought on “Disclosures re: Faculty Financial Advisory Committee

  1. Concerned for Emory says:

    If Evan Mah’s reporting is true and accurate, this article all by itself makes the case for the necessity of critical journalism at Emory. What we learn from and about Michael Giles is astonishing:

    * That he openly lied about and dissimulated the nature of the Financial Advisory Committee’s work ( “Back in 2008 when his colleagues asked how the situation was looking, Giles said he would always “lie” about how well everything was going…”);

    * That Giles’ committee was authorized to collect departmental documentation prepared for various routine purposes, in order to secretly evaluate the merits of departments’ and programs’ very existence at Emory ( “With permission from the dean and the provost, the committee acquired exhaustive documentation: department-planning materials, department self-evaluations, patterns of enrollment, course cross-listings with other departments, external reviews — everything…just short of an individual’s salary. The committee, then, set criteria and parameters for evaluating departments.”);

    3) That Giles knowingly suppressed democratic processes in what he knew was work with far-reaching consequences ( “I’d rather take the heat for a lack of transparency than see the antagonism…that comes from open discussion”).

    What Mah appears to have uncovered is basically a junta operating from inside the Governance Committee, secretly trying departments and programs in absentia for elimination. The entire Emory community should be deeply troubled that for over four years Giles and his committee acted so dutifully to undermine shared governance and open debate.

    Mah does not mention it, but it’s worth recalling that while Giles’ “advisory” committee was conducting its hatchet work, Giles’ power extended even further. He led the search committee that chose Robin Forman as Bobby Paul’s successor.

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