Questions for James Wagner

Tonight the Emory Wheel is hosting an “Open Forum” with President Wagner. We are grateful for the Wheel’s organizing this opportunity. Here are our questions for the President. We have a lot, but then again, although an hour isn’t nearly enough time to decisively deal with the issues of program cuts, race, sexual assault, his essay, governance, and advocacy for the liberal arts, we’re going his desire for questions at face value and put all of these out there in good faith.

On Student Representation:

Toward more active and meaningful student participation in the running of the university, do you support an elected student representative on the Board of Trustees?

The outcome of the recent Laney Graduate Student vote indicates that graduate student concerns are not being addressed at Emory. Would you support the unionization of Graduate Students at Emory, and how would you engage with an organized body representing Laney Graduate student interests going forward?

Do you endorse student representatives on faculty search committees, as occurs in many other schools?

There were no student representatives in the recent search for a new Provost or in the search for a Dean for the College in 2009-2010.  Do you endorse student representatives on administrative search committees in the future?  Do you endorse student representation on the search committee to choose your successor, whenever that search should come?

Do you support student participation in the writing of each department’s annual academic planning documents, and do you support student participation in the academic planning meetings that the College Office holds with each department?

Do you endorse student-led initiatives concerning curriculum planning, and if so, what mechanisms can the College introduce to solicit and integrate such initiatives?

On the Recent Votes:

President Wagner, 40% of voting college faculty and 68% of voting Laney students just indicated that they do not have confidence in you.  Why do you think so many people in the Emory community don’t have confidence in you, and what will you be doing to regain their support?

Graduate students in the liberal arts and sciences often go on to pursue jobs in universities, colleges, and other places of higher learning. Are you concerned that the current governance of Emory is being brought into question by the next generation of academics and scholars? Does your vision of Emory’s future appropriately take into account the voices of future academy leaders?

Would you agree with the following statement:  “In addition to being students, undergraduates at Emory College should also be considered major funders of the university by virtue of the tuition we pay through heavy borrowing at our own risk”––?

Would you agree to an hour’s debate with a student opponent of the cuts, in an open forum before the close of the current semester?

About Dissent on Campus:

In your now-famous 3/5 Compromise column, you write:  “Through debate, through questioning, through experimentation, we aim to enlarge the sphere of knowledge and refine the exercise of wisdom, to do the hard work of opening others’ minds and keeping our own minds open to possibilities.”  Please describe your view of this year’s student-driven dissent around the issue of the cuts in connection with this published statement of yours.

Nearly two years ago, at the Open Forum following the arrests of seven students on the Quad for peaceful dissent, faculty fervently expressed their serious concern over your disregard of students’ courageous inquiry into Emory’s contracting policies and your bypassing of avenues of shared governance in the decision to arrest and pursue criminal charges against students. You apologized and the community moved on, trusting that you had learned something from those events. Over this past year, we again witnessed your disregard of students’ concerns about the departmental cuts and how you bypassed shared governance and violated university bylaws in carrying out those cuts. You have proven to us that you are good at apologizing, but not at learning. Why should we trust that you will act any differently this third time around? Or is there simply, in your own words, more of this to come?

President Wagner, at the end of a meeting with you in December to negotiate the possible reversal of the cuts, you stated that you would like to work with students, but not students like those of us at the meeting. Did you mean you would not work with the seven students at the meeting, or the 150 who occupied the administration building to demand reversal of the cuts?

On Race:

President Wagner, we are very encouraged by your renewed interest in diversity, equity, and social justice. I would like to know how your cabinet, which is 90% white and 70% male, and the Board of Trustees, which is 88% white and 76% male, are working to ensure equity and social justice for the lowest paid workers on campus – the non-managerial contract labor force – which is nearly 80% Black or Latino/a. Other than the model of ideal compromise and governance you proposed in your recent essay – in which white men make decisions that maintain control over the labor of black human beings and ensure continued profits – what specific policies or compromises do you envision that will make social justice a reality for these workers?

Dean Forman has been quoted in an interview with NPR / WABE as saying that the SRC’s Factsheet about race and the cuts was “damaging.” Do you agree? The SRC factsheet on Race and the Cuts raised questions that were officially submitted to the administration and to you personally multiple times. Were those questions only damaging when they circulated within the community, or did they just become damaging when they reached outside media? Why has your administration yet to release a researched, written reply the fact sheet?

On Race and Sexual Assault:

How many of the previous ten State of Race addresses have you been to?  Have you been SAPA trained?  Have you done the office of LGBT life Safe Spaces training?

On Advocacy for the Liberal Arts and Program Cuts:

What parts of the process for the fall department cuts were flawed and what changes would you like to see the next time Emory is considering eliminating departments?

You are on the record as telling the Emory College faculty in your address to them in March 2012, “we will not cut our way to eminence.”  Can you confirm that there will be no further cuts to liberal arts programs in the effort to enhance Emory’s academic stature?

President Wagner, I was at a meeting with you in December as a student representative against the cuts. At that meeting, you stated that there was “more of this to come”. Could you elaborate?

We know that students take the time to express a variety of opinions on our educational experience in the course evaluations that we fill out for each course we take.  Our responses are both statistical and narrative. And yet it is normal that we receive no response whatsoever to the views we express.  How are students to know that our opinions are being taken into consideration?  Do you endorse regular meetings between chairs and groups of majors in the College to discuss the quality and effectiveness of teaching?

What role should clearly expressed student demand for courses of study play in academic planning?  For example, the Visual Arts department––whose elimination from Emory you have endorsed––has for many years had long wait lists owing to its unique theory-practice curriculum, and has never been given the resources to teach the number of classes students wish to take.  Since the cuts were announced last September, wait lists for that department have increased even more, sometimes topping 100.  Similar stories can be told about all the cut departments.  Do you see students as misguided in wishing to take courses in disciplines you see as so lacking in value that you authorized their removal from Emory?  Would you say that you know better than students what skills are important to take from our time and investment in Emory?

On Leading Emory:

Do you think Emory’s administrator to faculty ratio is too high? Why or why not?

Are there other university presidents you draw inspiration from? Could you explain why?

In February, a representative from Bain & Company described how administrative bloat is plaguing American universities and impeding cash flow. Are you planning on hiring Bain as a consultant for Emory?

You have stated several times that you view university governance as a republic, not a democracy. Going forward, do you plan any initiative to ensure appropriate representation of faculty, staff, and students in future management decisions as befits a republican model?


Grad vote results: no confidence, low turnout

Question: Do you have confidence in James Wagner as President of Emory University?

433 students, or 22% of the Laney Graduate School, voted. While that percentage is lower than we would have liked, it’s worth noting that we still turned out more voters than the faculty poll, which provided a week-long window. (We might also note that only 90 students voted in the last GSC officer elections.)

All votes
117 (27%) Yes -­‐ I do have confidence in James Wagner as President
295 (68%) No -­‐ I don’t have confidence in James Wagner as President
21 (5%) Abstain -­‐ I abstain from this vote
As a percentage of all LGS students
6% Yes -­‐ I do have confidence in James Wagner as President
15% No-­‐I don’t have confidence in James Wagner as President
1% Abstain -­‐ I abstain from this vote

Edited 4/17 to correct number of voters.

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Grad students: have you voted yet?

The link for voting is, and the polls close at 8:30 tonight.

Mael and Kwame encouraging grad students to vote outside the library


Confidence games

Last week, 133 College faculty, or 40% of voters, declared that they had no confidence in President Wagner as a leader of Emory. Wagner and his supporters are calling the referendum a victory. Here’s why we don’t think it’s that simple: The motion for a referendum survived three faculty meetings (including one at which Wagner was present), as did the Payne motion calling for a review of the cuts. 133 votes on a symbolic, non-binding motion cannot be ignored. And the high number of eligible faculty who didn’t vote at all (47%) speaks to the obscurity of governance and the president’s responsibilities.

Finally, we are still awaiting the graduate student vote. Go to tomorrow (April 16) between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

This morning, Wagner emailed the entire Emory community with a veritable Mad Lib of administrative clichés. We couldn’t help but notice a striking resemblance to last week’s “Keep Wagner” campaign:
Wagner email and Keep Wagner petition

The creator of the campaign, which appeared halfway through the faculty vote and appears to target undergraduate students (who were denied the right to an actual vote on the matter by the SGA), has “requested anonymity because of his affiliation with a student organization.” He implies that SRC activism, rather than any particular contribution Wagner has made to the university, was the catalyst. To which we reply: It must take a lot of courage to defend the status quo, word for word.

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Our Dooley


Photo: Jason Francisco.


David Mullins: Complexity pedagogy must define the university

David Mullins, an undergraduate student of comparative literature and one of the SRC’s most visible representatives, has sent us the text of his presentation at the symposium.

“Complexity Pedagogy Must Define the University”

Many commentators tend to talk about science and math as if they were neatly separable from language, liberal arts, and literature. That we can shorten column B (say liberal arts) and lengthen column A (say, science or business) and then we will have less B and more A. This presentation will argue that this is a bit of a devil’s bargain, and we will end up losing both. We will lose both because something that might be called complexity is both what the liberal arts excel at navigating, and that which underpins breakthroughs in science and business. so it is not that the liberal arts are somehow parasitic on scientific or economic breakthroughs, it’s actually precisely the opposite. That complexity, and creativity in the face of complexity, is the basis of groundbreaking investigation in all three: the liberal arts and the sciences, and economics and that the liberal arts, because they do not have this input/output fixation, this focus on efficiency they are in a privileged position because generally better situated than a Management 101 class to navigate complex systems, which have multiple and sometimes unknowable variables, not just one variable that we might call profit or empirical success, empirical success from the perspective of a rather naieve sort of modern, pre-Einsteinian, pre-quantum physics science.

Continue reading

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Tressie’s RVE speech and reflections

Tressie McMillan Cottom has published her talk from the Re-Visioning symposium on her blog, along with afterthoughts. You wouldn’t have known from listening, but much of her talk was edited at the last moment, in response to AIDS researcher Dr. Kimberly Hagen’s earlier talk about teaching one of Emory’s first MOOCs.

The panel on which Tressie spoke, which also featured Michelle Ledder of the Graduate Division of Religion and David Mullins of Comparative Literature, was one of the more electrifying conference experiences many of us had witnessed in a long time.* Jason Francisco, our faculty ally in Visual Arts, remarked that it was definitely the most compelling performance he had seen in the VAB gallery. We hope to make more of the presentations available in the coming days.

*I write this even having been present at the seminotorious Lee Edelman/Jack Halberstam standoff at the last MLA.

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