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.
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.
 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.