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Monday, September 17, 2012

Emory faculty and students respond to proposed program cuts

As we first touched upon yesterday, Emory University quietly announced the elimination of several academic programs last Friday.

Emory Journalism Program up in flames. Who needs educated journalists, anyway?
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Emory Journalism Program up in flames. Who needs educated journalists, anyway?
Over the weekend, those affected by the pending cuts — including faculty and students from the Educational Studies, Journalism, Physical Education, and Visual Arts undergraduate departments as well as the Economics, Institute of Liberal Arts, and Spanish graduate programs — have started to organize in response to Emory's "new direction."

According to initial statements, the proposed cuts include sweeping changes ultimately "designed to enhance areas of distinction" and "allocate resources to invest in important new and emerging growth areas." Emory College Dean Robin Forman first revealed the new course of action during a Faculty Town Hall last week, stating that many of these forthcoming changes will occur over a several-year period. Beyond that, however, the shuttering of these programs caught many off guard.

Not long after Friday's news broke, Hank Klibanoff, Sissel McCarthy, and David Armstrong from the Journalism Program sent out a letter to their students, which included the following excerpts:

This is an unwise decision. The Journalism Program, since it was created in 1996, has consistently produced some of nation’s most respected journalists and citizens of the world, who continue to bring great honor to Emory University. This surprise announcement catches us in the middle of a growth spurt: Our enrollment has been steadily rising in recent years and is now nearly 160 students, more than a third of them co-majors and minors. This semester, nearly every class is full and had to turn students away.

The program will continue this year and next year so that students who are Journalism co-majors and minors can complete their courses and internship requirements. The faculty is staying on and is committed to continuing to offer the high-quality courses and experiences that have been the hallmark of this popular program since 1996. I believe some courses we teach will continue to exist beyond the two year time-frame the Dean has set, but they will not be part of a Journalism Program or co-major.

The faculty is discussing how the Dean’s decision will affect course offerings after this semester. It seems certain we will reduce or eliminate the introductory course, JRNL 201, after this semester, and we hope to convert those classes into expanded opportunities for co-majors and minors to get core and elective courses. [...]

I wish I had a good explanation for this decision, or how it was reached. As recently as mid-August, discussions in the Dean’s office about Journalism were focused on which department might house the Journalism Program; there was no discussion about closing the program.

The Dean told me the decision on Thursday afternoon. In our meeting, he acknowledged the program’s important work in the past and present, its energy and its popularity among a growing number of students. He said the decision to close Journalism was very, very difficult for him.

The one rationale he provided, other than the competition for resources he mentions in his letter, was that Journalism was viewed by many at Emory as a “pre-professional program” and therefore as “not an easy fit” in a liberal arts environment. I am not sure why preparing our students to be critical thinkers, professional journalists and better-informed citizens, as we do, carries a negative connotation. We’re proud of what we are and of the students who have come out of our program. In any case, it’s unclear to me why we didn't have a discussion on that, even a debate, before the decision was made to close the program.

In addition, other programs have responded to last week's announcements. Members of the Economics Ph.D. program started an online petition, noting that:

Dean Robin Forman has proposed to suspend the Ph.D. program without seeking this external input. In fact, the decision was made without any consultation with the Economics chair, the Director of Graduate Studies, or the Executive Committee of the Laney Graduate School that oversees this program.

In asking for support, the petition states that the program is "the intellectual life-blood of the department," where a "vibrant climate of research and inquiry has flourished." The petition also adds that the suspension would "jeopardize the College’s primary mission of providing a quality liberal arts education" and negatively impact the department's undergraduate program—which ranks among the nation's top 50 institutions.

Finally, students from these graduate programs are gathering today at noon on Emory's quad, where they plan to host an "organizational meeting" to determine their plan of action moving forward.

Across the board, it appears that those involved with the suspended programs — staff, faculty, and students alike — won't be going down without a fight.

UPDATE, 11:18 a.m.: Today's meeting is intended for graduate students from all of the programs affected by the proposed cuts, and is open to everyone.

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