The demonstration — held outside the College’s administration building — brought together students, faculty and staff for the first time since four undergraduate and three graduate programs were either eliminated or suspended this past Friday.
About 20 people spoke during the 90-plus minute meeting, including several department chairs, professors, and students. Sarah Melton, a fourth-year graduate student in the ILA program, acknowledged her disappointment regarding a lack of transparent communication.
“There’s a lot of righteous anger in the air and it would be a shame to let that go to waste,” she explained in an interview with Creative Loafing. "What I think we really need to do now is talk to the administration — to the position where these people came from, which isn’t even clear — which is part of the problem. We really don’t know who made these decisions or why.”
As we noted yesterday, Emory College Dean Robin Forman wrote a letter to members of the affected programs, saying that his decision — which has received support from President James Wagner and the Faculty Financial Advisory Committee started by his predecessor Bobby Paul — was "designed to enhance areas of distinction" and “transform areas of excellence into areas of eminence.”
Forman understands these frustrations, but ultimately believes that his decision serves the greater Emory community—despite cries that the College is becoming part of a growing trend of institutions slashing humanities programs. Members of these departments, however, have struggled to translate his official correspondence and the rationale behind downsizing the amount of liberal arts programs that the College offers.
"It's really a shame,” journalism student Jonathan Demar said during yesterday’s discussion, "because we pride ourselves on being a liberal arts school, yet so much is being cut."
Forman attended most of the meeting, applauding these departments for opening up what he foresees as an ongoing dialogue. He did, however, take issue at the amount of "misinformation" cited as well as reference to these institutional shifts as “cuts." Instead, he stressed that his new plan was entirely discretionary, aiming to strengthen what he considers to be the College’s flagship departments.
“This is not about saving money,” he asserted in a telephone interview with Creative Loafing last night, “it’s about setting priorities and making sure those priorities receive the resources they need to achieve their mission and their ambition and their potential.”
After years of facing deficits, Emory projects to break even in 2012—something the university has worked towards in a way that didn’t affect day-to-day campus operations. The College has managed to remain stable, although it hasn’t expanded in recent years.
In this context, Forman hopes that the reallocation of College resources will strengthen certain programs — albeit at the expense of other programs that he feels were "important," but didn’t necessarily fit the school’s long-term vision.
“I don’t think most of our programs are as vibrant as they should be for our students. We’re not serving our students well by stretching ourselves thin,” he explained. “Every dollar we free up by the reorganization will be reinvested in the academic mission — every dollar.”
In making these decisions, Forman listed several criteria used to assess departments and programs. The College looked at the "national distinction" along with "impact on the undergraduate experience that each 'unit' offered." College officials also considered factors outside of specific departments, like the impact on the “broader university mission beyond purely academic contributions.”
“Is this department a true leader in the discipline, nationally or internationally? If not, what kind of investment would be required to get it there?,” Forman replies. “Is this unit essential for a liberal arts education? Is this a unit in which students show great interest? What are enrollments telling us about student demand for this?”
It will be tough — if even possible — for members of these programs to reverse the College’s decision. Yet, many remained shocked by these developments and wished that there was more of a transparent dialogue leading up to the announcement.
[Editor's note: In full disclosure, I graduated from Emory University, double majoring in sociology and economics. While I'm familiar with both of the professors below, I have not taken classes with either.]
Maria Arbatskaya, Director of Graduate Studies for the Economics department, also addressed the crowd about her suspended program, stating that she never “had a choice of discussing matters of primary importance" and admitted that she had “no clue it was coming.”
Her colleague, Professor Samiran Banjeree spoke harshly about the administration’s poor communication and warned about the future status of not only the Economics Ph.D program, but also the department as a whole.
“Your program is about to be reduced to the level of a community college," Banjeree said during the meeting. "We will not be able to retain our best faculty...people who are serious researchers will look for greener pastures."
Not only did Arbatskaya and Banjeree implore supporters to express their adamant displeasure with the recently announced decision, they also outlined an initial course of action with ways that current students, supporters and alumni could help their cause. Arbatskaya also confirmed in an email that an alumnus — who asked to not be identified — has decided to withhold a half-million dollar donation to until the College reversed the decision.
“If we are loud enough, Banjeree said, “maybe we can make a difference.”
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