Friday, February 22, 2013

Emory faculty vote to censure president over 'three-fifths compromise' column

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 1:47 PM

Emory University President James Wagner
Emory University's faculty members this week voted at their monthly meeting to censure President James Wagner over a controversial column he wrote that held up the Three-Fifths Compromise as an example of two sides collaborating for the greater good. The piece, which appeared in the winter edition of Emory Magazine, has sparked national headlines and criticism toward Wagner, to say the least.

A faculty member clarified in The Emory Wheel, the student-run newspaper, that a censure is "an expression that you deplore what he said. [It's] a little stronger than a reprimand, but not as strong as a vote of no confidence."

A "no confidence" vote would have indicated that the faculty members think Wagner is no longer fit to serve as the school's president. Faculty considered casting a vote of "no confidence" this week but will wait until next month when Wagner attends their meeting to make such a decision, the Wheel reported.

Wagner's Emory Magazine column, titled "As American as ... Compromise," has led to considerable backlash from the school community and beyond.

Salon and Gawker picked up the article over the weekend, and it's since been the topic of discussion (and mostly criticism) in a HuffPost Live chat. CL's Gwynedd Stuart wrote in an editorial: "It is, certainly, an example of two opposing sides of a constitutional question reaching an agreement. But it also carries with it the implication that individual slaves didn't count as whole people."

Still, Ben F. Johnson III, the chairman of Emory's Board of Trustees, told Salon that Wagner has his "100-percent, undivided support."

Wagner has apologized for the column, but didn't necessarily say the example he used was a bad one. He acknowledges that "it was a repugnant compromise" but goes on to say, "Despite its weakness, the Constitution pointed toward (though it did not fulfill) a better reality to which its creators aspired."

He has recognized, though, that his actions were the result of poor judgment and clumsiness.

In the editing process, the article passed by Emory's vice president and the communications and marketing director, in addition to Emory Magazine editors.

"I'll be frank - one of the issues is that all of the eyes on the piece before it was published were white people," Gary Hauk, Emory's vice president and deputy to the president, told the Wheel.

The column itself was written in light of department changes at Emory. In September, the university announced it would reallocate resources and finances in the College of Arts and Sciences. The move would eliminate the Journalism program and do away with the Division of Educational Studies and the Department of Visual Arts. It would suspend admission to a few graduate-school programs.

"Part of the messy inefficiency of university life arises from the intention to include as many points of view as possible, and to be open to the expectation that new ideas will emerge," Wagner wrote in his original column. "The important thing to keep in view is that this process works so long as every new idea points the way toward a higher shared ideal, namely truth."

It's been a rough year for the Emory University community: falsified admissions numbers provided to rankings organizations, an acknowledgment of anti-Semitism at the former dental school during the 1960s, controversial department cuts, and most recently, Wagner's Three-Fifths Compromise column.

The piece - as well as what many considered racially insensitive comments on a student-run comedy show - have reopened discussions about race on Emory's campus. Some students have organized a "Rally Against Racism" that will take place on Emory's campus on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 6 p.m.

[Full disclosure: I am an associate editor at the Wheel.]

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