In a recent editorial in Emory Magazine, President James Wagner compared disagreements over recent academic cuts at Emory University with the Three-Fifths Compromise, describing the latter as a “noble achievement.” President Wagner’s statements have shocked and horrified the Emory community and received widespread criticism in national and international media. The Three-Fifths Compromise, in which white lawmakers used enslaved black persons as bargaining chips to accumulate more political power, infamously demonstrates how compromise can yield egregious outcomes and why the word "compromise" should never be used to discuss human dignity and rights.
President Wagner’s attempt to compare university downsizing to shameful historical events is disturbing. The President’s views are all the more troubling in light of the racial dimensions of the recent cuts at Emory, which were announced in September 2012. According to the Administration’s own data, the cuts disproportionately impact scholars of color and women. Especially troubling is the elimination of Emory’s century-old Division of Educational Studies, which has maintained historic links with the Civil Rights movement and produced more black PhD graduates than any other program of its kind in the nation. If anything, President Wagner’s abhorrent comments underscore the need for a rigorous liberal arts education.
Emory community members have denounced President Wagner's damaging essay. As one of the most prestigious universities in the South, Emory has a responsibility to set a high ethical standard. The role of president, in particular, should be to lead the Emory community, not embarrass its members and insult people of conscience everywhere. Through his consistent unwillingness to compromise on issues of academic cuts, economic inequalities, and student dissent on campus, as well as through this essay, President Wagner has proved himself incapable of fulfilling his role.
If you are concerned about the future of Emory University under its current leadership and agree that praising actions designed to exploit enslaved persons is unacceptable behavior from a university president, please join us in calling for the immediate resignation of President James Wagner.