Emory faculty vote on Jim Wagner starting today. Can he still lead Emory or has he been compromised?

Emory President Jim Wagner (Emory)

Emory President Jim Wagner (Emory)

Faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences at Emory University begin voting today on whether they still trust in the ability of embattled President James Wagner to lead the university. The online voting will continue through Friday.

I have been getting a lot of emails both for and against Wagner, who sparked a firestorm with a recent essay in which he cited the infamous  1787  “three-fifths compromise” as an example on how leaders reach agreements.

Established in the give-and-take of shaping the U.S. Constitution, the compromise counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of distributing funds back to states and determining representation in Congress.

Writing  in Emory Magazine, Wagner used the compromise as an example of how people with conflicting views can find common ground.

He wrote:

One instance of constitutional compromise was the agreement to count three-fifths of the slave population for purposes of state representation in Congress. Southern delegates wanted to count the whole slave population, which would have given the South greater influence over national policy. Northern delegates argued that slaves should not be counted at all, because they had no vote. As the price for achieving the ultimate aim of the Constitution—“to form a more perfect union”—the two sides compromised on this immediate issue of how to count slaves in the new nation. Pragmatic half-victories kept in view the higher aspiration of drawing the country more closely together.

Some might suggest that the constitutional compromise reached for the lowest common denominator—for the barest minimum value on which both sides could agree. I rather think something different happened. Both sides found a way to temper ideology and continue working toward the highest aspiration they both shared—the aspiration to form a more perfect union. They set their sights higher, not lower, in order to identify their common goal and keep moving toward it.

His essay elicited widespread condemnation, and he apologized for  his “clumsiness and insensitivity.”

In his apology in Emory Magazine, Wagner wrote:

A number of people have raised questions regarding part of my essay in the most recent issue of Emory Magazine. Certainly, I do not consider slavery anything but heinous, repulsive, repugnant, and inhuman. I should have stated that fact clearly in my essay. I am sorry for the hurt caused by not communicating more clearly my own beliefs. To those hurt or confused by my clumsiness and insensitivity, please forgive me.

But the issue refuses to fade away.

Wagner has already been dealing with the fallout of a controversial decision to close Emory’s educational studies division, its physical education department, its visual arts department and its journalism program and suspend admissions to the graduate programs in Spanish, economics and the Institute of Liberal Arts. The savings will allow Emory to bolster such growing areas as neurosciences, contemporary China studies and digital and new media studies. But the cuts upset many students and faculty on the campus, and protests resulted. (Here is an interview with Wagner that touches on the program cuts.)

Distressed over Wagner’s leadership and communication style,  faculty members in the College of Arts and Science decided to vote to determine their level of confidence in Wagner.

A “no confidence” majority vote would not send Wagner packing as the Emory board of trustees controls whether the president stays or goes. And Wagner still retains the support of the board. But a vote of no confidence would certainly undermine Wagner.

When news first broke about Wagner’s citing of the three-fifths compromise in his President’s Letter essay, AJC higher ed reporter Laura Diamond talked to some folks about the remark.

Among the comments in her story:

“It was a terrible misfire, ” said Mark Auslander, an anthropology professor at Central Washington University who taught at Emory and wrote about the college’s racial history. “Jim Wagner has a significant track record for work on social justice and issues with racism and slavery, but even for us who admire and support him, that letter is just baffling and even incomprehensible.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

82 comments Add your comment


April 8th, 2013
1:26 pm

No way should he be allowed to stay on – he needs to be as firm and uncompromising in his commitment to justice and equality as National Socialist party ideologues were to a racially pure fatherland.


April 8th, 2013
1:48 pm

The increasingly insular world of Emory University is of severe disappointment to this bearer of multiple degrees from the school. From chicken to Newt Gingrich , the students and the faculty are adopting a close minded view of the world. If Wagner is to blame for this he should go…I am disappointed with the University. As for Dr. Auslander, CENTRAL Washington U,may be his just reward…….

Another Voice

April 8th, 2013
1:54 pm

Trustees are Wagner’s “bosses.” This is yet another example of political correctness – or, as some have compared it, letting the inmates vote on the warden. Yeah, that is helpful. Not. Let him get on with the business of running the University. He made an error, he apologized for it. For heavens sake people, get a grip. Where’s that whole “he without sin may cast the first rock” spirit? Or wait, it USED to be associated with the Methodist Church, now it’s a bunch of heathens running the place.


April 8th, 2013
1:59 pm

@ Bootney Farnsworth. On the “Premier DeKalb” blog you posted this morning at 9:17 am: “Maureen, When
are you gonna do a thread on the no confidence vote going on at Emory?”

Good call.


April 8th, 2013
2:18 pm

Compromised by the liberal blogger here and likely by liberal college faculty. Probably not by the folks who actually make such decisions and backed by the alumni: the Board of Trustees.

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
2:22 pm

this is a really tricky issue. both sides have valid points which are lost in the poorly considered 3/5th statement.

long before this article came up, Wagner made a bold move to cut back the arts offerings at Emory.
this was done due to: poor attendance, not a mission critical focus, and the cost savings. this went over as well as expected

it was a move which, while painful, IMO was both bold and necessary. the faculty counter, however, was also valid in their issue of Emory being a liberal arts school, not a technical (GT, MIT style) one.

this is lost in the 3/5th firestorm. and once Wager is forced from office, the issues will still be there.
but no progress will have been made on the real issues.

an important thing lost in this firestorm is the vast and growing divide between college administration and faculty/staff. neither side trust the other, and neither side is willing to seriously talk to the other

Philip L. McCleary

April 8th, 2013
2:35 pm

Once again an educator was crazy enough to think he could write about a controversial subject that involved blacks and slavery and not suffer literary murder. I always thought that centers of higher learning were in part created to foster new and imaginative thought and to look at the old problems in a new light. I see that I was mistaken and the poor man is to scrapped along with his ideas and thoughts. I do see that we now will have on campus a new black student union that can further complain about the inequity they are forced to live in. In short my position is unchanged I support the right for anyone anywhere to write and have an opinion without it placing their career in jeopardy. Mr Jim Wagner was correct in his assessment that the three fifths compromise was correct for the country at the time but he will pay today’s price for saying it!
Good Luck Mr. Wagner I would have liked to have known you.


April 8th, 2013
2:35 pm

@bootney, to get an idea of what the alumni thinks,review the Emory Magazines’s “letter’s to the Editor” written by alumni after they read the scorn heaped upon the University for allowing Mr. Gingrich to publish in the same magazine. There appears to be a real disconnect between the alumni and the faculty also. Please direct the faculty to the private sector to see if they would survive, I know that my former colleagues at the school would not.


April 8th, 2013
2:36 pm

Graduate school in Business required a lot of leftist political correctness on my part, and even sometimes pretending to be a liberal so as not to antagonize the mostly liberal faculty. As an undergraduate in engineering it didn’t require any of that as testing, projects, and papers were almost all objective – and professors did not discuss, give, or hint their political views.


April 8th, 2013
2:41 pm

Conservatives act out of, among other things, acknowledged self-interest. Liberals are always concerned with justice, fairness, and the common good. Thus, if you disagree with a liberal you are not just someone with a different point of view or opinion, you are a BAD person who is selfish and does not care about others.

Hence the self-righteous intolerance you experienced in grad school.

Just A Teacher

April 8th, 2013
2:59 pm

I’m confused by the issue here. This man cited an historical event as a way to clarify the importance of compromise in politics. It is certainly not a compromise we would use today, but it did occur. Do those people offended object to making compromises to keep the government functioning or do they object to the fact that slavery occurred in our country? If they object to compromise, then our form of government is doomed. If they object to slavery, I think it’s a little late to change that part of our country’s history, and ignoring it or denying it won’t change the fact that it happened.


April 8th, 2013
3:02 pm

@ AlreadySheared, your humorous cynicism is delicious..perhaps you spent too many Tuesday nights at PJ’s during the “Wonderful Wednesday” years…


April 8th, 2013
3:14 pm

A healthy tension between both types of motivation is desired. Right? If the trust level really is very low, then the issue is how to improve that situation.

Acting as if one side is full of idiots gets you no where and you’d be wrong.

Private Citizen

April 8th, 2013
3:16 pm

Read somewhere that the noisy faculty contingent may also be upset about other things. Agree the Emory bubble seems rather cold. Maybe in strange times, people build walls. Does seem that the corporatists have been winning for a while, now. Not sure how that relates to Wagner, supposed to be of the science faculty (?).


April 8th, 2013
3:20 pm

Already Sheared posted “Thus, if you disagree with a liberal you are not just someone with a different point of view or opinion, you are a BAD person who is selfish and does not care about others.”

Many liberals, but not all.

To be fair, I have had to fake religion to appease segments of conservative acquaintances, coworkers, etc. I have drawn the line on that when necessary, and eventually some extended family members have had to grudgingly respect it – but I ease into it rather than wear it as a badge. I try to disengage with people who only want to hear confirmation of their strong beliefs.

Other than anonymous blogs like this, I don’t discuss politics or religion except with close friends and family who are comfortable with it.


April 8th, 2013
3:35 pm

@Brasstown, if you are suggesting that I think the faculty is full of idiots you are wrong, there are many, but they are not idiots , they are narrow minded. I do not discuss in absolutes, Improving the sympton of distrust does not cure the disease of an insular faculty…

@Centrist, I hope that Sheared is being facetious, if I am wrong,he is dreaming of tenure……


April 8th, 2013
3:48 pm

Trust is far more valuable than shared ideology.


April 8th, 2013
3:54 pm

Reminds me of thw whirlwind around Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard college, who dared question feminist orthodoxy as to why women were under-represented in the hard sciences and engineering and confronted the crown prince of African American “studies,” Cornell West, about the scholarship and work habits of professor West. Summers’ liberal pedigree, which included serving two democrat presidents, couldn’t save him from those faux pas.

Mountain Man

April 8th, 2013
3:58 pm

I agree with Just a Teacher in that his comments were taken out of contest. In fact, if you think about it, if you were talking about ideological issues and not practical issues, you would expect the SOUTH to want to not claim slaves as people for representation, since they were “not really people”. Then you would expect the NORTH to want to see them counted as people for representation, despite their status as salves. The 3/5 compromise was just that: a compromise. Or you could argue that they should have taken the modern route and “stick to your guns at all costs”, resulting in no union, and no United States. Can you imagine the current Democrats and Republicans trying to come up with a workable Union? God help us, it would never happen.

Mountain Man

April 8th, 2013
4:02 pm

I guess Jim Wagner learned that you cannot say ANYTHING about slavery other than is was a despicable practice and be Politically Correct. And being Politically Correct is more important than anything else at Emory. Obviously, I would not fit in.

Mountain Man

April 8th, 2013
4:05 pm

It is obvious that our country should fail since it was started by such racist slave-owners a Washington and Jefferson. How could they pen such words as “endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights” when the rights did not apply to certain people. The United States is a sham, and Jim Wagner should have condemned the United States.

Just Asking

April 8th, 2013
4:07 pm

If slaves were deemed 3/5 human, what “representation” would they have had, North or South? They were someone’s property, right ?

Unless they were freed from bondage (pre-Civil War), they still could not vote or participate in the political process.

There were still slaves in parts of the North up until the decade or so prior to the Civil War in 1861.

So what representation are they talking about ?


April 8th, 2013
4:16 pm

Shared ideology is not the goal, it is a willingness to respect and listen to another opinion,the fascists had a shared ideology. Now class dismissed, go chase girls or boys or both ..it’s spring…

Mountain Man

April 8th, 2013
4:16 pm

“If slaves were deemed 3/5 human, what “representation” would they have had, North or South?”

THEY didn’t have any representation, the STATE had the representation. That is why each side wanted something only to their advantage. Sort of like the bicameral system – one based on population (the House) and the other a set nuber by state (the Senate). Little states like Rhode Island then get a lot more pull compared to their size. That, too, was a compromise.


April 8th, 2013
4:44 pm

As a sometimes closeted athiest in a fairly fundamentalist part of the state, agreed with respect to the religious.

I think that the similarity between the devoutly religious and the devoutly liberal is ironic, now that you mention it.


April 8th, 2013
4:51 pm

Philip L. McCleary, you said it best, I’m in 100% agreement.

Pride and Joy

April 8th, 2013
5:38 pm

The three-fifths compromise WAS a compromise. It IS a good example of how politicians compromise .
It is not an example of a good way to treat blacks. It is not a good example of a way to treat any human being.
You see, te problem with this guy is he is white and he dared mentioned race and slavery.
No matter what they say or how politely or accurately they say it, if white people mention race or slavery they will be crucified.

10:10 am

April 8th, 2013
5:39 pm

Alas, whatever initial status Mr. Wagner thought he had within the racial grievance industry forming the core of “higher” education—he overlooked their continual need for provocation.

Socialism, after all, isn’t foisted on any society without creating and exploiting “enemies.” Race and Christianity fill that role on our side of the Atlantic.

He will now be that industry’s victim.


April 8th, 2013
5:39 pm

What he did was to talk about US history as it actually happened and explain the reasoning of those involved at the time.

It seems some want to revise history or just ignore the bad parts and hope they will go away.

It’s no wonder the ship of education in America is slowly but surely sinking.

Certain elements in our country won’t be satisified until we bottom out at third world status.

I wonder why that is?

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
5:51 pm

@ indigo

IMO its pretty simple. most pushing the plunge to the bottom are the segment in society who will never amount to more than pond sludge, and hate those who do more than survive. they want you brought down to their level to make their failures somehow valid.

the rich segment pulling for the plunge to the bottom don’t wish to have you and me reaching their lofty heights.

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
5:54 pm

@ mountain & just

you’re both correct, but wrong at the same time.

his comparison may have been valid, but that was about the last audience on earth who would hear it. NAACP probably would have taken it better than Emory.

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
5:58 pm

@ alex

this is the same school which kicked Chick fil a off campus, so what do you expect? my connections there tell me its gone from far left of center to almost Stalinist in mindset.

I’m pretty sure the business and law faculty would do ok for the most part, but the rest would find
themselves fish out of water. the Emory community is so out of touch with mainstream society, even today, its stunning.


April 8th, 2013
6:11 pm

Already Sheared posted “I think that the similarity between the devoutly religious and the devoutly liberal is ironic, now that you mention it.”

Other extremes – far right that says the progressive tax system shouldn’t extend to those making $$ millions/billions per year, life begins at conception. Far left saying Medicare eligibility can’t be adjusted for living longer, partial birth abortions are O.K.

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
6:12 pm

for the record:

at no point where slaves considered 3/5th human in constitutional discussion. it had to do with issues of seats in congress – nothing more, or less.

to many from the north, most slaves would not have been considered even 3/5ths of a person if they had done it that way.

US history. study it.

Charles Douglas Edwards

April 8th, 2013
6:13 pm

Emory University is one of the finest universities in the United States of America !!!

United States history is US history. We cannot sanitize history.

History is what it was.

We urge Emory University faculty members to give President Jim Wagner fairness.

bootney farnsworth

April 8th, 2013
6:16 pm

the big tactical mistake Wagner made was giving anything resembling a compromising speech at all.
they were already looking for a way to take him down, and he basically napalmed himself.

he should have gone in guns blazing. he was already dead man walking there. his attempt to walk a moderating line killed him


April 8th, 2013
6:16 pm

Mr. Wagner’s comments are not what is expected from an Administrator of a respectable Institution of Higher Learning like Emory University. This is what is so surprising, but can be typically expected from someone of his position and Calibur.

However, Wagner’s comments were a lapse in judgement and an honest explanation of his true feelings regarding the subject matter.

Wagner’s surprise was learning how offensive, his comments were to the community at Large. I do not expect any meaningful changes, other than a written reprimand for such an offense.


April 8th, 2013
6:18 pm

He’s observing that once upon a time there was a debate with two opposing opinions about slavery, and that in this instance – counting people – both sides gave in a little for the sake of progress. Perhaps he should be burned.


April 8th, 2013
6:19 pm

Poor, poor Emory. You reap what you sow.


April 8th, 2013
6:25 pm

Interesting. The leader of one of the most liberal, politically correct universities in the South thought he could touch the third rail of political correctness without consequence. The only way to save his job now is to dress up in one of those brightly colored “African” robes and change his name to something in Swahili. Confuses the PC crowd when you do that.

The politically correct are an ornery, cantankerous bunch. Take for example all the folks who have been fired for using the word “niggardly” in it’s correct meaning and context.


April 8th, 2013
6:28 pm

Hmmm. I posted a comment a few minutes ago. It seems I have found another word that will put you in moderation purgatory.


April 8th, 2013
6:30 pm

GET OVER IT! What he said wasn’t bad at all. He referenced what was a true and good compromise at the time, not in this time. People must understand political timelines vs. political correctness. I am so over this over sanitized and over sensitive times. The 3/5 was a savy and good move that wasn’t intended to demoralize a segment of the population, it was perserving seats in congress that gave the north more votes thus ending slavery faster. It was to help, not hinder the population that was counted 3/5ths. I hate this time we live in where people understand a headline but not the meat of a story.

Pride and Joy

April 8th, 2013
6:34 pm

Channel 2 news just had a piece of Khariit El, a former APS board member.
Long ago he said the suspected cheating should be investigated and the Mayor, Kasim Reed and many others told his to step down. Yes, they forced him off the school board and his name, for a long time, was mud.
Now, El is a black man, an honest man and he was fired for daring to stand up to what he called “the gang of five.”
Shame on mayor Kasim Reed. Reed should step down for daring to cover up the cheating.
We need to hear more from El.
He did testify against the gang of five to the grand jury.
Hallelujah for many things — an honest man and an honest school board member.
Too bad we couldn’t keep him. Now that he is vindicated, another state has hired him.
See what GA has done?
Crucified the innocent and run them out of town.
HIS STOR NEEDS TO BE COVERED by the AJC and Get Schooled. So far, Channel 2 is the only station covering the honest people who were wronged.


April 8th, 2013
6:39 pm

Has Emma Darnell’s persistent seemingly racist comments ( which are a LOT more problematical) compromised her ability to serve as a Fulton County Commissioner. Or has her outrageous conduct just made her more likely to be re-elected?
What does that tell us about the voters in Fulton County?

home-tutoring parent

April 8th, 2013
6:49 pm

lexi3, good points!

Dr. Wagner is playing a difficult hand. I think his time at Emory is over, for discussing the truth. It will be Emory’s loss. I grew up in California. We heard about Duke, Emory and Vandy: the South had some great schools. When my oldest son studied Chemistry in So Cal, I learned about Georgia Tech, my son’s teacher’s alma mater. His teacher was the first REAL science teacher he had. It took 12 years of schooling, for my son to be exposed to a great science teacher. A teacher who grew up in Georgia, BSEE Tech, MS Computer Science Carnegie Mellon. Who’d a thunk it?

I have a second-cousin, by marriage, who was home-schooled. He teaches at one of America’s oldest universities. I won’t name him or the institution–I don’t want to cause him trouble– except to say his university was founded before there was a United States of America.

We sent our home-schooled kids to universities that were founded before there was a United States of America. One of my boys teaches high school physics. His best student is going to Cambridge. Not Harvard or MIT in Cambridge,MA, the original, where Isaac Newton studied and taught.

Home-schooling is only done by ignorant people. Riight. Some of you don’t have a clue.

Larry Summers spoke truth.

Apparently you can’t do that anymore in academia.

Know Yer Facts

April 8th, 2013
6:59 pm

“It was to help, not hinder the population that was counted 3/5ths. I hate this time we live in where people understand a headline but not the meat of a story.” – John

3/5 occurred in 1787 when most states, including New York & New Jersey, still had slavery. There were more slaves in NYC in 1790 than the entire state of Georgia.

This is a fact.

I Teach Writing

April 8th, 2013
7:03 pm

In all the bluster from the commentariat, I don’t think anyone has considered the rather commonsensical point that Pres. Wagner’s choice of illustrative example was not the only choice available. Illustrating political compromise with real historical compromises is a good scholarly move, but illustrating compromise as a neutral and pragmatic strategy by referencing THAT compromise is, well, dumb. It’s partially offensive by content, but it’s also offensive in the “What kind of a guy could think that was the right example?!?” sense. Just really, really tone deaf. When you’re the visible head of an institutional, especially if you’re already under some fire, a dumb, tone-deaf comment may be the proverbial last straw.


April 8th, 2013
7:29 pm

As a holder of a B.A. from the subject institution, I’d like to add to the many fine points expressed by McCleary, Mountain Man, and several others:

1. In light of the hyper-senstivities of the “politically correct” crowd, Wagner’s original statement was unwise, but it is an example that is otherwise worthy of debate and analysis in the world of ideas. Voltaire’s quote is most apropos: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” That is what institutions of higher learning are about — or should be.

2. I believe that Atticus Finch, F. Lee Bailey, or Johnnie Cochran would be hard-pressed to establish any malevolent or racist intent from Wagner’s words.

3. Wagner made a contrite apology. Emory University is a Methodist School that matriculates ministers from its own Theology School. For them not to accept Wagner’s sincere apology is inexcusable hypocrisy.

4. Are any professors of Minory Studies anywhere held to the same standard, when it comes to stating something that someone might deem to be offensive or racist? Of course not. There is a double-standard.

5. That Emory would kowtow to political correctness, in the absence of malice aforethought, lessens (in my mind) the value of their conferred degrees. It is a sad day day when censorship prevails in this type of situation.

6. I believe that a University, as such, should offer as many diverse courses as feasible. I understand that there are those who have issues with the courses that Wagner culled, but that is an entirely different matter.

7. I trust and hope that Emory University’s Board of Trustees will see through the background noise and make the “correct” decision, whatever that should be.


April 8th, 2013
7:30 pm

Lee@6:25 p.m.
Speaking of PC run amok. I had a black AP English teacher in my Atlanta secondary school. He used that word his first day, with its intended effect. It sucked the air out of the snow white classroom. I wrote about that in a post death tribute in the AJC, and, the censors refused to publish it.

Maureen Downey

April 8th, 2013
7:36 pm

P&J, If you mean Khaatim El, he was not “fired.” Among the information I shared about El in the past was his resignation letter where he wrote:

What I wasn’t able to do for children in Atlanta, I hope to accomplish in the city of Newark where I’ve been asked to help lead Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s contribution of $100M to turn around that city’s schools.

With that, I am announcing my resignation as a member of the Atlanta Board of Education, effective immediately at the adjournment of this meeting. The general counsel is prepared to brief the Board on the process for naming my successor to serve until the November municipal election.

Warmest regards,
Khaatim S. El

Among other blogs featuring El: