Educators nationwide respond to Emory arts closure

Arts educators were stunned by the news in September that Emory University would eliminate its Visual Arts Department as part of a cost-cutting effort favoring science and engineering programs. Many observers cited the move as further evidence of a creeping corporatization of the American university. As reported by the College Art Association (CAA),  “Since the economic downturn in 2008, liberal arts colleges and universities across the country have reshaped their curriculums. They have narrowed the fields of study to prepare students for vocational work quantified by employment and statistical analysis, shearing the visual arts––in part or whole––from the intellectual mold that has underpinned students’ critical thinking in the United States over the past century.”

In response to the Emory decision, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) noted the authoritarian and anti-democratic character of Emory’s actions in suspending a range of programs in art, education, journalism, and Spanish––all with out faculty consultation. An excerpt of “An Open Letter from AAUP” appears below.

“On Sept. 14, 2012, Dean Robin Forman announced a number of changes to the curriculum, including the closing of the Department of Visual Arts, the Division of Educational Studies, the Program in Journalism and the Department of Physical Education (the last already in progress at the time of his letter). He also announced the suspension of admissions to the graduate programs in economics, Spanish, and the Institute of Liberal Arts (ILA). The ILA, he wrote, will be restructured as an “institute without permanent faculty.”

“Owing to these cuts, a number of lecture track faculty will not have their contracts renewed, two tenure-track assistant professors hired in educational studies last spring will be let go in advance of any formal review of their work and a number of tenured faculty will be relocated to other departments. Dean Forman has made it clear, in his letter and elsewhere, that he made the decisions in consultation with what he called the “Faculty Financial Advisory Committee,” a small (seven-to-eight person) group of appointed faculty; Lisa Tedesco, the dean of the Laney Graduate School; and Earl Lewis, the provost.

“On behalf of the Emory Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), we want to remind the deans, the provost, the president, the Board of Trustees and, most importantly, Emory’s faculty and students of AAUP guidelines. These state that primary responsibility for decision-making concerning curriculum resides in the hands of the faculty. AAUP guidelines make it clear that this responsibility covers not only the determination of those areas of study to be offered by a college or university, but extends to “appointments, reappointments, decisions not to reappoint, promotions, the granting of tenure, and dismissal” (from Section five of AAUP’s “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities”).

“We understand that restructurings and reallocation of funds are sometimes necessary to ensure that an institution remains strong. In this instance, however, the University failed to undertake that process of reallocation through properly constituted faculty deliberative bodies and to understand that important decisions having to do with these matters must come from those bodies to the deans, provost, president and Board of Trustees.

“Moreover, we are dismayed that a small committee, initially appointed to advise Dean Robert Paul informally on financial matters in the wake of the economic crisis of 2008, became a subcommittee of the College Governance Committee that advised the dean on curricular matters. Given the impact of the dean’s decisions on graduate education, we are also concerned that the Executive Council of the Laney Graduate School (LGS) — an elected body of faculty representatives — was not consulted in advance about these changes in accordance with stated practices. The LGS website states that “[t]he Executive Council reviews proposals … for changes in existing courses and programs on a rolling basis.” No proposals in this matter were brought before this council for deliberation. The fact that a College subcommittee seems to have issued recommendations to close programs in another unit, the Graduate School, also raises questions of purview.”

For the complete text of the letter, see “An Open Letter from AAUP”

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