Letter to the Editor Regarding Diversity at Emory University

emoryA reader recently contacted JBHE with concerns that Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, is not doing enough to address diversity in its faculty and administrative ranks. The reader points out that several high ranking faculty and administrators have left Emory in recent years.

The letter that was sent to JBHE can be seen below. Because of the writer’s affiliation, we have decided to publish the letter anonymously. We invite members of the Emory community and others concerned about diversity issues to comment.

To the Editor:
Over the past year and a half, a number of black faculty have left Emory University. You might recall that Emory received national attention this past year for the unsavory comments of its President, James Wagner, on the Three-Fifths Compromise in the U.S. Constitution. These departures of black faculty are particularly alarming as they also coincide with the departure over the past two years of Emory’s three highest-ranking black administrators: John Ford, senior vice president for campus life, Earl Lewis, provost and the Asa Griggs, Candler Professor of History and African American Studies, and Ozzie Harris II, senior vice provost for community and diversity.

In addition to these faculty and administrator departures, over the past six years Emory has experienced a significant loss of other distinguished senior black faculty due to the untimely passing of Rudolph Byrd, Goodrich White Professor of American Studies and African American Studies, and the retirements of Frances Smith Foster, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Women Studies, Delores Aldridge, the Grace Towns Hamilton Professor of Sociology and African American Studies, and George Jones, the Goodrich White Professor of Biology.

Other faculty of color who have departed in the past two years include:

1) DuBois Bowman, former faculty in public health
2) David Chae, former faculty in public health
3) Tyrone Forman, former faculty in sociology
4) Regine Jackson, former faculty in the Institute of Liberal Arts
5) David Malenbranche, former faculty in the school of medicine and public health
6) Maisha Winn, former faculty in Division of Educational Studies

The departure of senior faculty and administrators of color (and there lack of replacement) illustrate that Emory University, a leading institution of higher education, has a serious diversity problem.  As an alum, I’m deeply troubled by this situation.

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  1. The inability to retain black faculty is a longstanding problem and certain departments have a particularly bad history. From the last 10 years or so, add to the list:
    Tracy Rone, former faculty in Anthropology
    Karen Lacy, former faculty in Sociology
    Hudita Mustafa, former faculty in Anthropology
    Natasha Barnes, former faculty in English
    Michael Awkward, former faculty in English

    • I didn’t “leave” Emory in 2002 I was denied tenure in the English department where I was a good citizen, a stellar teacher and an asset to the university. Bill Chase was the president at the time and as an untenured faculty I worked sometimes 15 or more hours a week in my final year on a Presidential Task Force to help the university co-host an important exhibition on kynching photography. Many of the faculty on this list didn’t leave, like my University of Michigan professor and mentor Michael Awkward…they were cast out.
      I would have stayed at Emory…I was shell shocked at my department’s descion even though I had a generous offer from Stanley Fish, then Dean of LAS at UIC that came with tenure and a financial package that almost doubled what I was getting from Emory.
      But what this report implies about the racial atmosphere (at least at my time at Emory) can be simplistic. The orchestration against my tenure was led by a senior African American woman in my department who couldn’t be stopped by a timid (should I say cowardly) white faculty who didn’t want to contradict a very senior bk faculty member. Plantation politics take all shapes and forms in our neoliberal times. And what many junior faculty learn the hard way is that institutions like Emory, fearful of its racial past and insecure about its role for the responsible stewardship of untenured faculty of color, allow resentful and bigoted African American “big wigs” to dictate and destroy the careers of junior colleagues who they don’t like. Whites watch at the sidelines, wringing their hands like Pontius Pilate.

  2. Is this a new issue? Are the faculty and administration the only place where Emory lacks diversity? Also what is our definition of diversity? This obsession with a sheer number count of faculty or students that represent different ethnicities and races is not the same thing as creating an environment where a fluid and continuous exchange of ideas and perspectives stemming from different cultures and life experiences can occur. The latter was a big issue to me when I was a student at Emory. The racial tension caused a stifling effect on what I could get out of the college experience. I’m not sure if it’s why they left, but an environment of discrete oppression is not one that I could continue to thrive in. Not much else to say about the school where I learned the phrase, “six ni**ers in a woodpile” (note, in case other alums don’t remember, the use of that idiom came from Prof. Carol Worthman, Emory University, Dept of Anthropology during a faculty meeting in 2003)

  3. They hired a black provost when they were under fire for Carol Worthman’s crazy remarks (by the way, her colleagues in the anthropology department defended her!). Since that time anthropology hasn’t hired a single black faculty member. They claim to be too good to hire a N@#G. The natural sciences doesn’t have a single black faculty member. Economics is also without black faculty. Psychology and sociology have their one token black faculty. In fact, sociology hasn’t replaced Dr. Aldridge (the founder of Black Studies at Emory!). What the hell is wrong with this picture? According to the Emory senior leadership: absolutely nothing! Despite its rhetoric, Emory is an old, racist southern institution. The BIG difference today from its early history is that they denigrate blacks with a smile and diversity gobbledygook! This is the same institution that treated Robin Kelley as if he was a second class citizen.

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