Emory President’s Essay Draws Criticisms

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  • ATLANTA (AP) — In recent years, Emory University made a point to acknowledge how the school was once led by slave owners, but an essay by the school president has renewed debate about racial sensitivity on campus.

    Emory President James Wagner recently wrote about the three-fifths compromise on slavery in 1787 to talk about the value of finding common ground in politics. In the compromise, northern and southern states agreed that three-fifths of the slave population would count toward representation in Congress, giving southerners more power in the House of Representatives.

    A faculty group voted to censure Wagner and students planned a protest next week.

    In the essay, published in the winter edition of Emory Magazine, Wagner said leaders from the northern and southern states were able to agree on the compromise as a means of working toward their highest aspirations.

    “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,” Wagner wrote.

    Wagner later wrote an apology, saying he was “sorry for the hurt caused by not communicating more clearly my own beliefs.” He said he considered slavery to be heinous and inhuman and he should have stated that clearly in his essay.

    Leslie Harris, an associate history professor at Emory, said the article raised questions about how compromises were reached, and who decided the terms.

    Though Wagner used the three-fifths compromise as an example of moving the nation forward, Harris said that it actually divided the nation.

    “It appears to be the flaw that split the nation apart and led to the Civil War,” she said.

    “I think many of us, while we may appreciate the apology, are looking to see what this means in terms of leadership going forward,” she said.

    Emory is a private university in Atlanta that has about 14,000 students. According to the school’s 2011-2012 profile on its website, about 46 percent were white, 10 percent were black, 16 percent were Asian and 4 percent were Hispanic.

    Katherine Bryant, a graduate student studying neuroscience at Emory, said students were using Wagner’s essay to talk about the general social climate on campus.

    “It’s bringing to light something they’ve been dealing with in smaller, more personal ways at Emory. They have a lot of issues with how inclusivity works at Emory,” Bryant said. “They’re saying there’s not really spaces for minority voices on campus.”

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