Emory University faculty members voted Feb. 20 to censure university president Jim Wagner for his remarks in a recent magazine column where he referenced the three-fifths compromise in the U.S. Constitution.
Wagner has received criticism for referring to the compromise that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person, as a “constitutional compromise” between northern and southern states that was a pragmatic solution to “keep in view the higher aspiration of drawing the country more closely together.”
Stefan Lutz, chairman of the Emory College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Governance Committee, said the vote to censure Wagner represents a strong disapproval of the president’s statement among staff members.
“It’s an expression of dissatisfaction by the college faculty,” Lutz said.
Wagner issued a statement of apology later in the week and said the reference was a mistake.
In a letter to Emory Magazine, in which the article first appeared, Wagner states:
“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.”
According to a statement from university spokeswoman Elaine Justice, Wagner said the response to the column has renewed his dedication to working collaboratively with the community on issues of social justice and “continuing a public dialogue on race and intersecting dimensions of human difference.”
Several social media groups have sprung up in response to Wagner’s remarks, including Fire President Wagner (@NoMoreWagner), which is calling for his resignation.
“We all reject James Wagner’s attempts to co-opt the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement to rehabilitate his embattled image. #WagnerResign,” the group tweeted.
Students and alumni such as Brandi Richard have also been vocal in criticizing Wagner’s remarks, Richard said, “Emory absolutely needs new leadership now more than ever,” and J.W. Heinlein said, “As an alumna of Emory University, I am very disappointed to hear about the recent remarks that President Wagner made in Emory Magazine.”
Wagner is expected to discuss his remarks at an annual meeting with the college faculty in March.