It has not been a great couple of years for my university, PR-wise. First, there was the student who took the SAT for high school kids. Soon after, a homeless shelter sued us. We arrested students protesting our dining services contractor’s poor treatment of workers. Then, the local paper broke the news about our admissions department inflating student scores to boost our rank. The New York Times name-checked us in a story about college debt crushing the dreams of the poor.
More recently, there was an unpopular set of department cuts (including visual arts), announced via an email attachment on a Friday.
And then, the first Gawker-featured scandal of 2013: our alumni magazine’s Letter from the President*, in which our university president wrote about American compromise, presumably in reference to the cuts. His example was not, as you might guess, the Bill of Rights, or a bicameral legislature. It was the 3/5 compromise. During Black History Month. A few weeks after a (terrible) student TV show made a lynching joke.
Like I said: rough couple of years. Courageous inquiry leads you to hire bad PR people, apparently.
And it is so, so frustrating to me because I want to like Emory. If I liked Emory, I would probably be less unhappy than I am. And I remember being at Oxford (referred to, horribly enough, as Emory’s “separate but equal” campus), and being–at least some of the time–really, truly happy about being there, even when I was frustrated with the institution.
I chose to go to Emory because it was the cheapest option available to me. But the reason that I elected to start my collegiate career at Oxford rather than Atlanta Emory is because, in line for a scholarship weekend there, the dean of students stopped me at dinner.
In the middle of the nerve-wracking smalltalk that scholarship weekends are made of, he said, “Emily, are you a cake person?” I said yes. “Excellent. Then let’s go get some cake!” And we did, and that moment of kindness to freaked-out, 18-year-old me is why I went to Oxford.
(The cake, incidentally, was delicious. During the summer that I worked at school, I met the woman who made the cake, and she started baking turtle cookies for me because she noticed that I have an insatiable hunger for baked goods. She’s wonderful.)
That level of individual engagement with students–whether it was the dean, or the seven pairs of married professors who invited folks into their homes for caroling and Thanksgiving, or the professor who shouted me down the quad so that I would come over and say hello when I last visited, or the student affairs staff doing a Harlem shake video–leaves me certain that even when I am frustrated with it, even when it fails, Oxford is a force for good in the lives of most of its students.
I do not feel that way about Emory as a whole, because I do not know that Emory as a whole knows what it is doing. Each one of those scandals came from a different part of the university failing to adhere to our ideals in new and exciting ways. There are individual parts of the university that have been wonderful to me and to my friends–our Office of Health Promotion and its Respect Program stand out as truly fabulous programs run by compassionate, engaged individuals, and I know each of my friends has their home at Emory about which they feel the same–but I cannot summon up that level of enthusiasm about the whole institution.
And I have nothing more to say, except that I am frustrated with it.
* My favorite response so far, and the one which I think raises the most interesting issues–moving past the fucked-up racist thing–is this one, which asks interesting questions about the university’s floundering as a liberal arts institution.