My thoughts on Emory’s suspension of the ILA

I’ve started and stopped this post numerous times since Emory announced its decision to suspend the Institute of the Liberal Arts. Ultimately, I’ve decided that it would be cynical of me to be silent about this. The ILA has given me so many amazing opportunities over the past ten years. I graduated from the ILA in 2010 and I continue to work closely with students and faculty there. Professionally and personally, I am a part of the ILA and, speaking for myself, I am heartbroken that it has been suspended.

Heartbroken but not cynical. Well, not cynical enough to just shrug my shoulders and keep my mouth shut. We are in a relationship, me and Emory, and I’m not ready to give up on that.

I’ve written and erased dozens of paragraphs about what I think happened. I wrote them because its important to get that straight if we are to offer useful alternatives. I erased them because I just don’t know what happened. I DO know that big decisions were made and the explanations are, to put it diplomatically, not satisfying. I also know that no one seems to have good answers for the students who will be directly and negatively impacted.

I know some of the people who made these decisions and they are smart, thoughtful professionals who are committed to the success of all students. So, I can only conclude that there are parts of the story they can’t tell us. As a result my trust is being severely tested right now. However, I am committed to working through this for my own sake and for the sake of all my friends in the ILA. We all have a serious stake in Emory’s continued eminence and in how it achieves that.

So we need to figure out how to move forward. The current ILA students have already set out a list of questions for the administration and those need to be answered immediately. I am particularly eager to hear how those students who decide to stay at Emory will be supported as they encounter new and unanticipated requirements.

Beyond that, I hope the administration is serious about “reimagining” the ILA in order to promote interdisciplinary scholarship. I am not sure how to do this with neither permanent faculty nor students but a good place to start might be to include current ILA faculty and students in the committee the college has formed to look at strategies for “fostering interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching.”

Along with reimagining the ILA, I hope that other departments are also encouraged to reimagine what they do, how they do it and with whom they do it.  I hope that an investment in “the traditional strengths of the arts and sciences at Emory” is not understood as a simple investment in tradition. I would like to see new traditions such as collaboration and social engagement flourish along with older traditions of critical thinking and methodical investigation. Traditions like snobbery and isolationism should be reimagined as barriers to eminence.

This past week has been hard but oddly inspiring. I have spent some quality time with ILA students; some I’ve known for years, some I’ve only just met. They are incredible people with amazing talents and I have been blown away by how positive and proactive they are in the face of hard and confusing news. Their solidarity with each other is humbling and their loyalty to their faculty is touching. We cannot squander this potential. If we value interdisciplinary scholarship and our goal is eminence, these are the people we need. I hope we can all figure out how to continue working together. If there is anything I can do, let me know.

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