James Wagner, Emory University president, is trying to save his job because of widespread criticism of comments he mad about slavery in a university publication.
In the winter issue of Emory magazine, under a column entitled “As American as…. Compromise,” Wagner wrote, “One instance of constitutional compromise was the agreement to count three-fifths of the slave population for purposes of state representation in Congress.” The criticism was that this statement allegedly praised an agreement that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person.
He continued, “Southern delegates wanted to count the whole slave population… Northern delegates argued that slaves should not be counted at all, because they had no vote. 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.”
He went on to say that, “both sides found a way to temper ideology and continue working toward the highest aspiration they both shared—the aspiration to form a more perfect union. They set their sights higher, not lower, in order to identify their common goal…”
The column, which was published over the weekend, sparked outrage not just from students, faculty and alumni but on social media websites. The president of the university has been heavily criticized for not making it clear that the Three-Fifths Compromise further undermined the humanity of people of color within the United States. Also, Wagner’s decision to use this compromise as an example of America at its best lies in contradiction to the view of some that it actually reflects America at its worst.
Wagner immediately issued an apology: “To those hurt or confused by my clumsiness and insensitivity, please forgive me.” He also stated he considered slavery “heinous, repulsive, repugnant, and inhuman. I should have stated that fact clearly in my essay.”
Ben F. Johnson III, chairman of the board of trustees, said in an interview, “He has my 100 percent, undivided support.” This appears to show that the board of trustees are standing behind its embattled president, at least for the meantime.
Several faculty staff at Emory said, however, that they were not satisfied with Wagner’s apology. “I do believe he is genuinely sorry that this happened, but I think the kind of leader we need is someone who would not have made such an egregious mistake in the first place,” said Emory Associate Professor Noelle McAfee.
This latest controversy comes in the wake of cuts to various departments and programs at the university. Though the university denies it, critics say the recent cuts unfairly target minority faculty and students. Maybe since he is applauding the idea of black people being three-fifths of a person, he also believes they deserve only three-fifths of a budget.