Holding out hope for Emory University
Our universities are typically diverse in every way except thought, and examples abound of students paying a price for straying from the liberal script. Nevertheless, we have high hopes for our finest schools close to home, like Emory University, where President James Wagner is under fire.
Wagner has been censured by the university faculty, condemned from various quarters of the officially sensitive, and now awaits a confidence vote by the faculty as they press the Board of Trustees to toss him under the bus.
Wagner’s offense can be found in a thoughtful piece he wrote in the Winter 2013 Emory Magazine titled, “As American as ... Compromise.”
Maybe you think of compromise as I do, not getting everything you want but satisfied the other guy got screwed just as badly. As you might expect, Wagner wrote with a more lofty view about our polarized Congress, the necessity of compromise to conduct the nation’s business, and how painfully crafted compromise has historically been the glue that held our country together. Excerpts follow.
“... candidates for Congress sometimes make what they declare to be two unshakable commitments — a commitment to be guided only by the language of the U.S. Constitution, and a commitment never, ever to compromise their ideals. Yet ... the language of the Constitution is itself the product of carefully negotiated compromise.
“One instance of constitutional compromise was the agreement to count three-fifths of the slave population for purposes of state representation in Congress. Southern delegates wanted to count the whole slave population, which would have given the South greater influence over national policy. 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. Pragmatic half-victories kept in view the higher aspiration of drawing the country more closely together.”
“... 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 and keep moving toward it.”
And there you have it. Wagner correctly described what happened at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, where states large and small struggled with each other for voting power. The deal-making might have made a harlot blush, prime examples of the compromise that still greases the gears of Congress.
But an appreciation for historical accuracy is apparently not a common attribute of the Emory faculty, which itself should be alarming to all of us. It seems Wagner’s unpardonable sin, by their measure, was writing of an event that is to be ignored and denied lest feelings be hurt. In other words, he violated the rules of political correctness.
Wagner also unintentionally stirred the nests of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and other race hustlers who have built a cottage industry on the pathetic ignorance of the masses to whom they shovel their rubbish, like the fiction that Southerners considered blacks only three-fifths of a person.
Giving credit where it is due, slave era Southerners were striving to count black and white heads equally while Northern states insisted on the three-fifths discount, but it was all a reach for political advantage – the number of representative votes in Congress — that had nothing whatever to do with race.
Of course slave-era Southerners did inflict plenty of other inhumanities on those they enslaved, and anyone searching for honor on either side would need frequent breaks to upchuck.
Maybe that unpleasant image underscores Wagner’s point, that distasteful compromise is what makes our country work.
Personally, I don’t much like the idea that my current representatives should compromise principles in order to create new laws, but whether you agree or disagree with Wagner’s article, the outrage against him is dumber than North Korean diplomacy.
I can understand why Jesse and his ilk don’t want the truth to be widely known about how the three-fifths ratio was determined, thereby tossing cold water on the grievance politics that fill their pockets.
I can also understand the dumbed-down masses taking the bait and never realizing that the three-fifths charge levied now and then may be one accusation for which slave-era Southerners were actually innocent.
So the uproar at Emory comes from the President’s academic article, which was historically accurate but mischaracterized by some faculty who don’t know their history, and resented by others because the facts are unpleasant even though only by implication. Ignorance compounded by stupidity isn’t what we hope for at institutions of higher learning.
I am hoping the decidedly un-academic noise at Emory comes from a vocal if uneducated minority, and that the full faculty vote will put the matter to rest. But let’s assume the worst for just a moment.
What should we think of faculty at a venerated university who not only don’t know the history, but when faced with the truth become severely agitated because the truth is “... not adequately sensitive to minorities.”
You should also wonder what the heck students of U.S. history are being taught at Emory and every other university in America, where political correctness sometimes trumps freedom of thought and historical accuracy.
I wonder ... if they skipped over the three-fifths compromise in history class to preserve student and faculty self-esteem, maybe they also intentionally ignored another unsavory deal made at the Constitutional Convention.
Northern states struck a bargain with Southern states to extend the slave trade for 20 years in exchange for making federal regulation of commerce a mere majority vote in Congress instead of requiring a two-thirds majority. That’s a deal to actually fight about, though now it’s just history.
I hope those students learned slavery was a deep divide that nearly derailed the unity of the 1776 Declaration of Independence. The ideological distance between a slave-dependent agricultural South and industrialized North was vast, and the only way to keep the fragile coalition together was to not speak of slavery at all and pretend the issue did not exist.
Do students know that Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner with a conscience that bothered him, wrote into the drafted Declaration how despicable was the British practice that forced American participation in the slave trade for their own economic benefit, that maybe Jefferson was rationalizing his own guilt, and how those passages were deleted by a Congressional editing committee that knew the mere mention of slavery would have quickly turned unity into fierce infighting?
I hope real students of history learn that slavery was the elephant in the room that was reduced to whispers in the dark corners of Congress for decades after declaring independence.
This conspiracy of silence, leaving the raw subject of slavery and its betrayal of the ideals of freedom unspoken, was the compromise James Wagner wrote about, the deal with the devil required to form a new nation.
Surely those students learn that slavery remained the undercurrent of resentment between North and South from the very beginning, always festering just beneath the surface, and the three-fifths compromise marked two things.
First, it is a prime example of the fatuous deal-making by elected officials as they set principles aside with nary a morsel of honor required.
Second, the deep division of slavery was dodged and postponed once again by those without the courage to tackle tough issues, or as Wagner might observe, “lesser” principles were compromised for the “higher” principle of keeping the nation together.
At least until it came apart.
Even though we don’t like what we see in the historical mirror Wagner is showing us, cooking his goose for his article would be silly were it not so sad.
My daughter might eventually end up at Emory for her graduate studies. As a prospective Emory dad, here’s redoubled hoping the Emory faculty will soon prove their character and intellect equal to the university’s reputation, thereby rendering my worst case fears unfounded.
[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]