Reconciling Faculty Roles A conversation
with John Banja, clinical ethicist at the Center for Ethics in
Public Policy and the Professions
conversation with Bob Agnew, professor of sociology and past
director of the program in violence studies
Contents on the Conference Table
overview of symposium topics
on our calendars. Its icon flashes from computer screens in every
public space on campus. It's splashed across myriad Emory publications
and burning up our e-mail cables. Yet even some faculty working
on papers to give at January's Reconciliation Symposium are at
a loss when asked: what is the Year of Reconciliation really
The Year of Reconciliation web site describes the "core"
of reconciliation as "the resolution of differences through
an honorable search for truth and understanding." But "truth"
is as hard for professors to agree on as "resolution"
is rare in academic discussions.
According to its organizers, the Year of Reconciliation was not
designed to smooth over recent controversies concerning tenured
faculty who were dismissed or racial conflicts among students.
"For a number of years now, the whole Emory community has
been interested in fostering interdisciplinary work," says
Billy Frye, chancellor of the university and symposium chair.
"The Year of Reconciliation, like the interdisciplinary
Luce seminars that took place a few years ago, was created to
Yet some panels of the Reconciliation Symposium focus on race,
gender, and tensions among faculty roles and between faculty
and administration. While the symposium and other events of this
year were not designed as "a fix" for any set of problems,
reconciliation events coordinator and visiting assistant professor
of English Karen Poremski hopes "they may offer a space
for us to reflect constructively on the nature and sources of
tension on campus."
Real reconciliation, however, is not about harmony or even tolerance,
says Frye. "Harmony may be a necessary condition, but reconciliation
also requires conflict because it involves a struggle to find
the truth." Too often, he adds, scholars "just agree
to disagree and be silent. We don't engage the contradictions
in our work. That may be great for co-existence, but it won't
lead to the progress the human race is capable of making."
While one of the major aims
of the Year of Reconciliation is "showcasing" the diverse
talent of Emory faculty, the primary audience is the Emory community.
The goals include "fostering a sense of community among
people to stimulate interdisciplinary research and teaching and
provide opportunities to discuss Emory's future direction,"
says Bob Agnew, professor of sociology and co-chair of the symposium.
Agnew offers the panel on "restorative justice," which
he is organizing, as a classic example of reconciliation in action
(see page 4). American criminal justice currently focuses "on
certain and severe punishment that ultimately further alienates
offenders from the larger community," he says. Emory professors
Thee Smith and Arthur Kellermann will bring perspectives from
theology and public health to bear on an alternative approach
commonly called "restorative justice." Restorative
justice couples punishment with efforts to help the offender
understand the harm caused, repair that harm to the extent possible,
and play a positive role in the community through work and volunteer
"Bipartisan reparations," explains Smith, "is
an important part of my approach to restorative justice. This
principle flows from the fact that the selection of targets for
injustice is shaped by the conditioning children receive as part
of their earliest socialization." Smith offers as an example
generations of South Africans, who, he says, were shaped by the
church and state's white supremacy. "Are not those institutions
also culpable for the persecution, state terrorism, and genocide?
And are not the perpetrators, along with the victims, in need
of apologies and reparation from today's representatives of those
institutions-such as schools and congregations?"
While that panel looks beyond the university to probe the meaning
of reconciliation, other events take on conflicts within the
academy. Workshops scheduled for this spring, for instance, will
apply some ideas discussed during the symposium to the Emory
Though intellectual engagement
across the disciplines is a basic goal of the year, organizers
recognize the barriers to successful interdisciplinary work.
"While there's a global tendency toward fostering interdisciplinary
work, it has not yet been reflected in any real change in major
administrative structures," concedes Frye. The philosophical
incompatibility of some fields of inquiry is another barrier
and will be examined in the symposium panel "Reconciliation
in the Academy," organized by Steven Kraftchick of the theology
Time constraints can also discourage faculty from interdisciplinary
work. "It is astonishingly simple for junior faculty, in
particular, to allow their lives to be totally overwhelmed by
the desire to be good teachers, be highly productive scholars,
and give outstanding service to the university," notes John
Banja, who led a recent faculty seminar on the ethics of professional
development (see page 4). "Faculty seem less and less to
have a life outside the university. The conflict among those
personal and professional roles is part of the cost of caring
about academic excellence. The concern is that their caring not
The very system for assuring excellence, adds Frye, may be "a
runaway dinosaur." The tenure
system is like "the trait which develops because it has
survival value, but gets exaggerated. When the environment changes,
it's no longer adaptive." And that may be the case with
the pressure to publish so extensively in a narrow field that
interdisciplinary research sometimes becomes a hindrance to achieving
The tendency to count the numbers of publications rather than
evaluate their quality compounds the problem. Faculty often doubt
their ability to fully understand work outside of their own field
of research. But Frye argues that this "is a problem that
needs to be reconciled. When are we going to stop talking about
this and really have some universities say, 'submit your best
five papers or your best book manuscript?' When are universities
going to take a risk based on our judgment rather than some stereotypical
Despite the breadth and pliability
of the theme of reconciliation, can it really impact all of the
types of scholarship in a system as diverse as a university?
Some faculty have questioned its applicability. "It just
doesn't seem to affect my work," says physics professor
Agnew and others admit that reconciliation is not possible or
desirable in all cases, pointing to Dorot Professor of Jewish
Studies Deborah Lipstadt's legal battle with a Holocaust denier.
But even when reconciliation is possible, how can we measure
its success? Where is the line between politically correct conversation
and authentic reconciliation?
Ultimately, the meaning of this mercurial term may differ with
each would-be reconciler. Yet Agnew suggests an ideal for reconciliation:
an active discussion of areas of disagreement, an exploration
of ways to resolve disagreements, and a solution all find satisfactory.
The most compelling definition of reconciliation within a university,
however, is likely to emphasize process over product. As Provost
Rebecca Chopp says, "this topic allows us to do what we
do best: inquire, produce knowledge, and critique the production
of knowledge." A.B.B.