A few months ago, at a meeting of the Faculty Council,
President Bill Chace reported on a recent visit of the American
Association of Universities’ presidents to Emory. During this
several-days-long visit, President Chace heard stories of incidents
of unrest on college campuses, related to the war on terrorism and,
in particular, to the escalating talk of a renewed war with Iraq.
His concern, as I recall his expression of it, was that we had large
parts of our community who fell on different sides of the war issue,
and that we also have a number of groups being personally affected
by this talk of war.
President Chace challenged us, as members of the council, to find
a way to prepare our campus for this kind of unrest, and, as often
happens at such meetings, a new committee was born, styled as the
Ad Hoc Committee on Academic Freedom. Bruce Knauft, Samuel C. Dobbs
Professor of Anthropology, and I were selected to be co-chairs of
Bruce and I, after discussion, proposed a series of two or three
lunches with students to be held early in the spring semester. The
plan was to gather faculty and students to share stories about tensions
as they existed already on our campus and to form ideas as to what
action to take. We took this plan to the council, and it was approved.
Our ambitions for these meetings soon led us to realize that we
should include members of the University staff, too. I contacted
my FAME partner, Bridget Guernsey Riordan of Campus Life, to get
some idea as to who would be a good staff person to help us reach
the various student groups.
Bridget suggested Donna Wong, associate director of the Office of
Multicultural Affairs, who greeted this idea enthusiastically and
got to work immediately.
We held our first meeting on Jan. 31, and it proved to be one of
the most stimulating events I have attended in my four years here
at Emory. Donna gathered a group of students from the Muslim Student
Association, the Black Student Alliance, College Council, Student
Government Association, Hillel, the Persian Club and the Arab Student
The ensuing conversation surprised me in many ways. I knew that
Emory had a dynamic student body but was overwhelmed by the openness
of the discussion. The students said, almost in the same breath,
that what would help them most to deal with the tensions a war would
cause would be to hear what the faculty had to say on the subject.
From this conversation emerged an idea we call “Classroom
on the Quad.” At the time, we referred to this event as a
“teach-in” or open forum similar to the ones conducted
here after the events of Sept. 11.
We planned a meeting for the following Friday that would include
a larger representation of groups, including College Republicans,
Young Democrats and other student groups. We learned of a group
of students and faculty in political science that proposed holding
a series of local forums around the campus, inviting students to
a moderated discussion of U.S. foreign policy. This group, under
the direction of professors Larry Taulbee and Rick Doner, called
itself the Emory Foreign Policy Exchange and joined our planning
efforts while continuing its own work.
This second meeting was even better than the first, and all the
new voices in the room endorsed the idea of a campuswide forum about
the possible war. We decided to peg the event to the start of hostilities,
feeling that the fact of a real war would disturb a large percentage
of the students, staff and faculty, and would create a need for
the community to come together.
Conservative voices and liberal voices, pro-war and anti-war people
at the meeting all agreed to pursue this strategy. As I recall,
we were still referring to the event as a “teach-in”
at that point, though within the next few days we would learn of
a number of anti-war teach-ins taking place across the country.
In order to make it clear that our forum would be a balanced one—what
Rick Doner referred to as “multipartisan rather than nonpartisan”—
we decided on the name Classroom on the Quad.
Classroom on the Quad will take place from 1–3:30 p.m. on
the Quadrangle, with approximately 20 speakers talking for five
minutes apiece on many subjects related to the possible war with
Iraq. Some speakers will be pro-war, others anti-war, and some simply
are providing information. We have invited undergraduate and graduate
students to speak, and we have included members of the University
staff, among them a war veteran.
The event will be held two to three days after the beginning of
hostilities, and will be followed up, if our plans succeed, by smaller
moderated discussions hosted by the Emory Foreign Policy Exchange.
We believe the greatest need for this discussion will occur after
We are asking that all classes in session during the forum come
to the Quad as a group and listen. President Chace, Dean Bobby Paul,
Dean Peter Dowell, Dean Priscilla Echols and Dean Nagueyalti Warren
have endorsed this plan; we have reached out to all the deans of
Emory’s various schools for their support as well.
Since we are convening the Quad as a giant classroom, we are asking
that all members of the community come to listen, to open their
minds to all points of view, and to forego demonstrations, banners
and anti-war or pro-war chants, in favor of an exercise of listening.
We have challenged each of our speakers to envision a listener of
good will who disagrees vehemently with the speaker’s positions;
we want each speaker to speak respectfully to those who might disagree
with his or her point of view.
Will we succeed at such an idealistic undertaking? We all know that
people of good will disagree on how the business of the world should
be conducted. At this moment, when such disagreements can become
profound, we have the chance to demonstrate that real peace is possible
on our campus, at least, even in such unsettled times as these.