Emory students and faculty vote 'no confidence' in President Greg Fenves. Here's why

Protesters at Emory University. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

A significant crop of the Emory community wants Greg Fenves – the school’s president – to step down. 

Ben Dixon is part of that crop. He’s a junior undergraduate who voted “no confidence” in a student referendum conducted by the Emory Student Government Association (SGA) this week. 

“I feel that Greg Fenves has made the campus climate – especially for Black and brown students – incredibly unsafe,” Dixon said on the Emory Quad. 

That quad – a grassy expanse surrounded by marble buildings – was the site of a recent pro-Palestinian student encampment, which was forcefully cleared by law enforcement last week. The officers used pepper balls and zip ties to disperse the crowd. 

Law enforcement clear pro-Palestinian student encampment at Emory on April 25th, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

President Fenves made the initial call to Emory police and has come under fire for that escalation. 

Ben Dixon was joined by 2,498 other undergraduates who voted “no confidence” in their president — almost three quarters of the total vote. 

Officials with the University underscored that less than half of Emory’s overall undergraduate body voted in the election – 41.9%. 

“While we take any concerns expressed by members of our community seriously, Emory community members are sharing a wide range of perspectives that are not reflected in the motion passed by SGA,” they wrote in a statement. 

But the SGA referendum isn’t the only rejection of President Fenves this month. 

A referendum among faculty in Emory’s College of Arts and Sciences (ECAS) parallels the student vote: 75% voted “no confidence” in Fenves. 

Almost 80% of the ECAS faculty participated in that vote, including Psychology Professor Nöelle McAfee – the faculty senate’s president-elect. 

McAfee said she wants a leader willing to meet students where they’re at in moments of unrest. 

“I’m in solidarity with students, with free expression, with academic freedom,” she said. “The administration’s [response] was the opposite of that.”

But the Emory Board of Trustees will ultimately decide whether President Fenves keeps his job.

McAfee said it would be “really dysfunctional” if he does. 

According to other students and faculty at Emory, these referendums – coupled with the school’s recent decision to move graduation off-campus because of “safety concerns” – have made the air on campus especially tense. 

So, some members of the faculty are making space for conversation. 

Students gather on Emory’s Quad, following a walk-out demonstration on April 29, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Biology Professor Nicole Gerardo is a facilitator of the “Dialogue Corner,” a modest collection of pop-up chairs convened in a circle on Emory’s Quad. Gerardo said it’s a place for open exchange. 

“Just the presence of a space like this is important for the Emory community right now,” she continued. “There was a moment this weekend where there were two faculty from very different parts of campus – different scholars and clearly different viewpoints on some things. But they talked to each other… and they were able – hopefully, maybe – to see each other’s viewpoints a little better.”

With the end of the school year just one day away, Gerardo and others say the dialogue corner is something they would like to continue in the fall.