Emory president apologizes for ‘three-fifths' comments

by: Shae Rozzi Updated:

The “Emory We are Sorry” Tumblr page posts a slew of critical photos and videos.

DECATUR, Ga. - Emory University President James Wagner is apologizing for controversial comments about slavery and the historical three-fifths compromise reached in the 18th century.

"Certainly, I do not consider slavery anything but heinous, repulsive, repugnant, and inhuman," part of his online apology reads. "To those hurt or confused by my clumsiness and insensitivity, please forgive me."

The compromise in the U.S. Constitution did not count slaves as a full person, but only as three-fifths of a person for census purposes. In a column for the school’s quarterly magazine, Wagner referred to it as a noble political compromise between the divided North and South: “Pragmatic half-victories kept in view the higher aspiration of drawing the country more closely together,” he said.


Click here for the original column and full apology.


Channel 2's Shae Rozzi requested an on-camera interview with Wagner on Monday, but his staff said he was unavailable. Meanwhile, students at the school had a lot to say.

"I was shocked," said student Isabel Holmes. "I didn't expect him to apologize."

Student Alvin Hardin said the university president should be more careful with the words he chooses.

"You can offend a lot of people," Hardin said.

Another student cut him a little more slack.

"I think he's not a ‘racist’ like a lot of Emory students are calling him," student Peter Habib told Rozzi. "But ultimately just the words that he's using and even in his apology, I don't think it's that adequate."

Rozzi found a satirical blog titled “Emory We are Sorry,” critiquing Wagner’s comments. Posts include a video created to show an image of Wagner with three-fifths of his foot in his mouth, a tweet calling for three-fifths of his salary to be spent on humanities programs and a picture of what appears to be a student holding a paper sign that reads, “More than three-fifths of us are as shocked as you. We're sorry.”

The controversial comments come less than two months after a student newscast tried to joke about the use of affirmative action in college admissions. The students involved in the program issued an apology.

Habib said the two incidents show discrimination seems to still exist. He also said Wagner should implement some type of program that would show that he truly understands the pain that referring to the three-fifths compromise may have caused students.

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