Emory University owns up to dental school's anti-Semitic history and offers regrets
Administrators set to apologize to former students in person
Nearly 60 years after he was told he wasn't good enough to be a dentist, retired orthodontist Art Burns is about to get the apology he deserves.
Burns, of Jacksonville, Florida, is one of many Jewish men who were dubbed failures by the now-defunct Emory School of Dentistry in Atlanta between 1948 and 1961. Though the university never admitted discrimination by the school's then-dean and faculty, research by the Anti-Defamation League showed that 65 percent of the Jewish students at that time either flunked out or were forced to repeat coursework -- up to a year of it -- in order to stay.
"I was kicked out in 1953," said Burns, who at 80 can still quote from the letter he received with the news: "Our staff is concerned that you don't have the manual skills."
The self-pronounced "certified obsessive compulsive," who had prided himself on his lab handiwork -- carving teeth and doing bridge and gold work to perfection -- couldn't believe it. Neither could his mother, who accused him of wasting his time, running around with the wrong crowd and chasing girls.
All these years later, there is no shame. Burns will stand proudly Wednesday evening with other former students, spouses and their children on Emory University's campus, where top administrators -- including President James W. Wagner -- say they will own the past and issue a statement of regret. The dental school is no longer; it closed in the early 1990s.
After a private meeting with the university president, the invited guests will attend a public discussion during which an Emory-commissioned documentary, "From Silence to Recognition: Confronting Discrimination in Emory's Dental School History," will premiere.
It's an effort in healing, one that was galvanized in large part by Burns' one-time classmate Perry Brickman, who got his failure letter a year earlier than Burns. Brickman, 79, says he tracked down about 75 men who'd been affected in some way by the dental school's policies at that time. Very few women were enrolled in the school; none was Jewish, as far as Brickman knows. Some of the video interviews he shot with his Flip video camera in recent years made it into the film, which was created by John Duke and David Hughes Duke of LivingStories.TV.
Last spring, Brickman and Eric Goldstein, a Jewish history professor at Emory, brought the personal stories -- which said so much more than long-overlooked statistics -- to the administration.
"It's shameful, a blot on the institution's history," said Gary Hauk, Emory's vice president and deputy to the president, who met with the men and helped spearhead the effort to make amends.
"I hope that the evening will give the former students a sense of belonging to the Emory community, a sense that they are a valued part of the university's history," Hauk said. "I also hope it will introduce them to an Emory whose people work hard to balance excellence of intellect with greatness of heart and character."