Friday, September 29, 2006

Weighing the Scales

Few recent issues have generated more intense debate in higher education than David Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights.” Horowitz has frequently cited public opinion polls to bolster his contentions about professors using their classrooms to indoctrinate students. He also has maintained that he seeks only to ensure more ideological balance among the nation’s faculty.

Led by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), major academic organizations have furiously opposed the ABOR concept. They have suggested that academic quality can’t be measured by public opinion polls, nor should balance constitute an end unto itself. Surely, ABOR critics have reasoned, colleges and universities need not offer a pro-Nazi viewpoint in a class on the Holocaust, not should they spend time in an evolutionary biology course exploring creationism. However “balanced,” such results would be antithetical to the purpose of higher education.

In one of the lacrosse case’s many ironies, Duke president Richard Brodhead has channeled the arguments of David Horowitz to rationalize his institution’s behavior over the last six months. A recent article in the Chronicle revealed the administration’s satisfaction with a Duke-commissioned survey showing support for Brodhead’s policies (at least as those policies were described in the poll, questions for which weren’t released). In a July letter responding to Friends of Duke University, meanwhile, the president implied that his policies receiving “critical comments from a great variety of points of view, including diametrically opposite ones,” confirmed the wisdom of his approach.

Generating complaints from “diametrically opposite” sides represents an odd way of measuring a policy’s merit. In the early 1960s, for example, Duke’s administration doubtless received criticism from those with “diametrically opposite” viewpoints on how aggressively the campus should embrace civil rights. With the benefit of hindsight, Brodhead surely wouldn’t suggest that his predecessors’ moderate policies on civil rights represented the best possible option—even though they attracted concerns from “diametrically opposite” perspectives.

The president more overtly celebrated “balance” in his Chronicle interview, praising the “wide level of recognition that the University is taking this [affair] seriously and in a balanced way.” The Texas populist Jim Hightower once remarked, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow line and dead armadillos.” Hightower’s quip recognized, if in exaggerated form, that on some issues, a “balanced” approach can be morally bankrupt. Indeed, many might contend that Hightower’s maxim should apply to events at Duke since March. After all, as Duke Law professor Erwin Chemerinsky agreed, no case in the last 15-20 years has featured this extent of procedurally irregular behavior that was publicly apparent by this stage of the process.

It might be fairer, however, to evaluate Brodhead on his own terms. Does any way exist in which the president could credibly assert that Duke has responded to the lacrosse affair “in a balanced way”?

1.) The president’s own remarks

Brodhead told Friends of Duke, “Those of us in positions of responsibility have acted as best we could to make two points: that what the players were accused of was, if true, a heinous act; and that it would be equally unjust to prejudge their guilt in the absence of proof and certainty.” Yet less than 2.5 percent of the words in either of Brodhead’s major public statements on the lacrosse case (April 5 and June 5) even remotely suggested that “it would be equally unjust to prejudge [the players’] guilt in the absence of proof and certainty.”

This rhetorical “imbalance”—to continue employing the president’s criterion—unsurprisingly led the media to portray Brodhead’s remarks as one-sided condemnations of his students. For instance, at a Durham Chamber of Commerce meeting on April 20, two days after the indictments of Reade Seligmann and Colin Finnerty, WRAL-TV quoted the president as saying, “If our students did what is alleged, it is appalling to the worst degree. If they didn’t do it, whatever they did is bad enough.” And what, exactly, did Seligmann do that was “bad enough”? He attended a team party that he played no role in organizing, and he drank some beer. If that is “bad enough” to merit widespread public condemnation and suspension from school, does Brodhead extend this standard to estimated 75-80 percent of students who consume alcohol and, I presume, occasionally attend a party?

2.) The work of the Campus Culture Initiative

Here, too, few signs of “balance” exist. The CCI has four subgroups, chaired by:

  • Karla Holloway (race), who informed the Herald-Sun that she was a victim of the affair, since it has increased her committee work; and who recently suggested that for defenders of the players, “white innocence means black guilt” and “men’s innocence means women’s guilt,” since “innocence and guilt have been assessed through a metric of race and gender.”
  • Peter Wood (athletics), who claimed, without substantiation, that a lacrosse player in his class advocated genocide against Native Americans; and who, after appearing to slander Reade Seligmann in a June article, has five times (most recently yesterday) refused to provide any evidence to corroborate his claims.
  • Anne Allison (gender/sexuality), who, on April 6, joined Holloway and 86 colleagues in signing a statement saying “thank you” to protesters who had branded the lacrosse players “rapists” and had distributed around campus a “wanted” poster containing the players’ photos.

The head of the fourth subgroup, Phil Cook (alcohol), “balances” Holloway, Wood, and Allison only in that he has taken no public position on the lacrosse case.

As important, the CCI’s scope is inherently “imbalanced.” Like all other “investigations” announced by Brodhead in his April 5 speech, it avoids examining the most glaring aspect of Duke’s reaction to the lacrosse incident: that despite the academy’s traditional commitment to due process, procedural regularity, and dispassionate analysis of all available facts, in late March and early April and relying solely on Nifong’s version of events, dozens upon dozens of Duke professors rushed to publicly condemn the lacrosse players. All the while, they remained silent about the district attorney’s increasingly blatant procedural abuses. How can any examination of “campus culture” ignore exploring the causes and effects of this one-sided response?

3.) Overall faculty reaction

Since March 28, nearly 100 members of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty have publicly condemned the personal character of lacrosse players, in most cases solely on the basis of the players’ group identification. In that same time frame, zero members of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty have, in any way, publicly said anything positive about the personal character of even one member of the lacrosse team.

An extraordinary letter from a Duke alumnus spoke to this faculty imbalance. The letter termed “particularly painful . . . the degree to which members of the Duke faculty have labored to condemn the lacrosse team with what at times appears to be a cruel disregard for the likelihood that no rape occurred.” This case “shouldn’t be about identity politics; it should be about what did and did not happen.”

The alumnus concluded:

Two Duke students and one former student have been charged with extremely serious crimes they almost certainly did not commit. If they are indeed innocent, then they have been the victims of a horrible lie, a merciless media storm, and callous condemnation from the faculty at their own university . . . I have seen almost no expression of public concern for their wellbeing from anyone in the Duke administration or faculty. How can this be justified? If, and when, they are “proven innocent,” which is the standard President Brodhead has set for his support, will there be any regret for the one-sided condemnation? Or will exculpatory facts continue to be disregarded because they are relevant only in the courtroom and are not as powerful as “cultural facts”?

In a university reaction that Brodhead has described as “balanced,” who among the Duke arts and sciences faculty has called upon his or her colleagues to consider the letter-writer’s questions?

There is, alas, one way in which Brodhead’s policy has helped achieve “balance” in Durham. Over the past six months, we have learned that:

  • When dealing with Durham residents, local authorities adhere to General Order 4077, which requires five filler photos per suspect and informing witnesses that a lineup might or might not include suspects; for “balance,” when dealing with Duke students, local authorities violate the order in multiple ways.
  • When dealing with Durham residents, local authorities respect Rule 3.8(f) of the state bar’s ethics code, which orders prosecutors to “refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused”; for “balance,” when dealing with Duke students, local authorities ignore the rule.
  • When dealing with Durham residents, local authorities follow Rule 3.8, comment 2, of the state bar’s ethics code, which holds that “a prosecutor should not intentionally avoid pursuit of evidence merely because he or she believes it will damage the prosecutor's case or aid the accused”; for balance, when dealing with Duke students, local authorities ignore the rule.

As John in Carolina noted yesterday, “Whatever any of us think of Durham’s DA Mike Nifong and Duke’s President Richard H. Brodhead, we can agree on this: neither man has said a single public word critical of the other.” Is this the type of balance that should define Brodhead’s presidency?


Anonymous said...

Another superb analysis. What can readers of your excellent blog do, if anything, to bring justice to this case?

KC Johnson said...

There is, alas, no easy answer--but asking hard questions of the Herald-Sun, the Duke trustees, and Gov. easley are places to start.

Anonymous said...

KC, you students are lucky to have you as their professor. Too bad there aren't any professors like you in Duke.

Anonymous said...

When I read Broadhead started a Campus Cultural Initiative I knew he was in an ivory tower made of stone. Any students who hire exotic dancers to perform are so studpid they don't deserve to be in any college. If they didn't learn from the travesty of the LAX team, they are fools. We don't need an initiative to make that change.
If Duke doesn't already have programs in place to recruit and support minority students, I'd be shocked. This can't be the first time Duke has taken a look at the role race plays in completing a course of studies at Duke.
Let the CCI study, meet, discuss, write, and report. Instead of dealing with the matter at hand, Broadhead distanced himself and Duke through an academic exercise. Duke needs to think about how they deal with the local law enforcement officials.

Anonymous said...

To 12:47 AM poster who wrote - What can readers of your excellent blog do, if anything, to bring justice to this case?

Here is something everyone can do:

Donate by credit card here

Anonymous said...

KC: There must be more that can be done to put an end to this travesty. As taxpayers and US citizens we have a right to justice. The Department of Justice has enough evidence to step in and go after Nifong and his band of thugs.

You have the ability to break this down step by step and unweave the lies and corruption for everyone to clearly see. You have an indepth knowledge of this case and your writing is exceptional. Can you please draft a letter to the US Department of Justice and US Attorney General Gonzales, requesting an investigation into Mr. Nifong and the DPD and their criminal activity. Millions of US citizens have seen their Bill of Rights and Constitution desecrated. This can happen to anyone's son if Nifong is not put in his place. We can print the letter, sign it and forward it to the Department of Justice. The volume alone will get attention.
He has terrorized these young men and their families for way to long. Nifong is a terrorist of the worst kind. For his only cause is himself. The Department of Justice and the US Attorney General need to assert their powers of checks and balances as NC clearly has none.

Nifong has admitted to destroying exculpatory evidence against the judge's orders. He has lied in court in regards to exculpatory evidence about the notes taken at the institute the accuser was going to be committed at. He has broken numerous police procedural codes and codes of his office as DA. He has conducted an unconsitutional lineup. The list goes on and you know them all.

As long as NC is still a state in this country, it should abide by the Constitution. The Federal Government has the oligation to all taxpayers to see that the Constituional rights for every citizen is protected.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

KC: One more thing on the letter writing campaign: If we could do it before the Oct. 20 Court Hearing, we could contact national t.v. supporters such as Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Dan Abrams and they could let their viewers know where to print the letter and send it out. Between national supporters, bloggers and the international community we can be a great voice for these young men.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous 9:21
I do not disagree with the statement that young men should know by now to stay away from a gathering where female exotic dancers might be performing. I just think we should stop for a minute to contemplate what it means. Hint: it does NOT mean physical danger, at least not right away. It means that after decades of feministic jurisprudence, the likelihood of a false accusation of rape or sexual impropriety plus the inevitable devastation that follows, makes it insanely risky for a guy to be anywhere in the vicinity. Let's be clear on that point.
If I were a woman worried about having any of my complaints along these line taken seriously I would want to hang M. Nifong. Because there is no other interpretation to place on your comment than that modern women are terrifyingly willing to tell devastating lies about men.

AMac said...

anonymous 1:11 PM, on a letter-writing campaign:

It doesn't seem reasonable to me to ask Prof. Johnson to spearhead a letter-writing campaign. He has already done a great deal to advance public understanding of this case (and gives every indication he will continue in this role).

Anybody can start a weblog at Blogger or Blogspot. That would be a natural technology for focusing a group of like-minded, geographically-dispersed folks to orchestrate a campaign along the lines you envision.

Your 1:11 PM comment shows that you have a good handle on many troubling aspects of this case. There's enough open-source material here and elsewhere to add detail to the level needed.

I imagine the prominent blogs covering the Duke Rape Hoax would gladly link to such an effort.

Anonymous said...

i am not sure that this analysis is so very fair. Brodhead fired the LAX coach, who had done nothing wrong. Any professor at duke who says anything positive about the LAX players is likely to be front page news, getting an immediate and detailed interview with duke management, and finding another job.

for brodhead, the kickback will start when the lax players are found not guilty. Brodhead will then be answering a whole slew of questions.

Anonymous said...

6:58 PM, do you have any authority whatsoever to support your statement that any professor at Duke who has anything positive to say about the LAX players is likely to be getting an immediate and detailed interview with Duke management and finding another job, or did you just make that up because you wanted to make the Duke Administration look bad?