In contrast to their compelling need to speak out last spring, in recent weeks most members of the Group of 88 have turned silent on issues relating to the lacrosse case. When asked recently if she would publicly affirm the need for the students accused by Mike Nifong to receive due process, political science professor Paula McClain responded succinctly, “NO.” So much easier, I suppose, to sign denunciatory public statements based solely on what turned out to be the prosecutor’s misleading version of events.
As a sensational Liestoppers post pointed out, Mark Anthony Neal is one of the few Group members to have recently commented, albeit obliquely, on the case. “The strip club,” said Neal,
is the new church. That raises all kinds of interesting possibilities around spirituality and black bodies, dealing with issues of spirituality outside traditional notions of what spirituality in a church is supposed to be….When we think about women who work in strip clubs, the key component there is that word “work.” In some ways this is legitimate labor, and we need to be clear about that. And women make these decisions based on what kind of legitimate labor is in their best interest. While it’s important that black women’s sexuality not be exploited, at the same time, I don’t want to get into the business of policing black women’s sexuality, which is just as dangerous.
Last week at
It’s worth remembering that Neal is the professor—of the nearly 500 members of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty—with whom Richard Brodhead chose to share the stage at an event to combat the university’s alleged “culture of crassness” following Nifong’s first two arrests.
The fall-term catalog, meanwhile, features a first-year seminar (all Duke students must take one) that, according to the syllabus, “emerged out of our discussions of the allegations of sexual assault and racial taunting at the now infamous lacrosse party of March 2006. The criminal charges have not yet been tried in a court of law, but the allegations alone constituted a ‘perfect storm,” rapidly escalating into a social disaster of extraordinary proportions.”
The course is co-taught by two members of the Group of 88, including Thavolia Glymph. Glymph made what might be the most outrageous remark of any Duke professor throughout this entire affair: the day after reports that DNA tests revealed no matches between the lacrosse players and the accuser—an outcome, according to Mike Nifong’s March 23 court filing, that should have “immediately rule[d] out” as suspects all the players—Glymph lamented the outcome could result in the Group of 88’s crusade to transform the campus “moving backwards.”
The seminar’s first-week reading assignment? The statement of the Group of 88.
Glymph’s academic profile is rather slim: holder of a 1994 Ph.D. from a second-tier graduate school (Purdue), she hasn’t published a book. Like Glymph, fellow Group of 88 member Kim Curtis, a political science professor, possesses seemingly meager credentials for a Duke faculty member (San Francisco State B.A.;
Curtis’ signing the Group of 88’s statement contributed to her pattern of adopting ideologically extreme positions that fail to stand the test of time. For instance: like many feminists, she struggled to reconcile her sympathy for Bill Clinton with her backing of the sexual harassment law that laid the groundwork for Paula Jones’ lawsuit. Rather than consider that Jones’ ability to subpoena Monica Lewinsky showed that sexual harassment law was too broad, Curtis rationalized Clinton’s behavior while remaining faithful to the work of “feminist theorists” who “have shown interrelationships between sexuality and the exercise of unjust power.”
In general, said Curtis,
The liberal feminist legal framework . . . does not speak to the important relationship between consent, relations of power and gender socialization. This is its most serious limitation. Interrogation of these relationships have become salient in legal debates over issues ranging from pornography to prostitution to surrogacy to date rape. Troubling the liberal framework of consent is a vital, on-going intellectual project with potentially deep political significance. In the case before us, however, judgment is not ill-served in being guided by it.
In plain English: the “relationship between consent, relations of power and gender socialization” suggests that the sexual harassment law that Paula Jones used to subpoena Lewinsky is perfectly written—except when the target is someone Curtis likes.
Before joining the Group of 88, Curtis’ recent protest efforts had focused on real and imagined national security issues in the post-9/11 world. In 2002, she joined Group of 88 members miriam cooke, Bruce Lawrence, and Rom Coles in “Iraq and Us,” a faculty initiative urging Duke professors to “devote a period of time during your class to addressing” the administration’s approach to a possible invasion of
Shortly after 9/11, Curtis also condemned an alleged attempt “to silence professors who encourage students to probe the history of
This tale is, indeed, a frightening one. It is also wholly divorced from reality. Take a glance through the archives of FIRE, a nonpartisan, non-ideological group devoted to defending free speech on campus. The overwhelming majority of threats to campus free speech (both before 9/11 and after) have come from the far left, not the far right; and have come from within the university, not outside of it.
Meanwhile, a survey published last week shows that—among other items—one-third of the nation’s college faculty consider the
Curtis further analyzed the post-9/11 university: “There is an emotional tyranny at play here” . . . “Tyranny thrives where there are no dissenting voices” . . . Universities “should be strongholds of people who defend independent thinking.”
Since March 14, nearly 100 of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty engaged in rush-to-judgment denunciations of the lacrosse players based on the “emotional tyranny” of appealing to what Brodhead described in his 60 Minutes interview as “people’s deepest fears, deepest anxieties, and dreads.” Events on Duke’s campus over the past seven months have, indeed, proved that “tyranny, thrives where there are no dissenting voices”—a situation among the arts and sciences faculty, fortunately, I understand will be remedied in this morning’s Chronicle.
Note: I e-mailed Professor Curtis last week, to ask if in light of the many facts that have emerged since April 6 she entertained any second thoughts about signing the Group of 88's statement. I also asked if she had considered making a public statement supporting due process for the accused students.
She did not reply.