In recent years, few elite universities have escaped faculty demands to divest institutional funds from corporations that do business in
Friday’s Chronicle featured an op-ed by Andrew Gerst ’06 spotlighting the Duke divestment campaign, which also calls on “the U.S. government to make military and arms sales to Israel conditional” on such demands as a “right of resettlement” for Palestinians. DukeDivest explains that it sees nothing wrong with calling for divestment solely from Israel, because “there are already plenty of campaigns active in opposing the practices of [other] discriminatory and repressive governments all around the world.” And it rationalizes its proposals through the dubious arguments typical of campus divestment movements:
- claiming, falsely, that “torture is endemic and systemic—part and parcel of the Israeli Occupation and
’s security culture”; Israel
- contending, also falsely, that the Israeli government regularly employs torture against “left wing” political activists;
- deeming “valid” a comparison between
South Africa’s apartheid regime and ’s current democratically elected government. Israel
Gerst, on the other hand, worried that the continued endorsement of divestment by a chunk of the arts and sciences faculty stained Duke as an institution. In his opinion, “There is no moral reason for any person to sign or continue to promulgate such a hateful, manipulative, and utterly false document.” He urged the faculty signatories—“men and women who have devoted their lives to the scholarly pursuit of truth”—to renounce their position.
According to DukeDivest’s “FAQ” document, “The faculty constitute the backbone of the academic community of the university; and their support shows the relevance of divestment across all sectors of the campus.” Who are these professors, whose behavior Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz has described as “either misinformed or malignant”?
Of the petition’s original signatories, 27 continue to occupy either tenured or tenure-track positions at Duke. It will surprise no one that a majority of these “professional” protesters also have formed the “backbone of the academic community of the university” in its response to the lacrosse case. DukeDivest’s membership includes such familiar names as:
- Wahneema Lubiano, African American Studies, who told ESPN that she and other signatories of the Group of 88’s ad “knew some would see the ad as a stake through the collective heart of the lacrosse team.”
- Orin Starn, Cultural Anthropology, who has aggressively exploited the case to further his campaign to transform Duke into a watered-down version of Haverford;
- Grant Farred, Literature, who appeared at a recent event to “interpret” Duke’s “social disaster”;
- Thavolia Glymph, History, who fretted that the negative DNA tests could result in the Group of 88's crusade to transform the campus “moving backwards”;
- Anne Allison, Cultural Anthropology, a CCI subgroup co-chair who previously was rebuked for spending departmental funds on an advertisement criticizing the Bush administration’s foreign policy;
- Robyn Wiegman, Women’s Studies, who earned a warm thank-you for her assistance in Karla Holloway’s latest anti-lacrosse screed.
Professors who have demanded that Duke divest from companies doing business in Israel also include Group of 88 signatories Srinivas Aravamudan (English), Leo Ching (Asian and African Languages and Literature), miriam cooke (Asian and African Languages and Literature), Michael Hardt (Literature), Ranjana Khanna (English), Frank Lentricchia (Theater Studies), Diane Nelson (Cultural Anthropology), Kathy Rudy (Women’s Studies), and Susan Thorne (History).
EphBlog, which focuses on events at Williams College—another institution that combines academic with athletic excellence, if at a Division III level—has been following the Duke case closely. In a perceptive set of remarks, it recently pointed to the relationship between how the Duke faculty has responded to the issue and the declining intellectual diversity on many college campuses, including Duke, today.
A “groupthink”-dominated faculty marginalizes the voices who dissent from the race/class/gender trinity. And in such an environment, extreme actions—such as demanding that Duke divest from companies doing business with a democratic ally of the
What does it say about Duke’s intellectual vitality that more than two dozen Duke professors signed a public statement whose terms Bill Clinton’s former treasury secretary termed “anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent,” and yet, nearly six months out, not even one member of the Duke arts and sciences faculty has publicly denounced Mike Nifong’s myriad procedural violations; or defended the personal character of any of the lacrosse players; or spoken up against Durham’s admitted policy of targeting Duke students for disproportionate punishment?
It seems, alas, that in challenging the academic groupthink that dominates the institution’s intellectual life few, if any, of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty are willing to lean against the spirit of the moment. Their behavior reflects poorly on the university.