In the months since Houston Baker departed
- Peter Wood, who has gone out of his way to appear to slander his own students;
- Karla Holloway, who has proclaimed that “white innocence means black guilt,” while boasting she would sign the Group of 88’s statement again “in a heartbeat”;
- Wahneema Lubiano, who coordinated the Group of 88’s statement.
Lubiano’s career provides a glimpse of the kind of professor Duke’s humanities and (some) social sciences departments have desired in recent years. Though possessing a Ph.D. in Literature from a quality institution (
Lubiano, who received her Ph.D. in 1987 and is a tenured associate professor at Duke, has edited one book. The volume contained papers from high-profile African-American authors presented at a mid-1990s conference at
In the 19 years since she received her Ph.D., however, she has not published a scholarly monograph. Yet those who relied solely on Lubiano’s word for her publication record might have believed otherwise. The Black Cultural Studies webpage states that a Lubiano manuscript entitled Like Being Mugged by a Metaphor: “Deep Cover” and Other “Black” Fictions was forthcoming from Duke University Press—in 1997. Yet the current Duke University Press webpage, nearly a decade after Lubiano listed the book as poised to appear, contains no listing of Like Being Mugged by a Metaphor.
On Lubiano’s official Duke webpage, which was “last modified” on November 17, 2006, Like Being Mugged by a Metaphor is listed as forthcoming—in March 2003. (This time, she doesn’t reveal the press that allegedly was going to publish the book.) Yet a search through amazon.com, the Library of Congress website, and Duke’s own library catalog contains no evidence that the book ever appeared—45 months after Lubiano listed it as forthcoming.
I would have asked Lubiano whether an innocent explanation existed for her having twice listed as “forthcoming” a manuscript that apparently had not even been accepted for publication. But she earlier had instructed me (when I requested evidence for her transparently absurd claim that the Brodhead administration showed favoritism to the lacrosse players), “Do not email me again. I am putting your name and email address in my filter.”
Like Being Mugged by a Metaphor isn’t the only manuscript for which Lubiano has “flexibly” interpreted “forthcoming,” a description usually reserved for manuscripts that a press has accepted for publication. The BSC webpage from 1997 lists a volume called Messing with the Machine: Politics, Form, and African-American Fiction as “forthcoming” (no date supplied) from
On yet a third occasion, Lubiano listed both books as “forthcoming”—in 1999.
In the most charitable interpretation possible, Lubiano has offered misleading claims, which exaggerated the extent of her publishing record.
Some might consider it hypocritical for a professor with such a record to lecture anyone, much less her own institution’s students, about the canons of ethical personal behavior.
Lubiano’s current record of scholarly publications thus is confined to essays, most of which have appeared as chapters in books edited by others. (In contrast to journal articles, book chapters usually are solicited and do not go through a peer-review process.) Lubiano’s essay titles include:
- “Shuckin’ Off the African-American Native Other: What’s Po-Mo Got to Do with It?”;
- “To Take Dancing Seriously Is to Redo Politics”;
- “Standing in for the State: Black Nationalism and ‘Writing’ the Black Subject.”
Lubiano has labeled herself a “post-structuralist teacher-critic leftist.” Recurring themes from her work include:
Hostility to the Western intellectual tradition. “Western rationality’s hegemony,” she complained in one essay, “marginalizes other ways of thinking about the world.” This tradition includes concern with “the limits of Western science and rationality in accounting for the nexus of pleasure, ritual, history, and political significance.” Along these lines, Lubiano has celebrated the Ebonics movement—or the “deconstructive relation to the dominant language whether by using the dialect and syntactical structure of ‘black English’ or by subverting standard English dialect.”
Victimization. Like her African-American Studies colleague Karla Holloway, Lubiano sees herself as a victim. In a 1996 essay, she described herself as “at the mercy of racist, sexist, heterosexist, and global capitalist constructions of the meaning of skin color on a daily basis.” As someone who is “attacked by the gemeonic social formation’s notions of racial being and the way those notions position me in the world,” she is “physically traumatized and psychologically assaulted . . . in the dark of a power that never admits to its own existence.” Indeed, she wildly hypothesized, “Many whites . . . might not ever be persuaded by appeals to reason, to what we ‘know’ and agree to be ‘truth’—that all men/women were created equal, for example.” I suspect that few people would consider a tenured professor who teaches four courses annually at an elite university to be a victim of society.
“Boundary stretching.” Lubiano frequently has boasted that her work and work that she supports offers dramatically new intellectual insights. “There are moments,” said she, “of epistemological excitement that recognize changes already ongoing, and then there are moments that at the same time both recognize and generate new ways of knowing. The creation of Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology is such a moment.” One example of boundary stretching came in her work on black drill teams, which she fantastically described as “an incredibly cathected performance of anti-racist theory, counter-military aesthetics, group creativity, and certain kinds of aesthetic appropriations and reappropriations.”
Anti-capitalism. Lubiano has asserted that the
The Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald, who attended a conference at which Lubiano spoke, recalled the atmosphere:
The final impression left by the conference had less to do with the substance of the debate about the “academic culture wars,” numbingly familiar as it is, than with its style. After hours of being bombarded with impenetrable syntax and utterly predictable slogans, one stumbled out of the conference hall profoundly depressed by the state of academic speech.
Lubiano has an unusual approach to her job as a professor: “University intellectuals,” in her words, “work in knowledge factories; that the factories produce engines of dominance; and that, therefore, sabotage has to be the order of the day.” She views her job as engaging in “a deliberate attempt on the part of the historically marginalized to reconstitute not simply particular curricula, but the academy itself.” Is this what parents who spend more than $40,000 a year to send their children to Duke had in mind?
Lubiano has to teach something, though her course offerings are vague enough to allow a presentist focus where she can spend a term teaching her beliefs—such as her conviction that “once white working class people learn that corporate capitalism is using racism to manipulate them, they will want to join with racially oppressed people against capitalism.” In spring 2006, for instance, her two classes were “Introduction to Critical U.S. Studies” and “Teaching Race/Teaching Gender.” Syllabi for these offerings are not available on-line; and, of course, Lubiano refused to supply them—but it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out what sort of issues the classes address.
Lubiano considers herself entitled to use her job to advance her political agenda. “Whether I’m thinking, teaching, or engaging in politics (including strategizing),” she wrote, “I think that it is part of my privilege, my work, and my pleasure to insist that those three activities are not clearly demarcated.” [emphasis added] This approach is justified, she wrote, because “over the past 250 years, university scholars have created and legitimated the knowledge that has justified the particular oppression” she has devoted her career toward exposing.
Lubiano’s vision of an ideal university is especially troubling. At a 1990s conference held at
So exactly what “politics” has Lubiano used Duke’s dime to promote? Before the lacrosse case, she bounced from one extremist ideological crusade to another—as if intent on providing a caricature of what New York’s Kurt Andersen termed the academy’s “loopy left.”
- She opposed the war in
, urging instead a “just peace” based on “dismantling the unquestioned commonsense of capitalism, and dismantling the unquestioned commonsense of market religiosity.” Afghanistan
- She advocated reparations for African-Americans, citing “activity of the state in the aid of theft” of free labor from slaves.
- She walked out of class to protest the war in
- She participated in DRAGnet (Duke Radical Action Group), which, according to the Chronicle, featured professors “running around campus dressed from head to toe like drag queens” performing political skits.
- She opposed increased campus security measures, lest Duke “produce students as the future gated community citizens of the nation and the world.”
- She demanded that Duke divest from companies doing business in
- She was closing speaker at a 2001 conference called “Black Queer Studies in the Millennium.”
- She called for an international tribunal to explore the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
- She petitioned
to recognize a graduate student union. New York University
- She deemed the government’s failed response to Hurricane Katrina “cover for other forms of class warfare on the part of the powerful and cover for the work of dismantling, one disaster or crisis at a time if necessary,” the welfare state.
- She spoke at gatherings of the “Triangle Vegetarian Peace Society.”
In many ways, Lubiano resembled Nifong—a rogue in her profession, though a basically harmless figure who escaped notice of the outside world. But then, like Nifong, she couldn’t resist exploiting the lacrosse case, even if, by so doing, she risked bringing attention to her somewhat unusual scholarly and ideological background.
- In March, she put together the Group of 88’s statement, fully aware, as ESPN reported, that “some would see the ad as a stake through the collective heart of the lacrosse team.”
- In April, she deemed the players “almost perfect offenders . . . the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus,” and promised to press forward “regardless of the ‘truth’ established in whatever period of time about the incident at the house on N. Buchanan Blvd.”
- After the arrests of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, the N&O reported that Lubiano told them “people can’t imagine that the woman could have made a false rape allegation.”
- In May, she penned an op-ed for the N&O declaring that Duke needed immediately to begin “targeted teaching” to expose “the structures of racism and the not-so-hidden injuries of class entitlement in place at Duke and everywhere in this country, and without regard to banal and ordinary sexual harassment,” since “we don’t have to wait for working class or poorer students to be targeted by fraternity ‘theme’ parties or cross burnings on the quad or in dorm halls, or for sexual assaults to be attested by perfectly placed witnesses and indisputable evidence.”
The silence of most Duke professors has allowed Wahneema Lubiano and like-minded colleagues to monopolize the faculty’s public response to the lacrosse affair. Such an outcome should embarrass the institution.
Tomorrow: Through what kind of process do professors like Lubiano get hired?