“Critical self-reflection” is one of the catch-phrases in the contemporary academy, especially in schools of Education. Good teachers, we are told, are those who have particular skills in “self-reflection”—who can recognize their mistakes and then learn from them.
Three articles have appeared in the last week, in different publications, that speak to a question that virtually all in the Duke administration and faculty have thus far done everything possible to avoid: how will the University deal with behavior by prominent faculty and to a lesser extent administrators that, with every day, looks less and less defensible?
In the N&O, Rick Martinez penned a piece that I hope everyone on the Duke campus gets a chance to read. With the coming of the new year,
Martinez notes that the ad “included a sophomoric collection of race-baiting quotes attributed to unnamed students,” earning the support of figures like Karla Holloway, who denounced the players for embodying sexist and racist behavior even though the Coleman Committee report found no grounds to substantiate her insinuations.
If all charges are dropped or dismissed,
An online update from the superb pen of Kristin Butler, meanwhile, anticipated a “gathering storm” on campus. Butler noted that Duke as an institution needs to confront the obvious when students return for classes on January 10: they are residing in a jurisdiction with a D.A. who, as Rep. Walter Jones wrote, undertook actions that might have “illegally deprived the accused of their civil rights as American citizens.”
Or who, as Dr. Brian Meehan revealed, conspired with a lab director to conceal exculpatory evidence.
Or who, after expressing with moral certainty for months that a rape occurred, dropped the rape charges but maintained the other, underlying, allegations?
“We owe our classmates,”
much more than prayers and well wishes for the holiday season. We also owe them accountability, particularly on the part of those leaders who are best positioned to censure Nifong. The Duke community has done a commendable job of leveraging our voices and our votes for this purpose, and I hope the developments of the past two weeks will inspire us to redouble our efforts.
As we found out Friday, substantial progress has already been made: After basically declining to comment for nine months, President Richard Brodhead issued a press release demanding that Nifong "put this case in the hands of an independent party" and "explain to all of us his conduct in this matter." Although Nifong's conduct merited such condemnation months ago, Brodhead is to be commended for ultimately offering it. I have no doubt that our president will have many opportunities to match words with deeds in the New Year.
Brodhead, no doubt, will have such opportunities: let’s see if he uses them.
Meanwhile, Michael Skube’s L.A. Times op-edoffers insight into the “groupthink” mentality that appears to pervade Duke’s arts and sciences faculty. Skube concludes, “For the university, those [race/class/gender] preconceptions — a reflexive, left-leaning culture shared by many of its supporters — are part of the larger problem.” In an atmosphere where so few voices are willing to challenge the status quo, any mindset—even one as ostensibly pure as the race/class/gender approach—can become stale and reflexive.
One protester, former Duke professor Ned Kennington, describes the institution as “populated by a faculty that is very socially conscious”; he notes that Nifong’s assertions “fit into our preconceptions.”
Those preconceptions, as we’ve seen, have proven disastrously wrong in this instance. Yet beyond the isolated voices of Jim Coleman, Steve Baldwin, and Michael Gustafson, there’s no indication that anyone from Duke is aware of this problem. The Campus Culture Initiative moves full-speed ahead, dominated by those on the faculty most guilty of a rush to judgment. The African-American Studies program—with the highest percentage of faculty who signed the Group of 88’s statement—was not rebuked but rewarded, with a promise of new lines seemingly undeserved given its small number of majors.
The recent remarks of some Group of 88 members do not give any indication of a willingness to engage in critical self-reflection. Houston Baker, upon being asked to speak out against Nifong’s misconduct, replied: “LIES!” He would do nothing to defend the rights of what he termed “a scummy bunch of white males . . . who beat up a gay man [sic] in Georgetown, get drunk in Durham, and lived like 'a bunch of farm animals’ near campus.”
Nor was Alex Rosenberg (last heard from celebrating how the lacrosse players “could get as much hookup as they wanted from rich and attractive Duke coeds”) in a forgiving mood. In a statement that he sent to Friends of Duke, he suggested that those who had criticized his actions—motivated by a “self promoting ($) McCarthyite brush”—had “(willfully mis-)read” the Group of 88 statement. Indeed, those who have criticized the statement, sneered
I signed the statement in large measure to express my astonishment and anger that these wealthy, white, well educated future investment bankers (some of whom were my students) engaged in behavior contributing to a climate of loutishness, racism, and a general entitlement to flout the law, that they felt the need to purchase sexual titillation to go along with under-age illegal alcoholic consumption, and to emit racist abuse to express their disappointment in the performances for which they did not get their money’s worth.
It’s remarkable, moreover, that Rosenberg feels more motivated to speak out publicly about the behavior of his students—and speak out, as he did on April 6, based on wildly incomplete information—than to publicly comment on a district attorney who has abandoned all ethics in going after students at his own school.
But, of course, Professor Rosenberg’s critics “just don’t get it.”
Place yourself in the position of a prospective Duke parent—or, better yet, a prospective Duke student-athlete. Based on what we’ve seen over the past nine months, and based on what we continue to see from professors like Rosenberg, how confident would you be that Duke professors treat all students—regardless of race, class, gender, or athletic status—in the same way? And how confident would you be in the quality of instruction provided by these professors, who have proven wholly unwilling to critically examine their own actions?
In different ways, Martinez, Butler, and Skube all ask Duke’s faculty and administration to undertake a little of the critical self-reflection that people in the academy so often demand of others. It would be nice to see some signs—even one sign—that members of the arts and sciences faculty at Duke are listening.