The scandal that could be called Duke’s “Curtis-gate” is showing signs of intensifying. First came the lawsuit filed by former lacrosse player Kyle Dowd, who offered a credible allegation of grade retaliation by the Group of 88 member. Then came revelation that last March, Curtis wrote that Dowd and the other lacrosse player in her class might have covered up a rape. Their grades plunged shortly thereafter. Now comes news that Curtis’ approach to judicial matters seems biased against any Duke student that failed to fit her race/class/gender worldview.
Last March, the Chronicle reported about threats of gang violence and at least one violent act toward Duke students. Two Duke seniors, one male, one female, claimed that NCCU students shouted at them and then knocked the male student unconscious when they were picking up food at the Cook Out Restaurant. The female student said the attackers shouted at her, “This is Central territory.”
The Duke Police and administration took this and other reports of threats seriously, and increased security off of East Campus.
Seems like a reasonable and appropriate response to an unfortunate incident. But Curtis was outraged. A friend of Curtis' passed along unverified rumors that the male Duke student had a reputation for getting into fights, while the female student regularly lied about such matters.
Curtis wanted “to underline the importance of the research on this student and of making it public.” (So much for FERPA regulations, apparently, which place severe limitations on what employees of a university can publicly say about their students’ on-campus behavior records.) “The community really should know” about the student’s background, Curtis continued, since “whatever we can do to stay true to facts and to avoid raising the temperature about black on white violence (and about lies in general) we really must do.”
She concluded, “A past such as this student has does not prove the incident was made up, but it certainly raises important questions the community should know about.”
Let’s compare and contrast. In the case of the lacrosse allegations, Curtis uncritically believed the accuser, a black female who allegedly attended NCCU, and suggested that her own students, white male athletes, were covering up a rape.
In the case of the Cook Out allegations, Curtis demanded “research” to impeach the accuser, a white male Duke student, in the hopes of exonerating the accused, black male NCCU students—with a goal of minimizing coverage of “black on white violence.”
The only common thread: whenever her own institution’s students were involved, Curtis went to whatever lengths possible to disbelieve them. I wonder how many Duke parents believe that when they write out their tuition checks, this is the kind of instructor for which they pay.
The professor’s behavior toward the other lacrosse player in Curtis’ spring 2006 class followed the same pattern—after she suggested, in writing, that he was part of a conspiracy to cover up rape, his grades plummeted. The player’s first paper was a B+. As with Dowd, the teammate’s second paper was due on April 5—after the allegations were made public, and, ominously, the same day that the McFadyen email was made public. This time, Curtis gave a grade of C- (the same grade that Dowd’s second paper received).
The third paper was due just after the New Black Panthers—certified as a hate group by both the SPLC and ADL—arrived on campus. They had announced that they planned “vigilante” justice, threatening to invade the dorms to force lacrosse players to say what the Panthers wanted to hear. Just like Dowd, Curtis gave him an F for the paper. He received a C- on the final grade—which prevented him from making the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Disappointed, the player asked to meet with Curtis, whose message amounted to “I don’t really care, all people have problems.”
A Duke student was driven off campus by a hate group, and a professor effectively responds, “So what?”
The players’ parents sent the three papers to the holder of a chair in Journalism in a prominent university He graded the first paper the same as Curtis (B+), but the second, post-accusation, a B+, not a C-. He said the third paper was the worst of the three (unlike Dowd’s), but clearly not an F.
Professor Curtis did not respond to a request from me for comment.
As a professor, there are few sins greater than grade retaliation (although making unfounded, written allegations that your students are accomplices to rape would clearly be worse than deliberately lowering their grades). In any case, this issue isn’t a hard one to understand. The grades of two of her students plunged after Curtis accused them, in writing, of being accomplices to rape—all while she was seeking “research” to impeach an accusation filed by another Duke student against NCCU students.
Perhaps Curtis would be happier teaching at NCCU?