The Group of 88’s Monday event—ostensibly designed to confront “the current of criticism and attempts at intimidation directed against faculty who comment on larger social and political issues, and following the events of last spring, this forum addresses connections between faculty interests and local, national, and international politics”—seems to have fared no better in improving the Group’s reputation than did the “clarifying” letter.
Instead, the event only confirmed the aphorism that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Flyers for the event contained “McCarthy” with a line struck through the word. The invocation of McCarthyism generated a thoughtful letter to the editor from Economics professor Roy Weintraub, who had more than his share of personal experience with the issue:
In the late 1940s, my father, an economist, was attacked in newspaper editorials in The Brooklyn Eagle for teaching communism to nice Catholic boys at
. He was, of course, an early Keynesian. In the late 1940s, the man who would become my doctoral adviser had to leave the St. John’s University United Statesfor almost a decade to avoid the agitated involvement of the Regents of the in his tenure case, based on his admitted connection with the Communist Party as a graduate student and young instructor. In those years with the Smith Act in place, one could be jailed for being a Communist Party member. That he was doing the work for which he would later win the Nobel Prize mattered not at all to the Regents. Universityof Michigan
And my college classmate was Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s older son.Shorn of its inflammatory rhetoric, the Group members’ position appears to be:
So I read with astonishment the recent panelists’ invocation of McCarthyism as their characterization of the criticism they have received for their public statements or writings. They face no death sentence, no jail time, no threats from Trustees or administrators of employment termination, no loss of income, no loss of custody of their children, no loss of their passports, no reduction whatsoever in their public or private circumstances.
I don’t ask the panelists to shut up and teach. I ask them instead to understand that for various Duke faculty, staff, administrators, students, parents and alumni to disagree with them in public or in private is neither McCarthyism nor an academic travesty and betrayal of the values of our institution, but is rather an expression of their believing otherwise.
(1) Their critics should “shut up and teach”—as, indeed, one presenter, Charles Piot, stated outright at the conclusion of his Monday remarks.
(2) It is McCarthyism to criticize faculty members at one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions for issuing a statement so extraordinary that it was cited in a defense motion for change of venue, even though they have given inconsistent and even demonstrably incorrect explanations regarding the statement’s origins.
Monday’s event seemed unable to remember the past in another way. Though billed a “teach-in,” it restricted the exchange of ideas.
In their purest form, 1960s teach-ins consisted of faculty attempting to transmit their knowledge about
The Monday “teach-in,” on the other hand, went out of its way to prevent dissemination of the speakers’ ideas. At least two bloggers attended with video recorders, with intent to post a tape of the event on the web—so people could hear the Group members in their own words. Given that Group members have consistently claimed that their writings have been “misread,” they should have welcomed this move. Instead, they banned all recording devices from the event.
At the very least, participants in a “teach-in” should have been willing to defend their viewpoints. Indeed, one participant, Group of 88 member Mark Anthony (“thugniggaintellectual”) Neal, asserted, “We live in the world of ideas, in the marketplace of ideas.”
The participants did not practice what Neal preached. Instead, they seemed outright afraid of getting tough questions—perhaps on the basis of the open (and thus far unanswered) questions from Friends of Duke. The session opened with an announcement that journalists and bloggers would be forbidden to ask questions. In other words, the goal would be to preach to the converted, not to persuade the undecided.
So what did occur at the session? John in
Looking forward to the day when “we’ll all get along together after the revolution’s over,” lead speaker Wahneema Lubiano promised to run to the barricades, to save her job at least, if the university adopted policies she opposed. Lubiano was fresh off the revelation in the Chronicle of Higher Education that eight of the anonymous student “quotes” from the Group of 88’s ad actually came not from a transcript but second-hand, from her notes. In effect, 87 other Duke professors signed a public statement declaring that they were “listening to Lubiano.”
Lubiano appears to have received only one tough question—from a Duke junior, who asked how the “listening” ad was formulated, how signatories found out about it, and why there was no response from the sciences. Her response? Reported LB, the African-American Studies program “wanted to produce ad and had to do it quickly. Circulated it to people on their lists. Sent to some departments and not to others. Gave them a 48 hour deadline!!” As LB notes, “If the ad wasn’t about lax, why the rush, except to capitalize on the moment?”
Recall the timeline: based on Lubiano’s remarks, it appears to Group wanted the ad out before the DNA reports came in, lest a report of no matches lead to—as Group member Thavolia Glymph would lament—things “moving backwards” on campus.
Then, according to LB’s notes, Charles Piot made an extraordinary claim: the Group of 88 is now, effectively, the Group of 89, because President Brodhead had signed on to the ad in a recent Chronicle interview. This assertion, to put it mildly, seems an overstatement of what Brodhead actually said.
Other speakers devoted themselves to less worldly matters. Pedro Lasch handed out a set of questions entitled, “game scenario: knowledge/power/violence vs. knowledge/power/social justice.” Diane Nelson passed around to participants a string, which a student then cut, to symbolize disconnectedness. As one commenter at Liestoppers noted, this activity seemed more appropriate for elementary school playtime than a serious academic presentation.
As occurred in Lubiano’s and Piot’s assertions about the Group of 88, the presenters consistently strayed from the claim that the forum wasn’t about the lacrosse case. Amidst his game scenario, Lasch departed from the script to assert that “women live in an environment of constant sexual violence.” Robyn Weigman, Director of Women’s Studies, added, “It’s not a crime to assume alleged victim of sexual violence is telling the truth.” No, it’s not. But it is a rush to judgment, especially when 88 professors take out an advertisement based on this assumption.
Piot, meanwhile, devoted his presentation to . . . criticizing this blog—which, he hastened to add, was not read by even one of 100 students he had sampled. A good portion of Piot’s remarks came almost verbatim from an e-mail distributed by Orin Starn, to which I had previously responded by e-mail (a copy is here).
Piot’s assertion that the blog employs tactics comparable to those of unnamed dictators in
Piot explained that he and members of the Group of 88 are not anti-athlete, and that “hundreds of athletes enrolled” in AAAS courses (since the program has only 33 majors, this claim seems remarkable). Nonetheless, if true, it seems to me Piot should eagerly sign the Economics Department professors’ public petition, which stated, “We welcome all members of the lacrosse team, and all student athletes, as we do all our students as fellow members of the Duke community, to the classes we teach and the activities we sponsor.”
Piot added a final charge: the blog, he fumed, had engaged in “publicizing syllabi” of Duke professors. At most academic institutions, syllabi are not considered top-secret documents: indeed, all of my syllabi, along with my lecture notes, are available on-line.
I fear that Piot based his belief that faculty should be free from public scrutiny on another overlooked aspect of the past. It seems that he has forgotten the famous saying of former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: sunlight is the best disinfectant.