The second leg of what could be dubbed the “Group of 88 Rehabilitation Tour” is scheduled for next Monday night on the Duke campus.
The first leg—the so-called “clarifying” statement—backfired badly. Its defiant tone and non-clarifying language triggered critiques from Duke alum Dan Abrams, Charlotte Allen, and John Podhoretz, among others. Virtually no one seemed to speak up in support of the embattled ideologues.
How did the Group respond? By becoming even more defiant. A two-hour event entitled “Shut Up and Teach” features five Group of 88 members—Wahneema Lubiano, Maurice Wallace, Diane Nelson, Mark Anthony Neal, and Pedro Lasch—plus “clarifying” signatory Charles Piot.
Their event’s purpose: to counteract “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.”
Back in April, it’s worth remembering, the Group had no problem criticizing their own school’s students by issuing a statement asserting unequivocally that something “happened” to the accuser, while saying “thank you” for not waiting to protesters who flooded the campus with “wanted” posters and held signs saying things such as “Time to confess” and “Castrate.” Nor did some members of the Group appear to have any problem with intimidating their own school’s students.
What “attempts at intimidation” have Monday’s presenters (all but one of whom are tenured) experienced? Group members don’t say.
The Group, alas, seems trapped in the pre-internet era, when academics could say or do just about anything, and few off campus would notice. Academic freedom, as much as the Group members might wish it were so, does not entail the right of academics to be free from criticism, nor does criticism of the statements and behavior of academics constitute “intimidation.”
As far as I can tell, all 88 members of the Group are just as free as now as they were on April 5, the day before their ad appeared, to “comment on larger social and political issues.” Indeed, it seems likely that more people are paying attention to their utterances now than was the case before they decided to issue their statement.
- Diane Nelson can still respond to campus speakers whose views she doesn’t like by interrupting their remarks or urging women to take off their T-shirts—behavior that one Duke student (sympathetic, ironically, to her viewpoint) described as “immature . . . and making a mockery of the concept of free speech.”
- Mark Anthony Neal can still talk about his “intellectual alter ego . . . thugniggaintellectual—one word . . . this figure that comes into intellectual spaces like a thug, who literally is fearful and menacing.” Neal told readers of Duke Magazine that he “wanted to use this idea of this intellectual persona to do some real kind of ‘gangster’ scholarship, if you will. All right, just hard, hard-core intellectual thuggery.”
- Wahneema Lubiano can still oppose the war in
, advocate reparations for African-Americans, run “around campus dressed from head to toe like drag queens” performing political skits, oppose increased campus security measures on campus, or demand that Duke divest from companies doing business in Afghanistan . Israel
Indeed, for Monday’s sextet, it’s not clear what adopting a “shut up and teach” approach would even look like. As Wallace explained in a 2003 interview with the Herald-Sun, “I have a responsibility to all of my students—every single one of them—to disabuse them of all of the national, racial, middle-class, gender and sexual myths they’ve been taught to comfort or flatter themselves and, of course, the people who, perhaps unknowingly, miseducated them.”
I doubt that line makes it into the section of Duke fundraising appeals in which the institution discusses how its professors behave in the classroom.
Lubiano likewise has seamlessly blended her political activism with her teaching—as is her “privilege,” she once wrote. This semester, she’s teaching two classes. Here’s the synopsis for “Teaching Race/Teaching Gender”:
Learning about traditional and continuing forms of social inequalities—including those of race, class, gender, and sexuality—can be one of the more valuable experiences students have in college; however, teaching those forms of inequalities effectively also presents special challenges to the instructor. This seminar offers prospective teachers a chance to think through some of these issues. What content do various student audiences need to complicate their thinking? How can that content best be taught? How do you get students of different backgrounds comfortable talking with one another? How do you overcome the reluctance of male undergraduates to avoid anything with “gender” in the title? How do you make class apparent in a social order that reduces it to consumer choices, or in which it is made invisible by the hyper-visibility of race and ethnicity? Within the terms of a heteronormative culture that has made individual aesthetics the bedrock of sexual relations, how do you introduce the idea of the social to questions of relationships? How do you help students make the connection between the specifics of their everyday lives and the theories that undergird analysis of those lives?
And here’s the synopsis of Lubiano’s “Teaching Critical U.S. Studies”:
The course provides students with a history of American /
(Translation: “This course teaches students how to criticize
Chapter Six of the Duke Faculty Handbook opens with the following passage:
Members of the faculty expect Duke students to meet high standards of performance and behavior. It is only appropriate, therefore, that the faculty adheres to comparably high standards in dealing with students . . . Students are fellow members of the university community, deserving of respect and consideration in their dealings with the faculty.
Stripped of all its verbiage, the central position of the Group of 88/87 is really quite simple: while all other professors at Duke must adhere to the provisions of the Faculty Handbook, these rules should not have to apply to the Group. Instead, Group members should have the right to forward their personal, pedagogical, or ideological agendas on the backs of Duke students, just as they did on April 6.
In the long term, this is an untenable position for any University.