Yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education—the most widely distributed journal among academics—has a lengthy, fascinating, and well-reported article (available here for subscribers) about the Group of 88 and the campus reaction to them. Authors Thomas Bartlett and Sara Lipka allow members of the Group, plus two of the “clarifying” faculty, to speak in their own words. Most would have been better advised not speaking at all.
1.) Duke’s Pauline Kael Moment
A (perhaps apocryphal) story regarding the late New Yorker film critic, Pauline Kael: after Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in 1972, Kael supposedly said, “How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon.”
Here’s Wahneema Lubiano on the Group of 88’s ad: “In the moment when the ad came out, I did not hear from one colleague that there was something wrong with the ad.” All controversy, she claims, came from meddlesome bloggers after the fact.
Those who live in a groupthink atmosphere, as Lubiano appears to do, rarely encounter anyone who disagrees with them. In this case, it appears Lubiano didn’t even read the campus newspaper in which her ad was published.
Six days after the ad appeared, Stephen Miller observed in his Chronicle column:
Friday, a full-page ad ran in the paper repeating the charge that the situation would be handled differently were the accused not a bunch of white lacrosse players. This absurd ad, which levied the untrue and indefensible charge that Duke is filled with racists, was officially endorsed by 20 of our academic departments and institutes and about 90 individual professors . . . [Signatories] make a very different case—one for protecting, at all costs, our system of justice from the passions and prejudices of the people.
The next day, the Chronicle editorialized:
Campus groups, in attempting to respond to these issues, face a difficult balance between constructive dialogue and one-sided dogma. In many cases, they cross that line. An advertisement for a forum sponsored by the African-American Studies department proposes the idea that Duke is a “social disaster.”
This is but one example of the instances of radical, inflammatory discourse that obscures what should be our true aim: reasonable discussion.
But Lubiano didn’t hear from anyone that “there was something wrong with the ad.”
2.) Imagined Reality
Holloway claims that the ad was almost routine, and simply reflected a professor’s job to “give voice to student concerns.”
Who, exactly, does Holloway think she’s fooling? The market for the Chronicle of Higher Education is almost exclusively academics. It’s hardly routine for random groups of professors to take out full-page ads in the campus newspaper to “give voice to student concerns” with which the faculty happen to agree. If this were true, there would be dozens of such ads that appear in campus newspapers every day, all over the country.
I’ve taught at four very different types of institutions:
3.) The “Sloppy Wording” Rationale
The Bartlett/Lipka article reveals that Holloway, with a Ph.D. in English, and Lubiano, whose Ph.D. came in Literature, were the driving forces behind the ad. Denying that the ad constituted a rush to judgment, Holloway suggested that the drafting professors (which, it appears, were Lubiano and her) were not able to choose language that conveyed their true meaning.
For instance, Holloway stated that the ad’s wording “what happened to this young woman” does not necessarily refer to a rape. “Something did happen on Buchanan . . . A party happened. Drunkenness happened. If you want to read ‘happening’ in one particular way, that’s the bias you bring to your reading.”
In other words: a woman made a highly publicized allegation that she was raped by Duke students, an allegation that leads to the cancellation of an athletic team’s season. Professors, in their own voice, signed a statement speaking of “what happened to this young woman.” But they really meant that “drunkenness happened” to the woman.
By that criterion, the Duke Chronicle will be running dozens of full-page ads from Duke professors in just about every edition for the foreseeable future.
(Holloway, of course, doesn’t explain why the ad didn’t read “a party and drunkenness happened to this young woman” if the signatories wanted to make that point.)
The appropriate retort to this argument comes from Michael Gustafson, who notes—given the extraordinarily charged atmosphere of last April—that “it’s hard to believe that none of [the 88] would have said, ‘You know, we need to be clearer about this aspect.’ The ‘until proven guilty’ was cast as a fait accompli.”
4.) No Transcript
The Bartlett/Lipka article solved one of the many mysteries of the Group of 88’s ad: why the alleged quotes from students were anonymous. I had—quite erroneously—assumed that at least these quotes were legitimate, taken from a transcript of the session.
In fact, these “quotes” came from “notes” of the event taken by Lubiano. It does not appear that she verified their accuracy with the speakers. Indeed, we have no way of knowing whether the speakers were even Duke students, or were potbangers or other habitual protesters who happened to show up for the event.
This revelation yields some intriguing questions:
- What steps, if any, did Group of 88 members other than Holloway or Lubiano take to ensure the accuracy of the student quotes to which faculty allegedly were “listening”?
- Did other Group of 88 members ask Lubiano how she obtained the quotes, and whether she had received students' permission to use their words in such a fashion?
- Did they even read the final text of the ad, with the 11 “quotes” ultimately selected, before signing?
As Steven Baldwin stated in the article, “My personal view is that their social agenda was at the forefront of [the Group’s] thinking. I think there was a collision between political correctness and due process, and I think political correctness won.”
5.) The “Clarifying” Faculty Don’t Inspire Confidence
The article contains three quotes from “clarifying” faculty—the roughly two dozen professors who didn’t sign the Group of 88’s statement but did affix their signatures to a January open letter that purported to “clarify” the Group of 88’s meaning.
Here’s clarifier William Reichert, a professor of biomedical engineering and chemistry: the ad was “pretty balanced and reasonable . . . a sincere attempt to make a point that there are real victims here, not necessarily the lacrosse victim.” (emphasis added) The ad was so “balanced and reasonable” that the finest defense attorneys in the state cited it in a change-of-venue motion.
And here’s clarifier Kenneth Surin, explaining that athletes do not enroll in his courses: “I do not give quizzes . . . I give very hard reading.”
6.) Cracks in the Group of 88
A few Group members (Literature’s Frank Lentricchia is probably the biggest name here) chose not to sign the clarifying statement, and one explains why.
Math professor Arlie Petters said, “Whenever something causes undue pain to people, then of course that isn’t something I would want to be a part of.” It disappoints me that more signatories--people who, after all, have chosen a career of teaching students--do not feel as Petters does.
The article continues, “In private, according to a number of professors, colleagues have questioned the wisdom of the original ad.” It’s unfortunate (if understandable) that so many professors appear intimidated about making this point publicly, and that a few Group members appear reluctant to dissent from the pack.
For instance, it’s my understanding that several lacrosse players had taken courses from one member of the Group of 88, and had tried to reach out to her in recent months to explain how the ad affected them. Yet, far from “listening” to her students, she proudly signed the clarifying statement anyway.
7.) The Voices of Reason
The article discusses the Economics professors’ courageous January letter, which endorsed President Brodhead’s call for an investigation of Mike Nifong’s conduct, and also stated, “We regret that the Duke faculty is now seen as prejudiced against certain of its own students . . . 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.”
The contrast in tone between figures such as Holloway or Lubiano and Economics Department chairman Thomas Nechbya was striking.
Nechbya calmly noted, “We should all say we regret that there is an impression that has been formed that we are against some of our students. It’s not a comment on whether that impression is valid. But the ad took on a life of its own.” He added, “We are academics, and we should be able to passionately disagree and still be friends at the end. If we lost that in this controversy, then we have really lost something. And there is certainly the potential for that to be lost.”
It’s remarkable that a portion of Duke arts and sciences faculty appear to disagree with the first of Nechbya’s statements.
Bartlett and Lipka report, “Neither Lubiano nor Holloway regret signing the ad, and Lubiano says that if she had it to do over again, she wouldn’t change one word.”
Astonishing. But then again, this is the same group that barred all recording devices from last night's event--which was billed, in Orwellian terms, as a celebration of academic freedom.
The article also includes a revealing exchange between Gustafson and Group of 88 member Anne Allison. Gustafson was concerned about Allison’s spring semester course, which explores such issues as, “What does the lacrosse scandal tell us about power, difference, and raced, classed, gendered, and sexed normativity in the
At the suggestion of Provost Lange, Gustafson contacted Allison and spent an hour with her talking about the course. He said, “It was better to actually communicate with each other.”
Here’s how Allison described the matter: “The very query seemed hostile. I mean, I’m not asking him about his class.” Once they met, “he heard me but did he really hear me? I don’t know.”
It’s clear Allison didn’t hear Gustafson: the article reports “she is teaching the course as planned,” complete with a book whose author treats the lacrosse case as if a gang rape occurred.
To use the language of clarifying signatory Reichert, which of the duo seemed “balanced and reasonable”?