The Chronicle’s Towerview magazine has a piece on the Campus Culture Initiative, the one-sided body ostensibly devoted “to evaluate and suggest improvements in the ways Duke educates students in the values of personal responsibility, consideration for others and mutual respect in the face of difference and disagreement.”
In reality, as a recent Chronicle editorial perceptively observed, “Stacking the CCI with critics of ‘white male privilege’ suggests that the initiative was created to pacify countercultural professors, rather than to shape a new and improved campus culture.”
Does anyone really believe that Peter Wood, chair of the CCI’s sports subgroup, was the best choice to promote the CCI’s stated goal of assessing “the extent to which Duke institutional practices promote values and behaviors expected of students”? This is, after all, the same Peter Wood whose views on the lacrosse team were found non-credible by the Coleman Committee, and who then appeared to slander his own students in an interview with the local alternative weekly.
And how qualified is Karla Holloway to offer recommendations on the CCI’s stated goal of assessing “how students relate to each other and other members of the campus and community across bounds of race, gender and other social divisions”? This is, after all, the same Karla Holloway who bitterly denounced her own school’s students (the women’s lacrosse players) for adopting a public position on the lacrosse case different from her own.
And how qualified is Anne Allison, who co-chairs the CCI’s gender subcommittee, to offer suggestions on “the role that faculty play in the development of student values and behavior and make recommendations for increasing interaction between students and faculty in campus life”? This is, after all, the same Anne Allison whose spring-semester course is using a book that “updates the incidences of fraternity gang rape on college campuses, highlighting such recent cases as that of Duke University.”
The CCI’s workings have been shrouded in secrecy—perhaps because, Towerview hints, this trio has been considering “potentially jaw-dropping” recommendations that surely would generate alumni protests and possibly could have an impact on admissions. It would seem to me that, before making a decision on whether to attend Duke, prospective members of the Class of 2011 have a right to know how Holloway, Wood, and Allison want to transform the University.
Moreover, the secrecy appears to have allowed Wood to escape criticism for continued dubious behavior. Towerview reports “that the path of some of those subcommittees has been all but calm,” since “the leader of the athletics subcommittee, Peter Wood, a professor of history who has voiced his often-negative opinions regarding athletics at Duke, presented his subcommittee’s recommendations, but a source says his report did not fully encompass the opinions and concerns of his entire subcommittee.”
Fully 20 percent of the CCI’s 25-person membership had actions or statements that were cited in the defense’s change of venue motion. In addition to the remarks of Wood and Holloway, and Allison’s Group of 88 membership, the CCI includes Rev. Sam Wells, whose inflammatory April 2 sermon contextualized the “disputed facts of an ugly evening” as part of “a disturbingly extensive experience of sexual violence, of abiding racism, of crimes rarely reported and perpetrators seldom named, confronted, or convicted, of lives deeply scarred, of hurt and pain long suppressed”; and the student head of the Duke NAACP, whose parent organization produced an error-riddled memorandum of law that presumed guilt.
In his comments to Towerview, the CCI vice chair, Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta, dismissed criticisms of CCI’s performance. “Every member of the group,” he stated, “has been objective, has been thoughtful, reasoned and reasonable.”
How many people would describe as “thoughtful, reasoned and reasonable” Holloway’s sending out a mass e-mail passing along fifth-hand, unsubstantiated gossip when she resigned as chair of the race subgroup to protest the lifting of Reade Seligmann’s and Collin Finnerty’s suspensions?
People shouldn’t worry about secrecy, Moneta added. “The initiative is vague by design. We said from the beginning that all the work was going to be confidential until the committee submits its report.” Actually, the announcement of the committee’s formation was unclear on that point.
Those who suggest that extremist faculty will use the CCI to champion a seemingly discredited agenda needn’t worry, according to Moneta. “We’ve heard what students have to say loudly and clearly. And I think this document reflects their concerns.”
A document oriented around faculty allegedly “listening” to ideologically compatible yet unidentified students. Where has that gambit appeared before?
Moneta is widely perceived as the senior Duke administrator who has been most hostile to the lacrosse team over the past 10 months. And the current Duke crisis isn’t the first time he has given short shrift to defending civil liberties in higher education.
In 1987, as part of a wave of similar actions at schools around the country, the University of Pennsylvania promulgated a campus speech code, which prohibited “any behavior, verbal or physical, that stigmatizes or victimizes individuals on the basis of race, ethnic or national origin . . . and that has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual's academic or work performance; and/or creates an intimidating or offensive academic, living, or work environment.” (A strong proponent of the code was then-Penn professor Houston Baker.)
Interpreting these inherently vague guidelines depended on judgment calls by student life and judicial affairs administrators—people like Larry Moneta, who, in his position as associate vice-provost for university life, was the administrator to whom the judicial system reported.
In January 1993, angered by members of an African-American sorority loudly partying right outside his dorm, a Penn freshman named Eden Jacobowitz, asked them to be quiet. They ignored him, so 20 minutes later, he yelled out, “Shut up, you water buffalo!” The university responded by filing charges of racial harassment against Jacobowitz, on the grounds that “water buffalo,” an animal native to south
As Jacobowitz’s faculty advisor, Alan Charles Kors, recalled in a 2003 talk on the Duke campus, Moneta
sat down with 10 dictionaries and two papers from leading mammalians. Later he called me up and said he had found that in the American Heritage Dictionary, the fifth entry described the water buffalo as originating in
Africa. It turned out that, in fact [the dictionary] had confused the water buffalo with the cape buffalo . . . This kind of prosecution is absurd.
In large part due to the journalism of Dorothy Rabinowitz, the “water buffalo” incident became a defining moment in the battle over campus speech codes. With the university increasingly on the defensive, Moneta continued to assert that the prosecution of Jacobowitz was correct. An NBC reporter, for instance, asked him, “Have you ever heard of ‘water buffalo’ being used as a racial slur?” Moneta’s reply? “The issue is not whether I have or not. The issue is also, you know, language in my mind is neutral. It’s a question of the context in which is language is used.” By this standard, virtually any language could violate the speech code, depending on how administrators like Moneta chose to interpret it.
Under strong pressure from both the media and alumni, Penn was forced to roll back its speech code; the charges against Jacobowitz were dismissed.
Asked in 2003 about Moneta’s move to Duke, Kors had a cutting reply: after the “water buffalo” affair, “I wondered who would possibly hire him.”
Moneta’s performance in the “water buffalo” incident makes his defense of the CCI’s one-sided nature easier to understand. It does not, however, inspire confidence in the result that the CCI will produce.