Having gone through the full report of the Campus Culture Initiative, it’s easy to see why it received such a tepid reception from President Brodhead. The report combines a series of unobjectionable, even laudable, recommendations with persistent references to “last spring’s lacrosse event” that act as if time stopped on March 31st, when the potbangers, Group of 88, and Mike Nifong were still riding high.
The theme of the lacrosse case has been flawed procedures beget flawed results. The CCI’s record conforms to the pattern. With three of the committee’s four subgroups chaired or co-chaired by among the campus’ most extreme critics of the lacrosse team, is it any wonder that the CCI produced a report that validated the worldview of . . . the campus’ most extreme critics of the lacrosse team?
The two workable recommendations:
(1) create more physical space for student social activity around campus;
(2) streamline the faculty administrative structure to increase faculty-student interaction.
It’s hard to see how anyone could object to either of these goals, and Brodhead should allow these two and only these two items to form the legacy of the CCI.
Three minor items give a sense of the report’s quality and biases:
(1) The report’s first line: “
(2) The 25-page report—a product of months-long inquiry by prestigious academics—cited a grand total of two (2) publications. The chosen duo? William Bowen’s screed against Division I athletics; and Janet Reitman’s widely disparaged Rolling Stone article—which, perhaps because it places the Duke student body in the worst possible light, is assigned reading in Anne Allison's spring semester class. Apparently, CCI members decided not even to try to conceal the membership’s biases.
(3) The report listed four and only four campus groups and offices with which CCI members “connected”: the Women’s Center; the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Life; the Council on Civic Engagement; and the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. Some might suggest that this quartet would provide a rather one-sided view of campus culture.
The Alcohol subgroup was the only subgroup not chaired by an extreme critic of the lacrosse program. The recommendations of the CCI’s alcohol subgroup recognize the difficulty of alcohol on contemporary college campuses, but do not single out athletes as any worse (or better) than all Duke students on this question. This section, no doubt, will pose problems for the latter-day neo-prohibitionists among the Group of 88.
Other items in the report are unintentionally revealing.
(1) “There are often pressures for conformity which work against our institutional vision as an inclusive academic community.” (p. i) “The Committee came to better understand problems that exist—ranging from simple acts of uncivil speech and intolerance to what some have called a ‘culture of excess.’” (p. 4) “Last spring’s events revealed that Duke must do better in learning how to engage difference constructively.” (p. 8)
Some might think that these statements describe the potbangers or the Group of 88. In fact, the report’s implication is that those who opposed the potbangers or the Group of 88 were guilty of exercising “pressures for conformity” or engaging in “uncivil speech and intolerance” or of failing “to engage difference constructively.”
(2) “Last spring’s lacrosse event and its ensuing controversies evoked strong emotions and discussions about issues of race and gender, class and privilege, difference and respect, athletics and academics, and town and gown.” (p. 1)
It appears as if CCI members suffered from a form of Durham Rip van Winkle disease, having gone to sleep on or about April 6 and missed “strong emotions and discussions” about issues of faculty groupthink, prosecutorial misconduct, a rush-to-judgment mentality, or professors who fail to respect all their students, regardless of race, gender, or athletic status.
Those “ensuing controversies” the CCI members were bound and determined to ignore. I wonder why?
(3) “In their first year at Duke, about 15% of Black students reported that Duke instructors treated them badly because of their race/ethnicity,” as opposed to much smaller percentages for other groups. (p. 6)
This claim is a shocking one: the CCI has suggested, without any hard investigation, that a considerable portion of Duke faculty members engage in racist behavior.
(4) [update, 1.12am]: A commenter notes, “I was astonished to read in the CCI report that the Duke Class of 2010 includes 41 percent students of color. Yet, the next paragraph calls for additional consideration for admissions from 'under-represented groups.' What groups could remain under-represented?”
A good question, to which the CCI offered no answer.
(5) “Analyses conducted over the last four years indicate that this decision has increased the number of students who are not adequately prepared to benefit from, or contribute to, the work of the academic community, event with enhanced academic support services. This places Duke’s admirable graduation rates at risk, reinforces negative stereotypes, and does not serve the best interests of these students themselves, their peers, or their faculty.” (p. 22)
Reread the statement above. Some might think it came from an ultra-conservative critic of “diversity” college admissions policies.
But it came from the CCI. For those who guessed that it refers not to African-American students with poor SAT scores and pre-Duke academic preparation, but instead refers to a class of Duke students consistently targeted by the Group of 88 and figures such as Peter Wood and Orin Starn, a free guest pass to the next “Shut Up and Teach” event is yours for the taking.
In the end, there never was any doubt about what the CCI would produce, with Peter Wood and Group of 88 members Karla Holloway and Anne Allison chairing or co-chairing three of its four subgroups. As a Chronicle editorial noted a few weeks back, “The composition of the CCI’s steering committee has hurt its credibility . . . 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.”
The most chilling provision of the CCI report is the Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative, with the Group seeking to use the lacrosse case to force all Duke students to take their classes. The report urges a requirement that all Duke students take a class that engages “the reality of difference in American society and culture. The vast majority of these offerings are taught by . . . the Group of 88.
Over the past 10 months, most Group of 88 members have made clear their belief that the Faculty Handbook provisions requiring Duke professors to treat all students with respect do not apply to them. The idea that all Duke students should be forced to take a class from a Group of 88 professor or a handful of the Group’s ideological allies in the name of “improving campus culture” is Orwellian.