In an AP interview published yesterday, History professor and Group of 88 member William Chafe complained, “There has been little willingness to presume good faith on the part of anyone, or to admit that there could be some justice on all sides of the issue.”
I can only presume that Chafe was, unintentionally, engaging in self-criticism, since evidence of his choosing to “presume good faith” on the part of some of his institution’s students has appeared nowhere in the record since March 31.
That morning, Chafe published an op-ed in the Chronicle asserting that the whites who lynched Emmett Till provided the appropriate historical context through which to interpret the behavior of the lacrosse players. Chafe has subsequently contended that his making the comparison did not suggest the he presumed the players’ guilt—an assertion that is all but impossible to take seriously.
Beyond the Till comparison, Chafe, as Duke graduate student Richard Bertrand Spencer perceptively observed, seemed “unable to view the lacrosse team’s hiring of a black stripper outside the ‘context’ of his gothic portrayal of miscegenation.”
“Sex and race,” Chafe declared on March 31, “have been intertwined since the beginning of American history. They remain so today, throughout
“Why,” Chafe mused, “are most African Americans of a lighter hue than Africans from
Chafe’s column has not withstood the collapse of Nifong’s case. And it certainly did not reflect a “willingness to presume good faith on the part of anyone, or to admit that there could be some justice on all sides of the issue.”
The History professor returned to the issue on May 3, in an essay published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the nation’s leading journal dealing with academic affairs. Between the publication of Chafe’s first essay and his Chronicle piece, the following items (among others) had become publicly known:
- DNA tests that Nifong had promised would identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent had shown no matches to any lacrosse player;
- Reade Seligmann’s attorney, Kirk Osborn, had filed a motion revealing in minute-by-minute detail Reade Seligmann’s alibi, including a videotape of Seligmann a mile away at the time of the alleged attack;
- Nifong had obtained identifications only by instructing police to violate their own procedures and confine the lineup to lacrosse players.
How did Chafe respond to these revelations? By chastising those who elected to “hem and haw over the details of what did or did not happen.” And by approvingly quoting an (anonymous) alleged student: “You know, we are all responsible for this, because we have not held accountable those who have committed sexual assaults on our campus.” It’s rather hard to miss the presumption of guilt in that statement.
In his May essay, Chafe compared the “Duke lacrosse fiasco” to Hurricane Katrina(!), since, “In one horrific evening early this spring at
A few weeks ago, Chafe and five colleagues penned a column demanding that the campus “move forward,” lest people attempt to examine the arts and sciences faculty’s springtime rush to judgment. The anonymous, alleged student from Chafe’s May article made her reappearance, though by February, her quote had slightly changed: she now maintained that “we are all guilty because we have never called to account those people who have engaged in date rape or sexual assault.” Another anonymous, alleged student from the May article also resurfaced, again with a slightly different quote.
Though the names of five other professors were attached to the February 2007 column, its themes and structure were identical to Chafe’s May 2006 Chronicle article. It is remarkable that after everything to have emerged since May 3, 2006, Chafe’s perspective on the lacrosse case appears frozen in time.
In discussing those with whom he disagrees, meanwhile, Chafe’s words have demonstrated no “willingness to presume good faith on the part of anyone, or to admit that there could be some justice on all sides of the issue.”
In October, when asked by New York Sun reporter Eliana Johnson about blog criticism of the Group of 88, Chafe refused comment, announcing, “I don’t want to dignify that baloney.”
In a recent interview with Diverse, he characterized the Group’s critics in the following way: “There’s a whole industry out there seizing on the opportunity to pillory a group of faculty members as leftist, racist, elitist, avant-garde Marxist people. They are creating a wonderful straw person to attack.”
So where, exactly, in Chafe’s comments or analysis about the case is a “willingness to presume good faith on the part of anyone, or to admit that there could be some justice on all sides of the issue”? It appears as if Chafe is unwilling to hold himself to the same standards that he demands of others.