One year ago today, a full-page ad appeared in the Chronicle. Signed by 88 members of the Duke faculty, the ad stated unequivocally that something “happened to this young woman.” It suggested that the lacrosse players had contributed to a “social disaster.” It featured several anonymous guilt-presuming quotes from alleged Duke students (filtered, as we now know, through the “notes” of Wahneema Lubiano). Most disturbingly, the Group of 88 committed themselves to “turning up the volume” by thanking campus protesters “for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.”
During the gestation period of the ad, the most highly publicized campus protests were the potbangers' call to “castrate” the players and the March 29 campus-wide distribution of the “vigilante” posters containing the lacrosse players' photos. No Group member has ever explained why it was so important that these protesters not wait until more facts about the case were known.
Duke doesn’t publicize its student evaluation reports, but a student recently forwarded me evaluations of some Group of 88 members from the Duke Evals site. They make for interesting reading.
First, it’s clear that a few Group of 88 members are highly regarded teachers. Tolly Boatwright, a professor of classical studies who is affiliated with History and women’s studies, is a well-respected scholar who has attracted rave reviews. One student described her as “one of the most eager and supportive teachers at Duke . . . more than fair and generous to the non-Latinists and non-majors looking to understand the history of Western politics and culture.”
Group of 88/clarifier Antonio Viego is a graduate of
Some Group members simply attract mediocre reviews. Bayo Holsey is one of the professors in the soon-to-be-expanded African-American Studies Program. Her scholarship consists of the obligatory “forthcoming” manuscript, an outgrowth of her 2003 dissertation. Her students seemed unimpressed with her classroom performance: “She may be a very nice woman,” wrote one, “but she is boring and shows no enthusiasm in class.” Another described the course as the “worst class I have taken at Duke...so boring.”
At least Holsey doesn’t seem to dislike Duke students. Group of 88 member Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s new book will be entitled White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology; he also has a forthcoming essay entitled, “Latinos in the Midst: Where Will Latinos Fit in the Emerging Latin America-Like Racial Order in Amerika.” (spelling of
Then there’s anti-lacrosse extremist Peter Wood. Over the past year, Wood has come across as the caricature of the professorial ideologue, and his evaluations confirm the point. While he attracted one positive comment and most reviewers considered him “enthusiastic,” the majority ranged from negative to scathingly negative, and previewed items of the Peter Wood we’ve seen on display in this case.
One student termed him “very liberal, doesn't want to talk about the founding fathers with any significance. The class is all about the 'little guys.’”
Another remembered Wood in the following manner:
It's hard to be so critical, since he seemed very enthusiastic about the class and eager to teach, but he was by far the worst professor I've had at Duke. He asks for participation, but only to twist the words students say into something completely different. Pretends to teach from a new and original point of view, but this is only an excuse to talk about the things and views that he finds interesting or acceptable, which translates to bias. His focus on race and class wouldn't be bad, though, if he had any insight or new information to offer on the subjects, but he doesn't. His lectures aren't even focused or coherent, just ramblings and anecdotes he fails to connect or put into some sort of context. If you try and engage or challenge his views, he resorts to name calling and slander, as opposed to rational argument. While he came very highly recommended and is a Rhodes Scholar, I can't say I came out of the class with any new appreciation of the material. Think very carefully before you take a class with him.
Some Group members—Wahneema Lubiano and Karla Holloway, for two—attracted no student comments. Neither did Group of 88/clarifying professor Ranjanna Khanna. Khanna’s scholarship, however, places her well within the Group of 88 mainstream. Her most recent publication, “Post-Palliative: Coloniality’s Affective Dissonance,” could be a parody of academic jargon.
The thesis: “As an area of study—whether in literary, geographical, architectural, or spatial terms concerned with borders and other postcolonial problems—the cautious critical optimism, accompanied by its epiphenomenal counterpart in poststructuralism, is testimony to the impossibility of a declaration of newness in the world.” Khanna argues, “My concern with ‘melancholia’ is similarly about field formation, but it is about the affect of melancholia rather than about an affectation . . . This melancholia initiates and in fact finds its symptoms within a constant vigilance concerning palliatives, alibis, and easy complicit and compromised gestures of sanctimonious novelty or liberalism.”
Khanna concluded by outlining the path to democracy:
To sustain a people existing in the sovereign state of necropolitics and lost causes, critical melancholia, formulated through the ghosts with ideals, is the only way for democracy to come. While not all in the field of postcolonial studies will conceive of melancholia in the Freudian and Derridean terms I have employed, my reading nonetheless demonstrates how and why the field of postcolonial studies has always been melancholic, and has always expressed through this melancholia its profound belatedness and complicated antinomies . . . Sovereignty’s late style has, in postcolonial theory, found its critics who mine the antinomies of postcolonial life to find demands for justice, and therefore hope for the future.
This was the mindset behind the Group of 88’s statement.
By the way, the professor who attracted the most comment at the Evals site? Michael Gustafson. “Dr. G is the man,” raved one student. “Best prof at Duke by far.” Said another, “Best professor I’ve had at Duke... funny, wicked smart, very friendly.”
Some could say that Duke needs more Michael Gustafsons and fewer Peter Woods or Ranjanna Khannas. It certainly needs fewer Groups of 88.
Hat tip: C.O.