A year ago, Duke Magazine, an official university publication sent to all alumni, published a one-sided review of the lacrosse case entitled “A Spring of Sorrows.” Author Robert Bliwise interviewed only one Duke student—Nick Shungu, an African-American senior who fantastically demanded that the University issue “an acknowledgment of sympathy for the alleged victim.” Bliwise interviewed only four professors—the chairman of the Academic Council and three anti-lacrosse extremists (Houston Baker, Peter Wood, and Orin Starn). The article minimized the largely positive findings of the Coleman Committee report and didn’t mention that the committee had found Wood’s criticisms non-credible. Bliwise didn’t speak to Kerstin Kimel or to any students who had defended the lacrosse players; he went off campus to find a defender of the athletic program, Duke graduate Jay Bilas of ESPN.
One year later, much has changed, and Bliwise is back with another long article. This time, he spoke to both sides: he interviewed Group of 88 author Wahneema Lubiano, plus signatory Lee Baker, but also spoke with a critic of the Group, Michael Gustafson. He featured lengthy quotes from Jim Coleman. Bob Steel and President Brodhead himself rounded out the interviewees. For his 2007 article, Bliwise did not interview any students, although he did quote from a Stephen Miller op-ed. He peculiarly quoted from one blog comment (at this blog) but no blog postings.
With a more balanced group of sources, the article is unsurprisingly more balanced. And also unsurprisingly, as an official publication of the administration, the article places the administration in the most positive light possible.
Examples of Bliwise’s “spin” include:
Critics on Brodhead
Bliwise writes, “In letters and online postings, critics said that university officials should have spoken up for the innocence of the students more forcefully.”
In fact, the key blogs (Liestoppers, Johnsville News, JinC, Lead and Gold, La Shawn Barber, this blog) all adopted the position of Friends of Duke’s summertime open letter: that Brodhead had an obligation not to speak up for the innocence of the players but to demand that all Duke students be treated according to the same procedures as all other Durham residents.
Bliwise quotes Jim Coleman (correctly) noting that a Brodhead declaration of innocence would have been counterproductive. He does not appear to have asked Coleman whether Brodhead had an obligation to advocate fair procedures—as Coleman himself did throughout the case.
Presumption of Innocence
According to Bliwise , “The presumption of innocence was articulated in the first statement, last spring, from President Richard H. Brodhead, and repeated dozens of times.”
This statement is true. Bliwise doesn’t mention, however, that Brodhead minimized or dropped altogether references to the presumption of innocence at a key point in the case—between April 5 and April 20, 2006.
Bliwise concludes, “Steel and Brodhead alike say that lessons can be learned from the past year, but that it's time to move beyond a painful episode.”
Steel has said the same thing in several e-mails sent out this week. In effect, then, the Duke approach is: the lacrosse players should have been investigated; “campus culture” should have been investigated; the student judicial system should have been investigated; but the faculty’s rush to judgment and allegations of improper in-class behavior deserve no inquiry.
Contextualizing Group of 88
Though Bliwise quotes from the Group’s statement, he does not include the two items clearly presuming guilt: the assertion that something “happened” to Crystal Mangum; and the signatories’ affirmation “to the protestors making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.” In the ten days before the ad appeared, of course, the two highest-profile protests had been the potbangers’ “Castrate” rally and the distribution of the wanted posters around campus.
The ad also contained such anonymous guilt-presuming statements from alleged Duke students as the following:
I am only comfortable talking about this event in my room with close friends. I am actually afraid to even bring it up in public. But worse, I wonder now about everything. . . . If something like this happens to me . . . What would be used against me--my clothing? Where I was?
No one is really talking about how to keep the young woman herself [Crystal Mangum] central to this conversation, how to keep her humanity before us . . . she doesn’t seem to be visible in this. Not for the university, not for us.
Bliwise described the statements above as merely “decrying the campus climate,” not commenting on the lacrosse case itself. I suspect most readers would disagree.
Finally, he concluded that “the language in the ad . . . for a long time was largely ignored, until it became fodder for the blogging community.”
It is, of course, convenient for the Group and its defenders to pretend that the Chronicle doesn’t exist. The fact that the paper published an editorial and an op-ed within a week of the ad’s appearance—and, this summer, reported that the lacrosse players and their lawyers noticed the ad with horror as soon as it appeared—calls into question Bliwire’s description.
Wahneema Lubiano rationalized the ad in the following way: “There are no circumstances under which any community wants to have racism, sexism, sexual violence. They’re horrible things, and nobody wants to talk about them.”
Nobody wants to talk about them? If we have seen nothing else over the past year, it is the dominance of the analytic triumvirate of race, class, and gender among a large swath of the Duke arts and sciences faculty. Indeed, it seems as if many members of the Duke professoriate speak of little else other than racism and sexism.
Steel on the Group
The Bliwise article features the closest item to any rebuke of the Group from the Duke administration, if phrased in the mildest of language. Bob Steel: “My take on the Group of 88 is that they were speaking about issues they feel quite strongly about. I don’t think they purposefully meant to be impairing the students who were affected by the situation. But I think it did have the effect of causing those members of our community to feel unsupported.”
If Steel had read the change-of-venue motion or the summertime Chronicle article, he would know the ad had such an effect.
“Critics of the campus see the Group of 88 as a threat to learning—even as [Professor Lee] Baker notes that the faculty members under attack attract large enrollments (including athletes) and earn positive evaluations from students.”
Duke’s faculty evaluation figures do not appear to be available on-line. No way exists, therefore, to independently determine the validity of Baker’s claims.*
In the event, it would be fascinating to know statement author Wahneema Lubiano’s average annual enrollment, and how many student-athletes she has taught in the past two years.
“Over the past year, the university has been the target of unrelenting scrutiny and scathing criticism—externally, from media ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Fox News.”
The ideological “range” from the WSJ to Fox News isn’t too far. The implication: only right-wingers (not, say, moderates such as Duke alum Dan Abrams) worried about the faculty’s conduct.
Three items relating to the faculty response received no mention at all.
- First, Bliwise failed to deem newsworthy what appears to be a first in American history: defense lawyers formally claiming that the statements and actions of a University’s faculty prevented that University’s students from receiving a fair trial locally.
- Second, Bliwise did not reference the highly public faculty rebuke of the Group of 88—the open letter published by members of the Economics Department.
- Third, Bliwise overlooked the public criticism by Jim Cooney of the “number of people in
, some of whom teach for a living, who should have spoken up.” Durham
Unusual Reference Points
Bliwise cited three comparable instances of a media/legal/academic conflagration: an ethics scandal at Stanford; the troubles with the University of Colorado football team; and the “water buffalo” case at Penn.
Stunningly, he portrayed the “water buffalo” case—one of the most embarrassing episodes in contemporary higher education—in terms sympathetic to the then-Penn administration.
After noting that the Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz published a column strongly critical of how Duke handled the lacrosse affair, Bliwise obtained a quote from former Penn president Sheldon Hackney about a conversation Hackney had in 1993 with Rabinowitz. (The two talked just before she exposed Penn’s flimsy conduct in the water buffalo affair, helping to mobilize public opinion against Penn's attempt to deny even rudimentary due process.) Rabinowitz, Hackney declared, spoke “in a voice so chilling that I knew immediately that, like Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, she had garlic in her soul.”
It is odd that Duke Magazine would publish such a deeply personal attack on a Pulitzer Prize winner (for her work on bringing to light fraudulent child-abuse allegations) without, apparently, giving her a chance to respond.
To return to the start of this post: the 2007 Bliwise article is far more balanced than its 2006 counterpart. And it is to be expected that it would place the administration’s actions in the most positive light possible. But I don’t think the claim that Duke handled the lacrosse case as well as Penn handled the “water buffalo” case is one that reflects well on Duke.