The last two days’ posts have explored the unusual relationship between President Brodhead and the Group of 88’s statement. Even as some members of the Group apologized for the statement’s effects, the president has suggested that he saw no need for signatories to apologize. And even as some members of the Group made clear, in writing, that the statement targeted the lacrosse players, Brodhead has portrayed the document as either a defense of unnamed minority students at Duke or an innocuous recapitulation of the faculty’s veneration for the race/class/gender trinity.
In early April, the statement’s point person, Wahneema Lubiano, e-mailed the chairs of the History, Cultural Anthropology, and Literature Departments, asking for input into the ad’s text. She then e-mailed several other department chairs, requesting that their department formally endorse the ad.
In her language, she was clear about who was funding the ad: “African & African-American Studies is placing an ad in The Chronicle about the lacrosse team incident.” In her customary purple prose, Lubiano noted that “the ad is built around student articulations.”
She elected not to send these “articulations” to most signatories—the anonymous quotes from alleged Duke students were props. Indeed, noted Lubiano, “we don’t have an email list of all department and programs chairs, and I don’t have time to put one together.”
This task would have taken around 15 minutes to complete—the Duke website has a one-stop listing for all undergraduate departments and programs. But even this short amount of time evidently could not be spared. As Lubiano (and all other Duke professors) knew, the DNA tests that Mike Nifong had promised would identify the guilty but also exonerate the innocent were due back any day. If the tests all came back negative, the anti-lacrosse faculty might have missed their opportunity to exploit the situation.
So, as a next-best alternative to looking up e-mails herself, Lubiano asked all recipients of her initial e-mail “to spam(!) this to other individual faculty or to your chairs to see if they’re interested in supporting the ad and so that as many faculty as possible have a chance to see it and sign on.” A few possible signatories, such as Literature professor Kenneth Surin, didn’t receive one of these spam e-mails before the ad went to press.
But the key for Lubiano was obtaining departmental endorsements. She stated that “we will not be listing the names on the ad itself (only the supporting departments and program units).” Academic departments rarely sign onto statements that do not directly deal with departmental concerns; if even a few did for the AAAS ad, it would attract notice. And to make sure that the message got through, then-AAAS chairman Charles Payne followed up, with an e-mail sent to his fellow department chairs late in the afternoon of April 3. Other departments would have until 11am the following morning to decide if they would sign on. Payne does not appear to have considered whether it was an appropriate use of his authority, as the chair of an academic unit, to have engaged in such a lobbying effort.
Over the course of the last year, Payne refused to respond to five e-mail requests from me asking if AAAS used departmental funds to pay for the ad or whether an independent benefactor privately funded the ad at AAAS’s behest. As the Lubiano e-mail made clear, the signatories were not asked to pay for the ad out of their own pockets.
If—as now seems likely—AAAS funded the ad itself, this decision would mean that a document cited by defense attorneys as among the reasons why Duke students could not receive a fair trial in Durham was paid for by Duke funds, funneled through the budget of the African-American Studies program. (The program since has been elevated to departmental status.)
The action also would seem to violate official Duke policy, last articulated in 2003, when future Group of 88 member Anne Allison used Cultural Anthropology departmental funds to pay for an ad containing student quotes denouncing the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Individual faculty can pay for ads about political issues, Provost Peter Lange wrote, but departments could not use their own funds for the purpose.
In the event, five departments were listed as formally endorsing the ad: Romance Studies; Psychology: Social and Health Sciences; Art, Art History, and Visual Studies; Classical Studies; and Asian & African Languages & Literature. In fact, no departmental vote ever occurred in at least three of these departments (Psychology: Social and Health Sciences; Art, Art History, and Visual Studies; and Classical Studies). Lubiano listed them as endorsing the ad anyway. She has never explained why she put false information on the ad; when asked by me about her conduct in the case, Lubiano replied, in full, “Do not email me again. I am putting your name and email address in my filter.”
Could it be that Duke, unlike most academic institutions, doesn’t follow normal procedures, and allows a single professor, on her own initiative, to assert a departmental endorsement? That was the explanation provided for the Classical Studies Department’s “non-endorsement endorsement.” Department Chair Peter Burian described this violation of standard academic protocol as a “well-intentioned” decision that “needs to be understood in the context of the immediate, highly emotional reactions to the first reports of the incident.” In fact, the false claim of a departmental endorsement occurred more than two weeks after the first reports of the lacrosse incident.
In any case, departments that took seriously academic procedure acted in a much different fashion to Lubiano’s request. The then-interim chair of the English Department, Ron Butters, noted at the time, “I cannot imagine on my own accord—or even with the backing of the Chair’s Advisory Council—giving Departmental backing to such an ad without a Departmental vote.” He added that he hoped “that we all agree that we need to be mindful that nothing we do or say as a group should violate the conscience of any of the Department members.”With the exception of Houston Baker and Maurice Wallace, Butters’ colleagues appeared to recognize the impropriety of a departmental endorsement of Lubiano’s ad. Thomas Pfau bluntly observed, “The English Department has no more calling than any other department to take a public position on what, to date, remains largely a matter of allegations and opinions.” Future Group of 88 member Ranjana Khanna said that she didn’t “think that the department as a whole could have any response that is outside the commitment to students and the pedagogical mission of the university.”
Even Karla Holloway--of all people--doubted the wisdom of Lubiano's quest for departmental endorsements. She suggested that “departments do not need to act univocally,” and added that “inflammatory language is completely irresponsible.”
Holloway, of course, would subsequently change her mind about the wisdom of inflammatory language. By the summer, few Duke faculty members’ language would be more inflammatory than hers.
Given that a figure as extreme as Holloway recognized the impropriety of departmental endorsement of the Group of 88’s statement, surely Brodhead could at least bring himself to criticize the statement on technical grounds, citing the established record of the ad listing departmental endorsements that never, in fact, occurred. Yet the president’s response to the apparent violation of Duke procedure in the funding of the ad and the grievous violation of academic protocol in the listing of false departmental endorsements has been silence.
Amidst such a record, how is it possible to account for Brodhead’s persistent defenses of the Group’s statement—and his implicit rebuke of the Duke faculty members who have dared to criticize the Group? Only two reasonable explanations come to find.
The first: He was frightened of the Group. As they have made clear over the past 16 months, Group members are quick to condemn anyone who disagrees with them as sexist or racist or both. Brodhead—as a white, male president of a university in a majority-minority city—could ill-afford to be branded a racist by his own professors.
The second: Brodhead supports the Group’s agenda. His primary appointment is in English (32 percent of whose faculty belong to the Group), and upon coming to Duke, he took the unusual move of becoming an affiliated faculty member with the Women’s Studies program (72.2 percent of whose official members endorsed the Group’s ad). The decision sent a message to the faculty that the new president had a personal stake in the race/class/gender vision embodied by Women’s Studies and similar programs (like AAAS).
Beyond Brodhead, the list of Women’s Studies affiliated faculty reads like a Who’s Who of the Group of 88—Professors Neal, Wallace, cooke (she doesn’t capitalize her name), Deutsch, Abe, Boatwright, Litzinger, Davidson, Chafe, Koonz, Olcott, Thorne, Viego, Wong, Damasceno, Gabara, Greer, Aravamudan, Longino, Mignolo, Schachter, Beaule, Brim, Rego, and Hovsepian. Eight more—Sieburth, Gheith, Metzger, Radway, Albers, Gayton, Marko, and Quilligan—signed the “clarifying” statement.
In short, the full-time and “affiliated” Women’s Studies faculty included 36 members of the Group of 88, as well as 11 additional “clarifying” letter signatories.
Criticizing the Group, then, would require Brodhead to criticize the ideas that have defined his own academic career and the people with whom he has chosen to associate. This, it appears, is something the president will not do.