[The final installation of a Monday series profiling Group of 88 members, which has included posts on miriam cooke, Diane Nelson, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Wahneema Lubiano, Pete Sigal, Grant Farred, Sally Deutsch, Joseph Harris, Paula McClain, Jocelyn Olcott, Irene Silverblatt, Rebecca Stein, Maurice Wallace, Antonio Viego, and Kathy Rudy. The posts examine the scholarship and teaching of Group members, delving into the mindset of professors who last spring abandoned both the tenets of Duke’s Faculty Handbook and the academy’s traditional fidelity to due process. An item to keep in mind: in higher education, professors control the hiring process. The people profiled in this series will craft future job descriptions for Duke professors; and then, for positions assigned to their departments, select new hires.]
William Chafe is Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History, where his scholarship, as his website states, “reflects his long-term interest in issue of race and gender equality.” He specializes in U.S. history after World War II, with a particular focus on African-Americans, women, or radical whites.
Unlike many in the Group of 88, Chafe has published widely. And unlike most Group members, several of Chafe’s books have received widespread attention and praise. His website states that his most important book “helped to re-orient scholarship on civil rights toward social history and community studies”—but, unlike so much of the rhetoric that’s come from the Group, the statement isn’t a boast. Civilities and Civil Rights, a study of the Greensboro sit-ins, has been widely used in college courses for the past quarter-century.
Chafe penned a second prize-winning book in his biography of Allard Lowenstein, Never Stop Running. The book is clearly a sympathetic portrayal of Lowenstein—the longtime liberal activist best-known for his role in jumpstarting the dump-Johnson movement of 1968—but is also exhaustively researched, and framed Lowenstein as part of broader political and intellectual developments of the 1960s and 1970s. David Oshinsky termed the book “both a superb biography of Lowenstein and a gripping history of liberal protest and reform in an increasingly conservative age.”
It’s hard to believe that someone who authored two such high-quality books could have taken such a closed-minded approach to events in Durham over the past 17 months.
But Chafe’s influence on Duke has extended beyond his scholarship or (occasional, for the past 15 years) teaching. From 1995 through 2004, Chafe served as dean of Arts and Sciences faculty, a position that, among other responsibilities, authorizes faculty searches for each department.
In a 2002 address, he explained his strategy to faculty personnel matters: “There has remained a tendency to think of Duke as a place of wealth, whiteness and privilege. We aim to change that.” The Chronicle added that “Chafe said faculty diversity is still lacking, and that the University must continue to seek new ways to attract women and minorities.”
It’s worth remembering that Chafe wasn’t exactly speaking of 1950s Ole Miss in these remarks. Events of the past 17 months provide scant evidence that the Duke faculty is filled with professors determined to do everything they can to prevent the employment of women or minorities at their institution.
Chafe’s policies drew strong praise from the expected quarters. His associate dean, future Group stalwart Karla Holloway, gushed later that Chafe “managed, urged and encouraged institutional change around the issues of diversity.” (The diversity of which Holloway spoke, of course, did not include intellectual or pedagogical diversity, in which neither she nor Chafe have shown any interest.) “He has understood—both politically and ethically—the complexity of this objective, and has worked consistently to make it a substantive fact of our lives at Duke, rather than simply an ‘issue.’” (This ethics-based endorsement came from a person who displayed her own ethics as she wrote about the lacrosse case “white innocence means black guilt,” or when she passed along, though a mass e-mail, fifth-hand scurrilous gossip about the lacrosse players.)
Elite schools normally have placed academic excellence, not “diversity,” as their primary goal in hiring, as Economics professor Roy Weintraub pointed out at the time. “Any college has a limited resource,” Weintraub explained, “of not only money but administrative energy. Duke’s Arts and Sciences has, with the president’s and Board of Trustees’ direction, chosen to spend its money and energy on increasing diversity. There is, of course, an alternative choice seen in the past to be appropriate for the unique institution that is a university and that is the development of an ever-more distinguished faculty . . . Duke makes choices at the margin in every resource allocation decision and every programmatic expenditure. Have we chosen to settle for using our resources to achieve a more diverse faculty instead of a more intellectually distinguished one? The record of the past decade seems to indicate that the answer is ‘yes.’”
Chafe dismissed the concern, glibly suggesting that “diversity enhances our quality rather than diminishes it.” But Chafe—like extreme “diversity” advocates more generally—eluded Weintraub’s point. John Staddon, James B. Duke Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, observed at the time that the “argument against selecting for diversity is an example of a more general principle: Even if ability is equally distributed, if you limit your search you will often fail to hire the best person available.”
Critics from outside the academy often suggest that “diversity” leads to the hiring and retention of under-qualified minority candidates. There are, of course, a few examples of the pattern among the Group of 88—take, for instance, Wahneema Lubiano (Ph.D. 1987, no scholarly monographs published) or Thavolia Glymph (Ph.D. 1994, no scholarly monographs published). Duke also has a highly unusual policy requiring the provost, “in the event the AP&T Committee’s recommendation is negative . . . to determine whether all factors relating to the merit and value of the candidate, including ethnic, racial, and gender diversity, have been fully and adequately considered.” [emphasis added]
That said, it’s illegal to openly restrict the applicant pool by advertising that no white males (or, in some cases, white females as well) need apply. And, in most cases, it’s also illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender and (usually) race in the hiring process itself.
Yet, as Staddon noted, another path exists for diversity zealots to achieve their goal: “redefine excellence. Some might argue that an excellent physicist is not just someone good at physics but someone whose other attributes—region, gender, race—satisfy some non-physics criterion. ‘Excellence,’ in this new definition, represents a balance between these two sets of criteria.”
“Diversity” also can be achieved by reconfiguring the likely pool of applicants. For instance, a “diversity” dean committed to bringing aboard a gay Chicano male professor understands that he is more likely to do so by approving a new position in gay Chicano literature than one in biochemistry—because the applicant pool for the former field will likely contain a disproportionate share of gay Chicano males, while the applicant pool for the latter field is likely to contain about the same percentage of gay Chicano males as exist in the population as a whole.
And if a “diversity” dean wants more African-American female professors, he more likely can achieve his goal through green-lighting new positions in African-American cultural studies than by granting the Economics Department a new line to hire a specialist in high finance—again because the applicant pool for the former slot will likely contain a disproportionate share of African-American females, while the applicant pool for the latter field is likely to contain about the same percentage of African-American females as exist in the population as a whole.
But, of course, Duke (like all universities) has limited resources. For every new position created to advance a “diversity” agenda—almost always a race/class/gender-oriented professorship in humanities or a few social sciences departments—another faculty position will not be funded, even those justified by the more traditional rationale of hiring for curricular need or to replace distinguished professors who have left or retired. The (perhaps unintended) result? Over time, faculty culture dramatically changes, and the University comes to house a disproportionate number of professors whose fields reflect a belief that the United States, and Western society as a whole, is deeply oppressive on grounds of race, class, and gender.
Or, in other words, just the kind of faculty members willing to set aside the academy’s traditional fidelity to due process (to say nothing of professors’ usual caring for the well-being of their own students) and see in the wild allegations of Crystal Mangum and Mike Nifong—claims that white, male, elite athletes had sexually and verbally victimized a poor, black, female mother—a validation of the beliefs upon which their intellectual careers had been built.
This certainly is how Chafe initially viewed the lacrosse case. But his subsequent behavior “evolved” in such a way that he has never questioned his initial extreme remarks. His path:
1.) March 31, 2006: By this point, the only information known was presented by Mike Nifong and the Nifong-led DPD investigation. But despite the academy’s traditional fidelity to dispassionate evaluation of evidence, the former dean published an inflammatory op-ed in the Chronicle suggesting that the whites who kidnapped, beat, and murdered Emmett Till provided the appropriate historical context for interpreting the lacrosse players’ behavior. In an unintended commentary on the lax intellectual basis of his article, this historian of the civil rights movement misindentified the year of Till’s murder, one of the highest-profile events of the 1950s civil rights struggle. Chafe’s misuse of history in the op-ed certainly raises some questions about whether he has been so cavalier with sources in his scholarly work. While I’ve assigned both Civilities and Never Stop Running in past courses, I could never do so again seeing how Chafe evaluated evidence in the lacrosse case.
2.) May 3, 2006: By this point, the media had reported on both Reade Seligmann’s alibi (including the video of him somewhere else at the time of the “crime”) and Mike Nifong’s ordering the police to violate their own procedures to produce a players-only lineup. Chafe took to the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education not to apologize for his initial rush to judgment but to condemn those who elected to “hem and haw over the details of what did or did not happen.” Instead, he reasoned, people needed to focus on the party, whose effects he compared to Hurricane Katrina(!) and which proved that Duke needed a policy that “any student group, on or off the campus, that promotes or engages in racial stereotyping is subject to disciplinary action.” Ironically, his own essay violated his proposed policy: he asserted, without qualification, that “a student group at Duke—the lacrosse team . . . hurled racial epithets at black people.” In fact, one player, not the 47 members of “the lacrosse team,” hurled one epithet, in response to a racial taunt from Kim Roberts. Chafe was thus suggesting that Brad Ross (who wasn’t even in Durham the night of the party and about whose character no one, to my knowledge, has ever said anything publicly critical) should have been disciplined solely on the basis of personal behavior by another member of a 47-person student organization to which Ross belonged.
3.) January 17, 2007: Chafe joined 88 colleagues in signing the “clarifying” letter. The document stated, “There have been public calls to the authors to retract the ad or apologize for it . . . We reject all of these.” It also affirmed, “We appreciate the efforts of those who used the attention the incident generated to raise issues of discrimination and violence”—the precise stated aims of the protests organized by the potbangers who carried the “castrate” banner on March 26, 2006; and the “activists” who blanketed the campus with “wanted” posters on March 29, 2006.
4.) February 23, 2007: By this point, Nifong had dropped the rape charge and recused himself from the case after the Bar filed ethics charges. It was clear both that Mangum’s and Nifong’s stories were total fabrications. Chafe’s response, in an op-ed co-signed by five others? It was time to “move forward,” stop talking about the lacrosse case’s lessons, and enact the CCI’s Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative. Michael Gustafson delivered a devastating critique: “I have no choice but to believe that moving forward, to these six faculty members, means take the story DA Nifong chose to tell and then fast-forward to now as if nothing else had happened. I have no choice but to believe that these faculty members, in seeing that the reality of the situation in no way plays into the assumptions of white, male, athlete privilege that our (blessedly former) colleague Houston Baker championed want us to base our thoughts and actions on the narrative created in the first two weeks rather than the realities discovered over the past eleven months.”
5.) April 30, 2007: By this point, all charges had been dismissed and AG Cooper had proclaimed the players innocent victims of a rogue prosecutor. Chafe’s response? To lash out at critics of the Group. “Bloggers who have targeted the ‘Group of 88’,” he informed the Chronicle, were guilty of “sending us e-mails and making phone calls wishing our deaths and calling us ‘Jew b-’ and ‘n-b-’.” When I subsequently asked him to produce evidence that any of the dozen or so “bloggers who have targeted the ‘Group of 88’” had done any such thing, he admitted that he couldn’t substantiate his accusation (which was, it’s worth reiterating, an allegation that an identifiable group of people—“bloggers who have targeted the ‘Group of 88’”—had engaged in criminal activity.) His new rationalization? “There were repeated phone calls and e-mail messages. I never claimed they were from you, but they were concerted.” Alas, his insinuation that the Chronicle misquoted him came up short—since the Chronicle article quoted a Chafe e-mail.
“Sex and Race.” It was the title of Chafe’s March 31, 2006 lacrosse-players-as-lynchers op-ed. It also could describe the intellectual approaches of the overwhelming majority of Group of 88 members, whose scholarship Dean Chafe so zealously championed.
To return to Chafe’s 2002 address, and his assertion, “There has remained a tendency to think of Duke as a place of wealth, whiteness and privilege. We aim to change that.”
Chafe and his colleagues in the Group of 88 certainly managed to fulfill that goal. Duke is now thought of an institution where dozens of “diversity”-obsessed professors rushed to judgment to advance their personal, pedagogical, and ideological agendas, at the expense of their own students’ well-being, and subsequently refused to apologize for—or even acknowledge—their dubious conduct.