To date, this blog has had around 90,000 comments. When I started the blog, I didn’t think much about the comments policy; it seemed to me that, in general, the blogosphere allows for unfettered debate. Accordingly, I allowed people to comment anonymously, or by pseudonym, or by registering with blogger. It seemed to me that it wasn’t my responsibility to restrict commentary in any substantial way.
Most people, based on SiteMeter records, read the blog posts and an occasional comment; a minority of readers goes through all the comments; and a smaller group actively comments.
Comments have enhanced the blog in several ways. First, commenters have frequently picked up minor editing problems—a stray comma, or a misspelled word, or an unclear sentence. Critics speak frequently of the blogosphere’s lack of editing as a drawback, but DIW commenters have served as de facto editors, benefiting both me and other readers.
Second, commenters have sometimes provided tips (occasionally significant ones) and often provided important insights about the current culture on Duke’s campus. Excellent comments in recent posts from several self-identified Duke professors prove the point.
Finally, some comments have—simply—enhanced the overall quality of the blog. Recent posts looking at unanswered questions and additional questions for the Blue Committee provide a glimpse of the many interesting comments that have appeared at DIW.
All that said, the comment function has had some downsides as well (as, I suppose, could be expected in a blog with 90,000 comments). First, and most serious, one commenter abused the anonymity of the internet and impersonated the subject of a post, which prompted me to institute comment moderation and ban him from the blog.
Second, there have been occasional vile or racist comments, often far down in threads after nearly everyone has stopped reading the threads. I’ve had a longstanding policy of asking people to e-mail me if they see vile comments, which I remove promptly. Nonetheless, a few defenders of the academic status quo have argued that the blog should be judged not by my 1000+ posts but by any and all stray comments, since I, presumably, must agree with any and every comment that the blog produced. This tactic paralleled one offered by a figure that the Group of 88 would otherwise despise, Bill O’Reilly, who used it to attack the blog Daily Kos. In this clip from the Colbert Report, Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos dismissed the absurdity of this argument.
Finally, the comment section has occasionally featured disinformation—as in recent comments that the North Carolina Board of Nursing found SANE nurse Tara Levicy “not guilty” after an investigation (in fact, when pressed, the commenter admitted that he/she had not evidence an inquiry even occurred, much less it exonerated Levicy); or in another comment that nine Group of 88 members attended my Duke talk, and one even asked a question (in fact, no Group member asked a question; and if nine Group members attended the talk, they did so in disguise).
On such matters, I generally have relied on the marketplace of ideas, assuming that while people can offer intellectually unsustainable or even factually incorrect items, other commenters will produce evidence to rebut them. That generally has happened.
Looking back on the blog, I wish I could have come up with a way to ensure that no racist comments appeared among the 90,000, but it seems to me—particularly in a one-person blog with daily posts—that severely restricting comments to have prevented the occasional vile offering would have caused far more harm than good, by diminishing the many positives that commenters brought to the blog.
On another matter, a few people asked me whether the book has received any negative reviews—beyond the (expected) negative reaction of Cash Michaels. To date, there was only one negative review, from a freelance writer named Thom Weidlich. It wasn’t exactly a detailed critique. (Weidlich has worked with people I’ve tangled with at CUNY; I would have been stunned if he had reviewed the book positively.)
Finally, a few people had asked me about the full text of the “open letter” to Peter Lange penned by 15 prominent professors from African-American Studies and related field. I mentioned the letter in a recent post; below is the full text.
AN OPEN LETTER ON DUKE’S “TEACHABLE MOMENT”
Dear Provost Lange:
We wish to register our concern over the recent debacle at Duke. Your public letter to Professor Houston Baker adds unfortunate weight to that concern. You seem not to understand that the tone of that letter assumes a lofty and condescending position of White authority over the insufficiencies of minority reason, thereby exemplifying one of the problems at Duke. The offense that Professor Baker might justifiably take to this display of paternalistic rhetoric is shared by those of us who search for racial harmony in our society.
Whatever the outcome of the criminal investigation of the rape of a Black woman college student by members of Duke’s lacrosse team, the leadership of your university is faced with a greater, underlying dilemma. Elite, higher education continues to operate behind a shield, sometimes of silence, sometimes of evasion, concealing its contributions to a social order defined by inequities and racial preferences.
We all know and might easily document the histories of exploitation, divestment, enslavement, disenfranchisement, and gentrification that undergird the endowments and privileges of our prestigious institutions of higher learning. Further, the topography of institutions like Duke, Columbia, the University of Chicago, Yale, the University of Southern California, the University of Pennsylvania, in close proximity to less advantaged Black and minority communities, underscores the quasi-colonial nature of their relationship to the under-privileged.
Yet the “crisis” at Duke involving the lacrosse team might have erupted at many other university locations. Faced with such a “crisis,” not unique, to be sure, one can imagine, yes, white administrators asking in frustration “Why me, and why here?” But the fundamental social dissonance is not only a matter of geographical distance; it is present in suburban and college towns across America as well.
What we have not heard in your response to Professor Baker is an acknowledgment of the complex demands of this situation, with an eye towards deep structural amelioration. The challenge before you and before Duke is to address the underlying dilemma with something more than lip service or a few philanthropic gestures—the well-meaning program in the storefront in the ghetto--playing for time to dull the sense of urgency. Duke, like other institutions, has a need to get beyond its reflex responses to the “teachable moment” by first recognizing that the academics and departments that work assiduously to impart the best ethical and intellectual wisdom of their disciplines, which are always race, class, and gender inflected, are the most marginalized and under-appreciated among high administrative personnel and traditional disciplines across all academic domains.
In the past, Duke has tried to shield its place in the national history of white privilege by hiring stellar professors of color such as Professor Baker. But now Duke has the task of setting a new example of social leadership within asymmetrical social coordinates and in a nation that needs its universities to teach it how to mature its civilization. The necessary response extends beyond liberalized college admissions, etc. The adequate scope for this leadership would be in the coordination of major universities and colleges in a campaign of active, enlightened strategies to reduce the huge structural, material and social inequities in our society. The first step might be the formation of a commission of colleges and universities to decide how best to achieve progress in this area. While our professorate is capable of monitoring greenhouse emissions, or the shrinking polar caps as threats to our civilization, it should also be able to prescribe the reduction of material inequalities by measurable degrees as a contribution to the health of our civilization.
Such obligation behind this current emergency cannot be avoided. We hope you reach out to get all the help you need in this undertaking. This can become Duke’s and your finest hour. We, along with history, are watching.
Dr. Manthia Diawara, New York University
Dr. Barbara Lewis, UMass, Boston
Professor Clyde Taylor, New York University
Carole Boyce Davies, Florida International University
Dwight A. McBride, Northwestern University
Thadious Davis, University of Pennsylvania
Susan K. Harris, University of Kansas
Michelle Materre, New School University
Herman Gray, University of California, Santa Cruz
Professor Judith Rollins, Wellesley College
Robin D. G. Kelley, Columbia University
Dana Nelson, Vanderbilt
Manning Marable, Columbia University
Maryemma Graham, University of Kansas
Farah J. Griffin, Columbia University