[A few updates on this post: (1) Piot, who also chairs the AAAS Department, continues to suppress the videotape of the February “Shut Up and Teach” forum upon which his article was based.
(2) The Transforming Anthropology editors admitted to one DIW reader that it was not peer-reviewed before publication, a remarkable policy for a scholarly journal. Even so, there would seem to be no justification for the editors not ensuring that the article was factually accurate.*
(3) Piot has declined to respond to repeated requests as to why he did not reveal that one professor his article defended was, in fact, his partner, Anne Allison. Most people would doubt the objectivity of a figure who, in covertly defending his partner, appeared to allow his emotions to get the best of him: “[Using] a rhetorical strategy characteristic not only of right-wing media in this country (from Limbaugh to O'Reilly) but also of totalitarian thought and authoritarian regimes the world over . . . Johnson's . . . characterizations are not only consistently wide of the mark but deploy surveillance tactics that the right-wing Horowitz machine has canonized and that recall nothing so much as the campus witch hunts of the McCarthy era. ”]
“Clarifying” professor Charles Piot has published his attack on the blog—promised in his appearance at the February “Shut Up and Teach” forum, in which he said that critics of the Group of 88 should “shut up and teach”—in the most recent issue of Transforming Anthropology.
In reading this post, keep in mind: above all else, the Piot article gives a sense of what is considered a scholarly publication in his field.
The “Piot Principles,” as laid out in his article:
- Ignore contemporaneous documents, if doing so will advance the metanarrative.
- Don’t mention conflicts of interest.
- Even into spring 2007, at least one Duke professor continued to use class time for questionable non-academic activities.
- In a scholarly publication, authors should avoid citations when making their most difficult-to-sustain points.
1.) Ignore contemporaneous documents, if doing so will advance the metanarrative.
a.) Reflecting the new party line, Piot claimed that the “intent” of Group members “was never to speak to the events at the lacrosse party.” Indeed, he asserted, “the ad in question was never about the lacrosse players nor about the party they hosted in spring 2006.” He cited instead—incredibly—Hurricane Katrina as a possible motivation.
Unfortunately for Piot, Wahneema Lubiano, the author of the ad, said exactly the opposite—in the cover e-mail inviting professors to sign the ad. Wrote she, “African & African-American Studies is placing an ad in The Chronicle about the lacrosse team incident.” There was no mention to broader concerns with racism or sexism, and no mention of Katrina. It’s hard to get much clearer than Lubiano’s statement.
How did Piot—who, as a member of the AAAS and Cultural Anthropology departments, certainly received Lubiano’s mass e-mail—deal with this document, which disproves his thesis?
His article did not mention the Lubiano e-mail.
b.) Piot conceded that the Group of 88 ad did, in fact, say, “To the protesters making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.” According to Piot, however, the 88 signatories (who collectively committed themselves to “turning up the volume”) were under the impression that readers would not believe that the ad thanked the protesters who had received the most media attention—the potbangers and those who blanketed the campus with “wanted” posters:
It is important to note that there were multiple campus protests going on at the time. The ones that the ad referred to . . . were never the “potbanger” protests that Johnson cites over and over again, but rather those taking place at the open mike outside the
. Allen Building
Such a claim, of course, strains credulity. It asserts that 88 Duke faculty members—who included more than a dozen professors of English or Literature—were incapable of writing a sentence stating that they only referred to one specific protest; and months later, when many of the same people signed the “clarifying” ad, remained incapable of doing so. It also ignores that at least two Group members (Susan Thorne and Alberto Moreiras) admitted, in writing, that the wording of the ad did thank all of the anti-lacrosse protesters.
Nonetheless, set aside logic and common sense, and accept Piot’s words at face value. Here are some photos of the “open mike” protesters who Piot now claims were the only protesters that the Group was thanking:
And here is Emily Rotberg’s description of the open-mike event from the Chronicle:
“This is a matter of white privilege,” senior Tiana Mack said. “When I read what was going on, it made me think about Jim Crow.... If these three culprits get away with it, it will prove to me that Duke does not honor the black woman’s body.”
Some demonstrators wore T-shirts with slogans such as “Men’s Lacrosse? Not fine by me” and “Men’s Lax, Come Clean.”
Senior Jay McKenna alluded to the widespread belief that the lacrosse players are not fully cooperating with the investigation.
“The fact that this wall of silence has been constructed only adds to the mystery, which adds to the speculation,” he said, noting that he knows members of the team.
To sum up: According to Piot, in writing “to the protesters making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard,”:
- the Group of 88 was not thanking protesters who carried “castrate” banners and blanketed the campus with “wanted” posters.
- the Group of 88 was thanking protesters who wore T-shirts reading “Men’s Lax Come Clean”; posted writings condemning the players’ presumption of innocence; and asserted, “If these three culprits get away with it, it will prove to me that Duke does not honor the black woman’s body.”
That’s the best after-the-fact rationalization he could offer?
2.) Don’t mention conflicts of interest.
Piot’s discussion of the Campus Culture Initiative provides some insight into the integrity of his approach. Here’s how his article described the blog’s critique of the CCI:
A constant refrain [of the blog] is that the committee recommendations—which were unusually mild—were railroaded by the presence of three faculty members who were ad signatories. In advancing this claim, Johnson bizarrely assumes that three people could influence the opinions of a committee of twenty-four.
Since even President Brodhead—who Piot, in February, described as a supporter of the Group of 88's statement—all but dismissed the CCI’s recommendations, it seems that Piot is in the minority in terming the CCI’s agenda as “unusually mild.”
Piot’s passage also left out two rather important items. First, though he elected, for reasons he failed to explain, to conceal their names, the three professors referenced (Peter Wood, Karla Holloway, and Anne Allison) were not simply members of the CCI—they were chairs or co-chairs of three of the CCI’s four subgroups. They ran the athletics, race, and gender subgroups. (Piot erroneously stated that Peter Wood was a Group of 88 member. Wood was not, and I never made such a claim.)
The blog focused less on the influence of the trio than on what it said about the CCI’s agenda that anti-lacrosse extremists were assigned to chair or co-chair three of its four sub-groups. Indeed, the Chronicle made a similar point, referencing Wood, Allison, and Holloway: “The composition of the CCI's steering committee has hurt its credibility . . . Stacking the CCI with critics of ‘white male privilege’ suggests that the initiative was created to pacify countercultural professors, rather than to shape a new and improved campus culture.” Beyond this point, however, Piot’s insinuation that subcommittee chairs had no more power than any other member of the committee is naïve at best and disingenuous at worst.
Even more striking, however, Piot chose not to mention that one of the three CCI figures whose performance his article defended was his partner, Anne Allison. (Here’s a passage from Allison’s Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan: “It was my partner, Charlie Piot, who first suggested this book, and he has been tireless in offering assistance and encouragement of all kinds throughout its production. It is he who wrapped its everyday labors within joys both profound and mundane. I have no words to express my feelings and thanks.”) DIW posts critiqued not only Anne Allison’s CCI work but also her spring 2007 course, “Group of 88 for Credit.”
Perhaps Piot would have penned the exact same article had he never met Anne Allison. But basic ethics—if not a formal conflict-of-interest policy—require disclosure of such a deeply personal connection, so readers can determine whether the author has an insurmountable bias.
I e-mailed Piot to ask whether he believed an author should disclose when writing about the conduct of his current or former partner. He did not reply. I also e-mailed the journal’s editors to ask about their policy on such matters. They, too, did not reply.
3.) Even into spring 2007, at least one Duke professor continued to use class time for questionable non-academic activities.
The assertion in Piot’s article that the Group’s ad—a statement published in the “most easily seen venue on campus” signed by 88 faculty members and (allegedly, if, as we know now, improperly) endorsed by five academic departments—had no impact reflected another element of the Group defenders’ new party line: It “was a virtual nonevent on campus.”
Piot noted but essentially dismissed the fact that the ad provoked negative commentary, within a week of its appearance, from a Chronicle editorial and op-ed. He didn’t even mention that the lacrosse players noticed the ad immediately and expressed deep dismay about it. From the summer 2006 Chronicle article:
“This is a social disaster.”
That was the tagline of a paid advertisement signed by 88 members of the Duke faculty that appeared in the April 6 issue of The Chronicle.
“I think that all of us kind of checked over our teachers to make sure they weren’t on that list,” [Bo] Carrington said.
Such evidence, obviously, undermines Piot’s preferred storyline. As with the Lubiano e-mail announcing the ad’s existence, Piot simply ignored it.
Piot also—falsely—implied that defense lawyers became concerned about the Group’s ad only after coverage of it appeared on the blog. The reverse, in fact, is true: as revealed in interviews with both several players and nearly every defense attorney involved in the case, the lawyers noticed the ad as soon as it appeared in April 2006, and were horrified that such a statement could have been published by Duke professors. Piot did not contact any defense attorneys to obtain the truth about his theory.
But perhaps most disturbing were the following items from Piot’s article:
No student of the over 100 I polled knew about the existence of the blogs, let alone had heard the name KC Johnson . . . Another colleague asked a 110-person Intro class in spring 2007, a class filled with athletes and lacrosse players, how many had heard of the Group of 88, and only three raised their hands.
Piot did not reveal where he conducted his poll; perhaps he camped out on
a.) What was the academic rationale for a Duke faculty member using class time to conduct a survey about the Group of 88?
b.) How did the unnamed professor frame the question? Given Carrington’s statement above, did the unnamed professor understand that using class time to ask a question about the Group’s statement could be considered applying inappropriate pressure on the lacrosse players and other athletes in his/her class?
c.) Were the students informed that their responses would be used as data in a scholarly publication? If so, did they sign informed consent forms—as Institutional Review Board guidelines would seem to require?
d.) As early as January 2007—according to Group member Cathy Davidson—the statement’s signatories understood that they might be subject to a civil suit from lacrosse players. (Davidson admitted, “I have had lawyers look at the original [Group] ad and ambiguity of the language could be made, in a court of law, to seem as if we are saying things against the lacrosse team.”) A claim that the ad had no impact might have been one line of defense in such a lawsuit. Did the unnamed professor inform his or her students that their responses might be used as evidence to defend the faculty in a civil suit filed by their fellow students?
I e-mailed Piot to ask him whether he or the unnamed professor had obtained informed consent forms from the 110 students. He did not reply. I also e-mailed the journal’s two editors, to ask if they had ascertained from Piot whether he had complied with IRB policies. They, too, did not reply.
4.) In a scholarly publication, authors should avoid citations when making their most difficult-to-sustain points.
Two Piot assertions were particularly remarkable in this regard.
a.) “To claim that a group of faculty whose intent was never to speak to the events at the lacrosse party [sic] was in some way responsible for a university’s, a town’s, and indeed an entire nation’s ‘rush to judgment’ speaks volumes about Johnson’s own ideological agenda.”
Piot’s citations for this statement: None.
In more than 1,000 posts totaling more than 870,000 words, the blog never made such a claim or even anything resembling such a claim. Indeed, the blog never discussed any linkage of any type between the Group’s activities and “an entire nation’s rush to judgment.”
In interviews (and, occasionally, in the blog) I discussed one possible linkage between the Group’s ad and events in Durham: that in spring 2006, in the crucial weeks before the D.A. primary, an undecided voter of good faith in Durham could easily have taken from their own professors denouncing the players a belief that Mike Nifong’s crusade was justified. But the blog never (in, again, more than 870,000 words) discussed any linkage between the Group’s activities and “a town’s . . . rush to judgment.”
That Piot spent so much effort attempting to disprove points that the blog never made raises questions about whether he even read the posts he cited elsewhere in his article. The blog (as reflected in its subtitle) focused on two interrelated, but distinct, questions:
- (1) What did it say about
’s legal culture that a prosecutor like Mike Nifong could construct a case on a tissue of massive procedural violations, and then sustain the case for months? Durham
- (2) What did it say about Duke’s academic culture that, ignoring the academy’s traditional role as defenders of due process, dozens of arts and sciences professors instead made statements condemning the victims of Nifong’s procedural abuses—even to the extent of issuing a full-page ad, paid for out of Duke funds, and allegedly (if, it turns out, falsely) endorsed by five academic departments?
Discussions of the Group of 88’s ad, obviously, have appeared in the blog’s attempts to answer the second question. To my knowledge, none of the myriad reviewers of either Until Proven Innocent or the blog—with the sole exception of Piot—have indicated any difficulty in understanding this point. That Piot failed to comprehend a point that every other reviewer easily discerned says considerably more about his competence than about mine.
b.) “The virulence and ad hominem nature of his attacks on Black females far exceeds that reserved for their White male counterparts.”
Piot’s citations for this statement: None.
In more than 1,000 posts totaling more than 870,000 words, the blog never engaged in such behavior. The blog criticized black female professors (Wahneema Lubiano, Karla Holloway). It criticized white male professors (Bill Chafe, Peter Wood, Alex Rosenberg). It criticized white female professors (Anne Allison, Cathy Davidson, Diane Nelson). It criticized black male professors (Mark Anthony Neal, Houston Baker, Maurice Wallace). It criticized Hispanic professors (Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Antonio Viego). It criticized mixed-race professors (Grant Farred). The common element in the critique was the professor’s position on issues relating to the lacrosse case and the race/class/gender trinity upon which the Group’s approach was based.
A follow-up question: Why did the journal’s editors not demand from Piot citations to support his unsubstantiated claims?
These are only the two most flagrant examples of Piot (without citation) inventing items that never appeared in the blog. He did so on more minor matters as well. For instance, the article accused the blog of “presuming that [Group members’] courses are designed to indoctrinate students with left-wing propaganda.” Piot provided no citation for his claim.
“Indoctrination” is a concern of some right-wing academic critics, especially David Horowitz. Yet, since Piot claims to have read the blog closely, he knows that I’m an Obama supporter who backs gay marriage and abortion rights. I’ve also (in, again, more than 870,000 words on the blog) never once expressed a concern with indoctrination. Indeed, Piot could have used the blog’s search engine for “indoctrinate” or “indoctrination” to find the one and only entry of the blog’s more than 1,000 entries that use the term. The post, from September 2006, chastised President Brodhead for using language similar to that of Horowitz to justify his handling of the lacrosse case. I considered such language beneath his status as an academic leader.
Why, then, did Piot assert that the blog had accused Duke faculty of attempting to “indoctrinate” students, when no evidence existed to substantiate his claim? And why did the Transforming Anthropology editors allow him to print the uncited allegation?
The remainder of Piot’s article displayed a similarly peculiar approach:
- As John in
pointed out, Piot demonstrated a Luddite’s understanding of how the comments section at a blog works—particularly a blog like DIW, which had more than 90,000 comments. Carolina
- Having compared me to an (unnamed) African dictator in his February talk, Piot retreated to U.S.-only examples for Transforming Anthropology: he contended that the blog recalls “nothing so much as the campus witch hunts of the McCarthy era.” For good measure, he added comparisons to Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, FOX News, and David Horowitz. What behavior typifies this McCarthyite/O'Reilly/Limbaugh/FOX News/Horowitz attack on the Group of 88? “[Johnson] posts the titles of classes they are teaching and surveils their syllabi.” Astonishing.
- Piot fantastically asserted that my (a “White critic”) noting Mark Anthony Neal’s description of himself as “thugniggaintellectual”—which the Group member offered (in the University alumni magazine, no less!)—invoked “the aura of a racial epithet.”
- In a footnote, Piot stated that the official, departmental websites of Duke cannot be trusted on so basic an issue as faculty affiliation with the department. Website information, he suggested, needs to be verified personally with the department chair. This line of argument would be expected from a professor at a third-tier community college, which might lack funds for a complete website. To see it presented by a professor at a top-ten university is almost comical.
- Piot offered the following item—as another footnoted source: “As a colleague in the English Department commented: ‘If his reading of the ad is representative of his reading practices generally, KC Johnson would have failed Intro to
.’” What does it say about the values of Transforming Anthropology that it allows an author to offer anonymous ad hominem attacks as scholarly evidence? Reading
- Piot suggested that Group members didn’t need the CCI’s proposed Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative because “the classes of professors in the so-called group of 88 were overflowing.” Here are some figures on recent Group members’ enrollments, as opposed to total slots available: 7 of 40; 16 of 40; 9 of 17; 16 of 40; 18 of 30; 18 of 30; 4 of 15; 8 of 16; 9 of 40. Most people, I suspect, would not consider such figures overflowing.
- According to Piot, “Johnson has also suggested that the quotes in the original [Group of 88] ad were made up by the ad's author, Wahneema Lubiano.” As with so much in his article, Piot provided no citation for his allegation—perhaps because a blog search for “Lubiano” coupled with “made up,” “invented,” or any synonym of the term reveals, unsurprisingly, no matches. I did take note of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s uncontested report that “Wahneema H. Lubiano, an associate professor of literature and African and African-American studies who had been taking notes during the forum, volunteered to write the ad, using those notes and students’ comments from newspaper articles.”
- Piot complained about how other media (the Chronicle, ESPN) had allegedly misquoted Group members—as if such misquotings, which were not made by the blog, could be used to indict the quality of the blog. Indeed, it sometimes seemed as if Piot’s beef was as much with the mainstream media (the Chronicle, the Chronicle of Higher Ed, ESPN) as with the blog. In his version of reality, it seems, everyone got the story wrong except for the Group of 88.
- Piot went to great lengths attacking the blog for not immediately accepting at face value the Group’s claim of vile e-mails—overlooking the fact that Group members waited months before releasing any of these e-mails (a total of two, in his article, plus a phone message transcript), while they had described clearly innocent e-mails as “harassment.”
- Piot concluded his article by defending the perspective of—remarkably—Shadee Malaklou. He did so, even more oddly, in a passage where he conceded that I did not begin my involvement in this case as a reflexive defender of the lacrosse players or critic of the Brodhead administration. I have followed the evidence as I have learned more about the case; Piot, for reasons he never explained, seemed to view such behavior as a negative.
It goes without saying that no record exists of either Piot or his partner making any statements or taking any other public act to defend due process for all Duke students during the last 18 months.
Two items to conclude:
1.) The Piot article is the only evidence offered by Professor Prasad Kasibhatla to justify his recent claim that the “narrative put forward by critics like Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson” represented a “tragic rush to judgment” about the Duke faculty. In addition to being repeatedly contradicted by the documentary evidence, however, the Piot article went to press more than 100 days before UPI even appeared in print.
[Update, 3.25pm: I sent the post to Prof. Kasibhatla. His response: “I do not have any desire to read your blog further.”
Having expressed what some would consider a stunningly closed-minded attitude, he added that he would “continue my efforts to mobilize mainstream voices of reason within the Duke community.”]
2.) This article represents what passes for a scholarly publication in Piot’s field. Indeed, it is listed as a “representative publication” on Professor Piot’s CV.
*--modified for clarity. This statement strikes me as a distancing, but I don't want to distract from the main point, which is that the editors still had an obligation to ensure the factual accuracy of the piece.