Friday, February 18, 2011

Guidance from Dr. Brodhead [Updated Twice]

[Update, 6.31pm, 23 Feb.: Business Week reports that Duke and AIG have settled their lawsuit, which resulted from AIG's unwillingness to shoulder at least some the defense costs associated with the lawsuits against Duke filed by the falsely accused players and other former Duke lacrosse players.]

Two tangentially related items [with an update at end, added Sunday, 3.34pm]:

First, in one respect, the discovery that Richard Brodhead was selected by the President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,Leslie Berlowitz, to co-chair “a national commission to bolster teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences, fields that are critical to culture, education, and to America's economic competitiveness” is beyond belief. Incredibly, Berlowitz was responding to a request from members of Congress, to ascertain, “What are the top ten actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations, educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship and education, and to achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being; for a stronger, more vibrant civil society; and for the success of cultural diplomacy in the 21st century?”

Upon what could Brodhead offer counsel: how to stand clear of the social sciences and humanities faculty mob on campus? How to issue an apology months after the fact, while repeatedly promoting those among his social sciences and humanities professoriate who misbehaved? How he felt as members of the Durham Chamber of Commerce applauded him in April 2006, when he announced, of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, “Whatever they did [drink beer and attend a party they played no role in planning] was bad enough”?

In another respect, however, the award demonstrates a central theme of the lacrosse case: the almost complete lack of accountability in contemporary higher education for inappropriate conduct that was based on prevailing race/class/gender sentiments on campus. That a figure such as Brodhead wasn’t completely discredited for his mishandling of the lacrosse case isn’t surprising in an academy where Group of 88 members Baker, Farred, and Payne got hired away from Duke for better jobs; or where the Duke faculty elected Group regular Paula McClain as their leader shortly after the AG declared the students to be innocent; or where several members of the Group of 88 have received deanships despite (because of?) their behavior in the lacrosse case.

Second, the Florida International University administration declined to suspend the university’s star baseball player, Garrett Wittels, who was charged with sexual assault in a strange case in the Bahamas.

The specifics of the case, based on press reports: Wittels and two college-age friends went back to a hotel room to hook up with two women who presented themselves as college students but were in fact 17 years old. Both sides agree that sexual intercourse occurred; Wittels’ attorney says it was voluntary, at the prompting of their fathers the next morning, the 17-year-olds said it was not. Before any additional investigation took place, but apparently acting consistently with both Bahamian judicial procedures and more general pressure from the U.S. embassy, Wittels and his friends were arrested.

The FIU decision has generated predictable outcry. Miami Herald columnist Linda Robertson hyperbolically demanded Wittels’ suspension, noting, “No one except the people in a Paradise Island hotel room knows what happened inside it Dec. 20. But something happened.”(Despite Robertson’s insinuation, no one involved in the case denies that “something happened.”) Consistent with longstanding media practices, Robertson had no trouble repeatedly using Wittels’ name, but refused to identify the name of Wittels’ accuser.

Perhaps more disappointingly (given the high standards in the lacrosse case from the Duke Chronicle), the FIU student newspaper, The Beacon, advocated suspending Wittels, arguing, “Even if Wittels is innocent, the situation he has put himself in has tarnished the image of the University and its Athletics department. Furthermore, allowing that distraction in the locker room would be a disservice to the entire baseball team.” If universities around the country followed the policy of suspending athletes for engaging in a “situation” like that of Wittels “even if . . . innocent” (hooking up, in a somewhat boorish fashion, while on vacation), there’d be an awful lot of suspensions, on a lot of different teams, around the country.

I’d like to think that in handling the Wittels matter, the FIU administration learned from Brodhead’s rush to judgment in the lacrosse case, and in particular understood the significance of examining the particular context of the allegations. As both Robertson and The Beacon note, Wittels might, in fact, be guilty. But the preponderance of publicly available evidence doesn’t suggest abandoning the presumption of innocence; and the overall allegation (an alleged 3-on-2 gang rape, in which the accusers voluntarily left the scene of the alleged attack without even attempting to contact law enforcement officials) would be very unusual indeed. Perhaps more important, the FIU administration took into account the different legal procedures in The Bahamas, which appears to have an arrest-first, ask-questions-later approach.

A final point: at least based on what I’ve seen from press reports and from speaking to a friend with contacts at FIU, there has been no equivalent of the Group of 88 on the FIU campus. Perhaps Wahneema Lubiano can be dispatched to South Florida to provide guidance.

[Update: On Sunday morning's Outside the Lines, ESPN profiled San Antonio Spurs player Gary Neal.

Towson--which accepted Neal as a student and a basketball player despite the rape allegations, under the "innocent until proven guilty" mantra, provides another, FIU-like, example of the anti-Brodhead. And Towson acted before the lacrosse case erupted, suggesting an alternative path for Duke.

Two other items from the report. One, the Neal saga confirms a post made some time back on the absurdity of the claim--repeatedly offered during the lacrosse case--that if the lacrosse defendants had been African-American, the media would have treated them much worse. The allegations against the LaSalle basketball players (African-American defendants, race of accuser unclear) received fairly minor national coverage (the New York Times, for instance, ran 12 articles on the LaSalle case, five of which were on the acquittal or the attempts of the accused players or their coaches to move on from the scandal).

Second, the ESPN report is sympathetic to Neal. It allows him to discuss the "stigma" of the charges, notes that the charges cost him a scholarship and any chance of playing in the NBA immediately after college, and shows how even unproven charges can have horrific effects on the wrongly accused. Yet even this sympathetic account, and even after a trial that resulted in an acquittal, cannot bring itself to remove the mask of anonymity from Neal's accuser.]


Lee J. Cockrell said...

Yesterday I read a note to myself from four years ago saying that the Duke lacrosse case was the high water mark for the race/class/gender types in academia.

Boy was I wrong.

So how do we introduce responsibility, integrity, accountability, and critical thinking in liberal arts academia? It largely seems to have lost these traits, as long as one has the proper political checkmarks.

Anonymous said...

Beyond being plain wrong in his judgment every step of the way, Brodhead was also a coward. He pandered to the most radical elements and executed a schoolboy political and PR strategy to protect individual academic and Trustee interests at the school. During the 60 Minutes interview, he was a deer in the headlights and was in so far over his head it was pitiful. In retrospect, he may be a hero to radical faculty everywhere: he allowed them to attack their own students for a stupid metanarrative while holding none of them accountable, nor was he held accountable himself. Brodhead is a weak and contemptible man who should have been shown the door in 2007 for his mismanagement of the lacrosse case (among other things). Yet he inexplicably survives. Why? Because every decision he made was to protect the rear flank of the radical faculty and Board of Trustees, while the students and hte school twisted in the wind. If that meant wrecking the lives of his students, that is their problem. Brodhead knew where his bread is buttered.

Now that I think about it, perhaps he is perfect to represent the modern academy.


Jim in San Diego said...

What is most surprising from here is there is no accountability anywhere, even from the civil justice system.

Two years ago the defendants in the Lacrosse Team's civil lawsuit filed a preliminary motion to dismiss the various claims. The Court has never ruled on that motion. Two years!?!

I have not heard of such a delay in the Federal courts here (California). Are the courts differently constituted in North Carolina?

Are the courts busier? Are the judges lazier? Are they less competent? Are they less attentive to their calendars? Do they have no procedures in place to render timely justice within their courtrooms?

We have never heard an explanation why the court is taking two years to respond to one motion. In a case like this, there will be other motions.

Are we to await two years between each motion and a ruling? If so, this is a case that may not get litigated during the lifetimes of the parties.

Justice delayed is justice denied. That is why there is no accountability, anywhere.

Jim Peterson

No Justice, No Peace said...

Why is Brodhead in a position of power? He's certainly no leader. In the weak intellectual environment of Duke academia he has caste himself as a victim. Brodhead's narrative must revolve around what his students did to women...blacks...Duke...the faculty...the administrators.. to him. It's all fraudulent but for him it works.

This link is to a fine piece on the media and identity politics.

Identity Politics

"...Identity politics revolve around the narrative of victimization. For adherents to identity politics, the victim is not a person, but a member of a privileged victim group. That is, the status of victimhood is not determined by facts, but by membership in an identity group. Stories about victims are not dictated by facts. Victim stories are tailored to fit the victim. Facts, values and individual responsibility are all irrelevant.

In light of this, a person’s membership in specific victim groups is far more important than his behavior. And there is a clear pecking order of victimhood in identity politics..."

Caroline Glick nails it.

"...Identity politics are nothing more than socially acceptable bigotry. Those who practice it are racist bigots who have replaced liberal values that hold everyone to the same moral and criminal standards with illiberal values that judge people’s morality and criminality by the identity group with which they are most readily associated..."

And that is why Brodhead, his administration and the Klan of 88's behavior is consistent and so very predictable. They are the racist bigots they claim to expose.

Anonymous said...

So glad i know longer work for an organization that has fallen so far. "it's not about the truth". The Duke motto, i guess. No truth. No honor. No apology. No duty. No courage. No integrity. And no guts. Dr Keohane, i miss you. There is an odor on Erwin Rd. It is the smell of decay

Gary Packwood said...

Perhaps Broadhead is the only person who has been on the receiving end of identity politics substituting for the humanities and social sciences on a prestigious university campus.

The organizers may expect the co-chair to talk about the consequences of doing nothing when the crazies get a toe-hold on the front door of the main university administration building.

Brodhead presenting himself as the wandering sailor Ishmael in Moby Dick doesn't sound so far fetched at least in my reading of what Dick Brodhead could and would do with Moby...Dick his retirement swan song.

Anonymous said...

"the discovery that Richard Brodhead was selected by the President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,Leslie Berlowitz, to co-chair “a national commission to bolster teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences, fields that are critical to culture, education, and to America's economic competitiveness” is beyond belief"

Perhaps, KC, most people simply do not view the world through the lens that is the Duke Lacrosse scandal. I know that must be unbelievable to you, but such is life.

KC Johnson said...

To the 1.38:

You write, "Perhaps, KC, most people simply do not view the world through the lens that is the Duke Lacrosse scandal. I know that must be unbelievable to you, but such is life."

I'm a bit puzzled by your second sentence, since most of the assertion that you offer in your first sentence is wholly believable to me. I only would eliminate the qualifying "perhaps." Instead, allow me to definitively state, [M]ost people simply do not view the world through the lens that is the Duke [l]acrosse scandal."

That said, in this instance, we're not talking about "most people," but a significant appointment by an organization that surely did due diligence. Putting the most favorable spin on things, Brodhead's conduct in the lacrosse case resulted in millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements for the university over which he presides, and his first 60 Minutes interview could go down as a lesson in how a university president should not handle a p.r. debacle. Given that it's very unlikely any of the other prospective university president appointees (most, if not all, of whom doubtless have very similar campus visions to Brodhead's) had such a black mark on their records, I reiterate my comment in the post that the appointment is "beyond belief."

Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Anonymous said...

"Social Sciences." The phrase always makes me laugh.

Apparently, the position to be filled, national co-chair, required a spineless seat-filler. If that was indeed the case, well then they struck gold!

Anonymous said...

To the 1:38 who wrote:

"Perhaps, KC, most people simply do not view the world through the lens that is the Duke Lacrosse scandal. I know that must be unbelievable to you, but such is life."

Personally, I would look at it this way. If you were a bank manager filling a teller position, would you consider an applicant's one (but long and drawn out) embezzlement from another bank? What if that former bank embezzler had stolen over $30m? And, what if he was untruthful about the act, trying to cover it up? And what if he rewarded others who were in on the embezzlement conspiracy?

In the real world, black marks are still looked at as black marks.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting!!