Brodhead obviously knows this: indeed, this type of social science research, in a less detailed form than what exists in the academy today, provided the underpinning for many of the civil rights decisions in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The only possible inference, therefore, to take from Brodhead's criticism is that at least on issues of race, this research strategy is acceptable only when it yields results that conform to the beliefs of the campus majority.
Arcidiacono adds some personal context which makes Brodhead's behavior even more troubling: "This squashing of divergent ideas also shows up in the administration's lack of defense of the study beyond issues of academic freedom and, more importantly, in the administration's lack of a substantive conversation with either myself or my co-authors. Personally, the latter is what I have found most disturbing about the whole controversy. As I have repeatedly made clear, I am happy to talk with anyone who has concerns about my work. I was disappointed when the Black Student Alliance (BSA) chose to go directly to the press rather than engage in a discussion with me--the called-for forum has not happened. But these are undergraduates. This is the president of the university. To publicly disparage my work without engaging in a conversation with me is not something I would have expected from Brodhead. To top it off, the speech alludes to administrators working on the issues raised in the paper with the BSA and yet there still have been no substantive discussions of the issues with the authors. Thank you God for tenure."]
Sanford resigned the Duke presidency in 1985 to launch a successful bid for the U.S. Senate. In the last quarter century, Duke—like virtually every elite university in the nation—has aggressively utilized racial preferences in admissions, while just as aggressively seeking certain types of “diversity” in faculty hires. Racial tensions doubtless remain at Duke and at all elite universities; entirely eliminating racism (or sexism or homophobia or ethnic/religious biases) is impossible. But there are few if any employers or institutions anywhere in U.S. society more “anti-racist,” to use the politically correct term, than Duke and the nation’s other elite universities.
Moreover, during the administration of President Richard Brodhead (2005-), the university’s most significant racially-oriented episode involved not racism toward African-American students or professors but a racially-charged crusade directed by members of the school’s African-American Studies Department against a group of falsely accused white Duke students. Apart from a single statement from Provost Peter Lange rebuking an outright racist screed from then-Duke professor Houston Baker—and a vague, tardy, and ultimately toothless apology from Brodhead—there’s no evidence that anyone from Duke’s administration ever addressed this faculty behavior, or ever rebuked those Duke professors whose private biases led them to ignore their obligations to their own institution’s students.
In his March 22 address to the faculty, Brodhead chose to speak about “the issue of race and inclusion in Duke's history, our recent progress, and the nature of the work that lies ahead.”
Those expecting that the choice of this theme meant that Brodhead would critically self-examine his and his administration’s failure to address the shortcomings exposed by the lacrosse case would be sorely disappointed. The race-baiting of spring 2006 wasn’t mentioned, perhaps because doing so would have forced Brodhead to ask uncomfortable questions about how so many Duke faculty members had addressed “the issue of race and inclusion in Duke’s [recent] history.” It would, for instance, have been very difficult for the president to have reconciled his Faculty Address boast that “this university has had a commitment to making Duke a place of access, opportunity and mutual respect for all” [emphasis added] with the conduct of the Group of 88 (or sympathetic faculty such as Orin Starn, Peter Wood, and Tim Tyson) during the lacrosse case.
Nor did the president display any willingness to consider whether the use of racial preferences in admissions or the obsessive emphasis on certain types of “diversity” in faculty hiring remain tactically wise or morally acceptable in the 21st century world. Once again, the posing of uncomfortable questions was not on Brodhead’s agenda, especially if asking such questions might trigger a faculty revolt.
Instead, the president offered a reflexive defense of “diversity” policies as they have been practiced at Duke (and other elite universities) over the past generation. No surprises there. But the stated motivation for his remarks did raise eyebrows. He selected his topic, he claimed, because of three recent events, the first of which was the “controversy over a piece of unpublished faculty research that appeared to disparage the choice of majors by African-American undergraduates.”
Brodhead thus joined Provost Lange and a host of other senior administrators in publicly criticizing (and in the president’s case, willfully misinterpreting) a piece of research from Duke two professors, Peter Arcidiacono and Kenneth Spenner; and Esteban Aucejo, a Duke graduate student. That paper, as I noted before, used Duke’s own data to show how African-American students (whose admissions test scores were far lower than those of whites or Asian-Americans who enrolled at the university) disproportionately migrated, after arriving at Duke, from majors (the hard sciences, engineering) widely considered as more challenging. As with virtually all other critics of the Arcidiacono, et al., paper, Brodhead did not challenge any of the paper’s data.
Brodhead’s discussion of the paper was nothing short of stunning. After an almost apologetic defense of the principle of academic freedom as applied to faculty research, the president all but seethed with rage when discussing the paper: “I can see why students took offense at what was reported of a professor's work. Generalizations about academic choices by racial category can renew the primal insult of the world we are trying to leave behind—the implication that persons can be known through a group identity that associates them with inferior powers. A further insult was that the paper had been included in an amicus brief submitted by opponents of affirmative action urging the Supreme Court to hear the case I mentioned earlier regarding admissions policies at the University of Texas.”
The last sentence is, perhaps, the most extraordinary of Brodhead’s entire address, and, indeed, one of the most extraordinary statements I have ever seen a university president make. The president of a major research university, in a formal address to his university’s faculty, expressed regret—deeming it an “insult”—that research from his own university’s faculty (research whose accuracy he did not challenge) was included in an amicus brief for a critical case before the Supreme Court.
So much for the idea that a central purpose of a research university is the dissemination of knowledge in pursuit of the truth. The president’s message could not have been clearer: those who dare to pursue research that challenges the (campus) majority’s agenda on race can expect a public shaming—regardless of whether the data those researchers uncover is accurate or fairly presented.
Brodhead concluded his address on a more personal level. “The single front,” said he, “where I myself feel the greatest frustration regards senior leadership positions at Duke.” He noted that among his eight senior administration appointments, he had named two African-Americans, one Asian-American, and one woman. But, he lamented, “the number of women on my team . . . is fewer than I would wish.” And he offered his awareness that “including African Americans in the top academic leadership of this university is a piece of unfinished business.”
If Brodhead’s personal pain about the insufficient “diversity” in the upper ranks of Duke’s administration is as genuine as his Faculty Address rhetoric suggests, an immediate step to address the issue is available to him: He could, today, submit his resignation as Duke president. That move would give Duke’s trustees the opportunity to bring more “diversity” to the school by replacing him with a female or minority leader for the university.
But I strongly suspect that Brodhead’s personal commitment to “diversity” doesn’t quite extend that far. Publicly sliming two members of his faculty is, it seems, so much more satisfying.