Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Perils of Political Correctness

Two items showing the continuing failure in the academic world to learn the lessons of the lacrosse case.

The first comes from the Chesterfield (VA) Observer, which ran an article on the status of African-Americans in the sport of lacrosse. The Observer interviewed Jay Coakley, professor emeritus of sociology and sport at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. According to the Observer:

In the aftermath of the 2006 Duke lacrosse rape scandal, Coakley was invited to speak to a national lacrosse convention in Philadelphia. His message – that the sport desperately needed diversity – wasn’t well received. “When I gave my presentation, probably about 100 white men walked out,” Coakley recalled.

He offered up slides of photos culled from college websites, which showed a preponderance of white men playing the game. “I was accused on local talk radio of pushing political correctness and not understanding what lacrosse is all about,” he said.

The address to which Coakley referred occurred at the 2007 US Lacrosse convention, which was held January 12-14 in Philadelphia. It’s worth noting the context: by this point, disciplinary charges had been announced against Mike Nifong; Crystal Mangum’s story had been changed to claim that no actual rape had occurred; and even Richard Brodhead (though not the Group of 88) had been moved to denounce Nifong. In short, the version of events to which so many politically correct figures on campus had attached themselves had been revealed as an utter fraud. Yet Coakley’s remarks appear to have ignored the jarring transformation of the case between March 2006 and January 2007; he spoke, instead, as if all events were as commonly understood in early April 2006.

Since there was no record of Coakley’s remarks online, I e-mailed him. He graciously summarized his main points, which—to put it mildly—were stronger than the Observer article entailed. That wasn’t too surprising, since it was all but impossible to imagine that a banal call for more racial diversity in lacrosse could have triggered the mass walkout that he alleged.

A few items: (1) Ignoring any of the new developments between early April 2006 and January 2007, Coakley linked the case to a call that (paraphrased) the “sport desperately needed diversity” because it had (paraphrased) “a preponderance of white men playing the game.” (Whites were, of course, a preponderance of all college-aged men in January 2007.) Even if some sort of racial balancing in college men’s lacrosse was or is desirable, how, precisely, could this goal be linked to the Duke lacrosse case in a way that would reflect well on Coakley?

It’s true that, if the accused students were African-American rather than white, the lacrosse case would have differed. Neither Nifong nor the Group of 88 would have had any reason to have exploited the case, and therefore it likely would have never moved forward or received much campus or media attention. But suggesting that a sport having more black athletes minimizes the possibility of a local prosecutor or a school’s faculty engaging in race-baiting behavior doesn’t strike me as a  . . . progressive . . . argument.

Coakley seems to be insinuating, instead, that if more African-Americans were on the 2006 lacrosse team, the team would have treated the strippers more sensitively. That strikes me as a highly implausible conclusion.

In general, his view of events seemed then, and still seems, frozen in time, as if no additional facts about what occurred at the party came out after early April 2006. He suggested to me that racial epithets were directed at false accuser Crystal Mangum (there’s no evidence of this, since Mangum was passed out during the racially charged argument between Kim Roberts and a lacrosse player that concluded the evening) and that other lacrosse players somehow should have intervened to stop the exchange between Roberts and their teammate. But it’s not clear how they could have done so, since all accounts of the evening suggested that Roberts then immediately called the police claiming a “hate crime,” and then drove off, while the captains told the remaining handful of players to go home. Coakley’s comment about intervention only makes sense if he believes that racial epithets occurred during the party itself—yet the only figures connected to the case to ever have made such a claim were Mangum and Mike Nifong. That he still seems to view the duo as credible speaks volumes as to the biases he brings to the case.

(2) In his e-mail to me, Coakley linked his criticism of the lacrosse team in part to the hiring of strippers—an act that I, too, find distasteful. Yet it’s hard to see any connection between his critical comments about the team’s (or, more generally, lacrosse’s) racial makeup and the hiring of strippers. After all, a few weeks before the party, the majority African-American basketball team had hired strippers for a team party.

More broadly, his basic approach in the 2007 talk—on which he doubled down in his Observer interview—suggests that the hiring of the strippers, and Coakley's seemingly inaccurate view of the development of the party, was such a grave character flaw that it overcomes all that we subsequently learned about members of the lacrosse team, whether in the Coleman Committee report, or in their post-case behavior in the 2006-7 academic year. Much like the Group of 88, it’s as if, for Coakley, the team’s character is frozen in time, as of early April 2006, and nothing that came after was allowed to disturb the preconceived ideological notions that he brought to the case.

(3) In his interview with the Observer, Coakley said that he “was accused on local talk radio of pushing political correctness.” (Coakley didn’t cite which local talk radio leveled the accusation against him; it’s intriguing that he’s evidently a talk-radio listener.) In the event, at least based on what he shared with the Observer and later with me, the accusation seems to be a valid one.

It’s unclear how many people share Coakley’s perspective; in society as a whole, it’s almost certainly a minority, and perhaps a small minority indeed. On campus, however, his politically correct approach is very much mainstream—as we saw, yet again, in a recent event at Duke.

Of all the campuses in the country, it would seem as if Duke—whose students were the victims of the highest-profile rape hoax in modern American history—would bend over backwards to protect due process in sexual assault cases. The reverse was true: in 2009, the university implemented a new sexual assault definition, in which students could be found guilty of rape on the following criteria: “Real or perceived power differentials between individuals may create an unintentional atmosphere of coercion.” Why a student could be deemed a rapist based on unintentional actions that any accuser happened to perceive Duke never said, and amidst an outcry from alumni and from national groups, especially FIRE, Duke quietly dropped the new criteria in 2010.

But otherwise, a due process-unfriendly sexual assault policy remained in place—until earlier this month, when Duke announced an adjustment. Students found guilty by the university now will face a presumed penalty of expulsion. Remarked Larry Moneta to the Herald-Sun, “This is not like the measles; there’s no vaccine . . . This is a very complicated issue that is not unique to us that just requires persistence and a multi-varied approach.” Moneta did not mention the importance of due process for sexual assault allegations.

Students properly deemed rapists certainly should be expelled. Actually, of course, they should be sent to jail—but university activists tend to strongly oppose the idea of allowing the criminal justice system, rather than university bureaucracies, to address allegations of sexual assault.

In the event, the heightening of the punishment has to shine the spotlight on the procedures the university employs, since the error resulting from a procedurally flawed decision is now so much greater. Duke’s policy is for a university administrator or a hired outside investigator to examine the allegations. The investigation is almost guaranteed to be slipshod: “Allegations of sexual misconduct will be investigated in a thorough and timely manner, typically within 15 business days of receipt of a complaint.” (Imagine if the police had such a requirement, amidst a bureaucracy that’s strongly predisposed, for ideological reasons, to believe all allegations of sexual assault, as is the case at Duke and many other universities.) The accused student doesn’t have the right to be represented by outside counsel, only a “member of the university community,” and even the role of this advocate is severely restricted: “He/she may only confer quietly or through notes with the complainant and may not address the panel.” And a finding of guilt occurs at the lowest possible threshold—a preponderance of evidence, or 50.01 percent.

In explaining the new penalties, Moneta didn’t reference the lacrosse case, or explain why a campus that witnessed such an extraordinary violation of due process wouldn’t be vigilant about due process on such matters in the future. But Bob Ashley’s Herald-Sun filled the void. In an unsigned editorial celebrating Duke’s action (there’s a surprise!!), the H-S reflected in the following manner: “One legitimate debate fueled by the infamously false rape allegations against Duke lacrosse players in 2006 concerned the overall culture of gender relations on Duke and other campuses.” It’s easy to see how “legitimately false rape allegations” might have triggered a debate about why so many on Duke faculty members were willing to rush to judgment against three of the university’s male students. But somehow I doubt that’s the sort of “legitimate debate” about “gender relations” on the Duke campus that Ashley had in mind.

Beyond the rare admission from Ashley that the charges his paper so consistently framed as true were actually false, it’s as if for the H-S editor, much like Professor Coakley, events in time are frozen as of April 2006. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Brodhead Commission Report

That any commission, of any type, could consider Richard Brodhead as a vehicle to build public support for anything related to higher education is nothing short of astonishing. That a figure who presided over one of the highest-profile university scandals of recent years—a scandal in which his school’s humanities professors played an outsized role—would seem like a good choice to improve public backing for the humanities is almost comical.

Yet a 53-person commission of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which produced a lengthy report at the behest of a bipartisan groupof legislators, did just that. The Brodhead commission report is a combination of the banal with the wonderfully self-unaware. (By the way, the 53-person committee included Ken Burns; perhaps his work on the project suggests theorigins of filmmaker Burns’ . . . unusual . . . interpretation of the lacrossecase.) The commission featured not only Brodhead but several other paragons of campus political correctness, Harvard president Drew Faust, Amherst president Carolyn Martin, and Penn president Amy Guttmann.

Some of the report’s conclusions were almost caricatures of the banal. For instance, who could disagree with the following statement, which appears on page 16? “Our need for a broadly literate population is more urgent than ever. As citizens, we need to absorb an ever-growing body of information and to assess the sources of that information. As workers, we need to adapt to an ever-accelerating rate of technological change and to reflect on the implications of these changes. As members of a global community, we need to look beyond our borders to communicate and interact with individuals from societies and cultures different from our own. As a nation, we need to provide an educational foundation for our future stability and prosperity— drawing on all areas of knowledge.”

Or consider this item, from the study’s acknowledgements: the report “identifies three overarching goals: 1) to educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding they will need to thrive in a twenty-first-century democracy; 2) to foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong; and 3) to equip the nation for leadership in an interconnected world. These goals cannot be achieved by science alone.” Do those who oppose the study’s recommendations favor a society that is luddite, uncompetitive, and weak?

The report also champions such public policy goals as strengthening support for teachers, enhancing access to material available online, supporting study abroad programs, boosting funding for NEH, and promoting the learning of foreign languages. Of course, all of these proposals (each of which seems to me an excellent idea) take money, and the Brodhead commission doesn’t quite explain how or why more tax revenue will find its way into higher education.

And there’s one funding-related question that the Brodhead commission dare not touch. We live in a society that’s deeply polarized along ideological and partisan lines. And yet the humanities skews—wildly—in one direction, to such an extent that it seems almost certain that today the ideological median of humanities professors is further away from the ideological median of society at large than at any other point in American history. Is it possible—just possible—that this ideological chasm, a general sense among most politicians that today’s humanities departments aren’t exactly the most intellectually diverse entities around, has caused a reluctance to fund? The Brodhead commission doesn’t ask that question—perhaps because it doesn’t want to know the answer.

In at least three other respects, the commission is almost blissfully self-unaware in its commentary. First, the commission expresses grave concern about the state of affairs in high school history and social studies instruction. We need more high school civics classes, the report declares, and the quality of teacher preparation is dangerously low.  The report (p. 19) foresees “grave consequences for the nation” that “humanities teachers, particularly in k-12 history, are less well-trained than teachers in other subject areas.”

It’s not hard, however, to detect at least one importance reason for this problem. Public school curricula continue to be set by state boards of education—which are responsible to the public, and which generally mandate curricula that would be deemed somewhat “traditional.” Students in high school history classes are supposed to learn about, among other things, Presidents, and wars, and key court decisions, and major elections.

Yet Brodhead and the many other college presidents who were part of the commission have presided over universities that have emphasized “diversity” and the hiring of specialists in areas related to race, class, or gender over the study of more traditional aspects of the American past. I most recently discussed this issue in a multi-part series at Minding the Campus. As a result, most public school teachers can go through college and M.A. programs with little—or in the case of U.S. military or constitutional history, almost certainly no—exposure to specialists in the fields that they then have to teach to the nation’s public school students.

And so the report urges an expansion of “education in international affairs” (p. 12)—without mentioning the massive decline in the past generation in faculty positions devoted to U.S. diplomatic or military history, the result of hiring decisions that these very same presidents (or their predecessors) have ultimately approved.

The nation’s founders, the report intones (p. 15), understood that the country’s well-being depended on citizens who “understand their own history,” and it’s particularly important to study “jurisprudence.” Yet the report makes no mention that the field of U.S. constitutional history has been all but eliminated in the nation’s history departments, the result of hiring decisions that these very same presidents (or their predecessors) have ultimately approved.

Indeed, virtually the only high-profile president in recent years who was concerned about such matters was Harvard’s Larry Summers. And he was deposed via a faculty revolt.

Second, the commission’s report veers into territory that it would seem to want to avoid—in that it calls into question the ideological imbalances in the contemporary academy. For instance, on page 10, the report asserts that “humanists and social scientists are critical in providing cultural, historical, and ethical expertise and empirical analysis to efforts that address issues such as the provision of clean air and water, food, health, energy, and universal education.”

Health, environmental, and energy policies are among the most contentious in our current political climate. What incentive would GOP legislators or conservative donors—two groups ostensibly targeted by the report—have to boost humanities funding if the result is increased attention to policy proposals where 90 percent or more of today’s humanities professors are on the other side from the targeted funders? I find it hard to believe, for instance, that this line of argument would persuade the Kochs that it’s a good idea for them to start making more donations to college humanities programs.

Finally, the commission itself was blissfully self-unaware in allowing Brodhead to function as its public face. In its section analyzing the problems facing higher education, the report’s first footnote is none other than an item from Brodhead, entitled, “Rebuilding the Public’s Confidence in Higher Ed.” This would be the same Brodhead whose highest-profile off-campus appearance came in a widely-panned 60 Minutes appearance in which he tried, in vain, to defend his university’s rush to judgment in the lacrosse case. Or whose highest-profile off-campus reputation dealing with the humanities came in his presiding over a school that had dozens of humanities professors sign a public declaration affirming that something had “happened” to false accuser Crystal Mangum, and thanking protesters who had urged among other things the castration of the lacrosse captains.

The Brodhead commission report seeks to build off-campus support for the humanities—from legislators, from donors, and ultimately from the public. Yet Brodhead’s record in the lacrosse case is merely a click away for any of these target audiences. Could the commission not have found someone less compromised than Brodhead to serve as its public face?

The commission’s selection of the Duke president as its member most likely to persuade legislators or the public would be a little like trying to persuade a gay rights group by turning to a high-ranking figure in the Catholic Church; or seeking to solicit financial contributions from a mining organization by soliciting a report penned by a prominent Sierra Club lobbyist. After his performance in the lacrosse case, why should any public official accept Richard Brodhead’s advice about anything?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Supreme Court Update

For those expecting an analysis of Durham's reply to the cert petition, which originally was due today, the city has obtained an extension from the Supreme Court. The new deadline is August 23.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Updates: Mangum, Academic Freedom

First, Crystal Mangum’s long-delayed murder trial—the false accuser has gone through several attorneys, slowing down the process—is now scheduled, for mid-November. Mangum, who is supposedly financially destitute, posted bond several months ago, and is currently free awaiting the proceedings.

Here’s how the Herald-Sun described Mangum’s infamy: “Mangum became nationally known in 2006 after she accused some Duke lacrosse players of sexually assaulting her after they hired her as a stripper for their party. Those charges were later dropped.”

No mention of the charges being “false.” No mention that the state’s attorney general declared the players “innocent”—not merely that the charges were “dropped.” And a bizarre description of Reade Seligmann’s and Collin Finnerty’s role in the case, given that the quoted sentence—literally interpreted—suggests that “they” hired Mangum for “their” party, even though neither of them played any role in the organization of the party.

Such slanting in hard-news items has become increasingly common in the H-S since Bob Ashley’s return as editor. It’s almost as if Ashley wants to subtly shade post-case news coverage to make up for the discredited manner in which his newspaper covered the case itself.

Along those lines: the H-S applied its normal biases in covering Duke’s unsuccessful efforts to force me to turn over confidential, unpublished exchanges with sources for the book and the blog. The paper sympathetically portrayed Duke’s legal filings, triumphantly reported on Duke’s short-term victory before the magistrate judge in Maine, and mentioned my appeal. And then the paper suddenly lost interest—no analysis of major Maine newspapers and TV stations filing an amicus brief portraying one of the nation’s major research universities as hostile to the First Amendment; no coverage of the hearing before Judge Brock Hornby in which Duke’s high-priced attorneys found themselves immediately on the defensive, and in which they made extraordinary claims about the future standards to which Duke’s own professors should be held; no discussion of the collapse of Duke’s efforts and the ultimate vacating of the magistrate judge’s order. As far as readers of the H-S know, Duke now has access to my e-mail files.

The transcript of the January hearing is now publicly available, and I thought it might be worth highlighting two exchanges that the H-S did not deem newsworthy—since Duke’s attorneys, speaking (they said) for the university, articulated an approach to academic freedom that I’m not sure any other research university in the country holds.

The first exchange occurred less than a minute into Duke’s oral argument:

THE COURT: Well, I do have two questions. One is this, and this may be a rhetorical question, but Duke University obviously has a lot of researchers and academics of its own who write books, and whatever you’re seeking here may come back to affect Duke. So I take it this is the institutional posture of Duke University in terms of the academic freedom interests of its researchers and faculty members; is that right?

MR. SEGARS: Your Honor, I think Duke University would be happy with the rule that it’s asking this Court to impose on the facts of this case.

I expect that the next time a Duke faculty member receives a third-party subpoena demanding that he or she be deposed and turn over confidential, unpublished correspondence with sources, this exchange will be cited.

The second exchange came near the end of the proceedings, after Duke’s attorneys attempted to mischaracterize my arguments:

THE COURT: I understand the argument [presented by my attorney, Patrick Strawbridge] to be slightly different than that. I don’t think there’s any claim that the plaintiffs cannot waive their own rights or should not perhaps expect that they can be explored, but what does this do to future academic researchers, and future journalists as they decide to publish a book or decide to write something else? Do they know they’re thereby opening themselves to considerable expense and time involvement in responding to lawsuit discovery?

MR. SEGARS: That’s a good question, Your Honor. I think that the rule we’re seeking would tell those researchers academicians, journalists that, A, I need to be clear about the confidentiality I promised to my sources, and B, if I’m ever subpoenaed I need to make a record of that confidentiality with respect to the communications that I’m intending to withhold.

THE COURT: But it also says if I write a book I’d better expect to spend a lot of time dealing with lawyers in terms of producing all of the research work that I did and distract me from the next book I want to write because I’m responding to what lawyers want for an earlier lawsuit, right?

MR. SEGARS: That’s a fair question, Your Honor. On the facts of this case where the subpoenaing party has literally gone out and deposed 41 plaintiffs, we’ve subpoenaed the attorneys, we’ve tried to get what we could, and I hear what Mr. Strawbridge says, that I am unable to point to a particular document that Dr. Johnson has that I don’t.

To reiterate: Duke’s attorneys said they’re entirely comfortable with this standard being applied to Duke faculty in future cases. I wonder how many Duke professors are actually aware of the new academic freedom rules under which their institution operates.

Monday, July 01, 2013

W. Murphy, Hypocrite

During her myriad media appearances commenting on the Duke lacrosse case, adjunct law professor Wendy Murphy came up with virtually everything bad she could possibly say about the three falsely accused players. She wondered whether one of them had been abused as a child. She wildly claimed that false accuser Crystal Mangum had been bribed, that exculpatory photographs had been doctored, and that neighbors had claimed the lacrosse players were involved in other sexual offenses. She even managed to work in an oblique Hitler comparison.

(A reminder: These erroneous statements and bizarre comparisons did not trouble Poynter, the supposedly good-journalism organization which brought in Murphy to lecture to journalists.)

But in all of her media appearances, one area that the adjunct law professor did not explore was a claim that the case was receiving too much attention from journalists. There was no Murphy denunciation of Newsweek for placing the falsely accused players’ mugshots on its cover, under the equally false headline of “Sex, Lies, and Duke.” Nor did the adjunct law professor criticize Nancy Grace for the extraordinary amount of time the HLN host personally devoted to the case (except, of course, on the evening of the exoneration).

Imagine my surprise, then, to read a Murphy op-ed in this morning’s Boston Herald, in which she lambasted the media coverage of murder charges against former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. “Like a lot of people who don’t follow sports,” Murphy confesses,  she hadn’t known much about Hernandez until a couple of weeks ago—just as she hadn’t heard much of other athletes charged with violent crimes, such as Kobe Bryant, Rae Carruth, and Michael Vick. Why does her ignorance about sports matter? Because “it’s hard for people like me to appreciate the wall-to-wall coverage of a story that seems no different than any other gang-banger murders of late.” Curiosity about athletes allegedly committing crimes, Murphy continues, “doesn’t make its answer news.”

Murphy’s conclusion? “If sports were better understood as simply entertainment, the prosecution of Hernandez would be correctly framed as a run-of-the-mill alleged gang murder in the news section — and sports writers could spill all the ink they want on how people feel about the guy in their section. With angles firmly separated, nobody would misapprehend the story as proof that some murders are more important than others, or that some people’s lives are more valuable than others. We’ve seen enough violence perpetrated by people of wealth, power and influence to know that crime happens in all communities and at all points along the economic spectrum. It’s time for the news media to start conducting itself in a manner that reflects this reality.”

Where was this Wendy Murphy during the lacrosse case, denouncing the media for spending far too much time covering claims against a group of college athletes? It appears as if there’s an exception to this new Murphy rule: crimes allegedly committed by athletes in which members of the media interview Murphy for her opinions deserve wall-to-wall coverage. But if Murphy isn’t seen as an expert, than excess coverage leaves the message that “that some people’s lives are more valuable than others.”

Your daily dose of hypocrisy (and media criticism), courtesy of Poynter’s favorite adjunct law professor.