Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Professional Protesters

In recent years, few elite universities have escaped faculty demands to divest institutional funds from corporations that do business in Israel. Former Harvard president Larry Summers correctly labeled the concept’s backers “anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent,” since they hold Israel to a standard different than that of any other country in the world. The Anti-Defamation League agreed that “the singling out of Israel for such punitive treatment is disingenuous and disproportionate”; in 2002, ADL president Abraham Foxman argued, “The focus on Israel is ludicrous and clearly the result of a double standard being applied, which raises the possibility that anti-Semitism is the real motive of divestment campaigns.”

Friday’s Chronicle featured an op-ed by Andrew Gerst ’06 spotlighting the Duke divestment campaign, which also calls on “the U.S. government to make military and arms sales to Israel conditional” on such demands as a “right of resettlement” for Palestinians. DukeDivest explains that it sees nothing wrong with calling for divestment solely from Israel, because “there are already plenty of campaigns active in opposing the practices of [other] discriminatory and repressive governments all around the world.” And it rationalizes its proposals through the dubious arguments typical of campus divestment movements:

  • claiming, falsely, that “torture is endemic and systemic—part and parcel of the Israeli Occupation and Israel’s security culture”;
  • contending, also falsely, that the Israeli government regularly employs torture against “left wing” political activists;
  • deeming “valid” a comparison between South Africa’s apartheid regime and Israel’s current democratically elected government.

Ending U.S. military aid to Israel, DukeDivest has reasoned, would make Israel “less able to brutalize Palestinians in the name of national security,” while (in an Orwellian line) leading “to more security for Israel and greater stability in the region as a whole.” In short, according to DukeDivest, American educational institutions should try to use their economic leverage to dictate another country’s national security policy.

Gerst, on the other hand, worried that the continued endorsement of divestment by a chunk of the arts and sciences faculty stained Duke as an institution. In his opinion, “There is no moral reason for any person to sign or continue to promulgate such a hateful, manipulative, and utterly false document.” He urged the faculty signatories—“men and women who have devoted their lives to the scholarly pursuit of truth”—to renounce their position.

According to DukeDivest’s “FAQ” document, “The faculty constitute the backbone of the academic community of the university; and their support shows the relevance of divestment across all sectors of the campus.” Who are these professors, whose behavior Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz has described as “either misinformed or malignant”?

Of the petition’s original signatories, 27 continue to occupy either tenured or tenure-track positions at Duke. It will surprise no one that a majority of these “professional” protesters also have formed the “backbone of the academic community of the university” in its response to the lacrosse case. DukeDivest’s membership includes such familiar names as:

  • Wahneema Lubiano, African American Studies, who told ESPN that she and other signatories of the Group of 88’s ad “knew some would see the ad as a stake through the collective heart of the lacrosse team.”
  • Orin Starn, Cultural Anthropology, who has aggressively exploited the case to further his campaign to transform Duke into a watered-down version of Haverford;
  • Grant Farred, Literature, who appeared at a recent event to “interpret” Duke’s “social disaster”;
  • Thavolia Glymph, History, who fretted that the negative DNA tests could result in the Group of 88's crusade to transform the campus “moving backwards”;
  • Anne Allison, Cultural Anthropology, a CCI subgroup co-chair who previously was rebuked for spending departmental funds on an advertisement criticizing the Bush administration’s foreign policy;
  • Robyn Wiegman, Women’s Studies, who earned a warm thank-you for her assistance in Karla Holloway’s latest anti-lacrosse screed.

Professors who have demanded that Duke divest from companies doing business in Israel also include Group of 88 signatories Srinivas Aravamudan (English), Leo Ching (Asian and African Languages and Literature), miriam cooke (Asian and African Languages and Literature), Michael Hardt (Literature), Ranjana Khanna (English), Frank Lentricchia (Theater Studies), Diane Nelson (Cultural Anthropology), Kathy Rudy (Women’s Studies), and Susan Thorne (History).

EphBlog, which focuses on events at Williams College—another institution that combines academic with athletic excellence, if at a Division III level—has been following the Duke case closely. In a perceptive set of remarks, it recently pointed to the relationship between how the Duke faculty has responded to the issue and the declining intellectual diversity on many college campuses, including Duke, today.

A “groupthink”-dominated faculty marginalizes the voices who dissent from the race/class/gender trinity. And in such an environment, extreme actions—such as demanding that Duke divest from companies doing business with a democratic ally of the United States, or publicly denouncing an institution’s own students based only on information supplied by a rogue district attorney—seem routine.

What does it say about Duke’s intellectual vitality that more than two dozen Duke professors signed a public statement whose terms Bill Clinton’s former treasury secretary termed “anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent,” and yet, nearly six months out, not even one member of the Duke arts and sciences faculty has publicly denounced Mike Nifong’s myriad procedural violations; or defended the personal character of any of the lacrosse players; or spoken up against Durham’s admitted policy of targeting Duke students for disproportionate punishment?

It seems, alas, that in challenging the academic groupthink that dominates the institution’s intellectual life few, if any, of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty are willing to lean against the spirit of the moment. Their behavior reflects poorly on the university.


Anonymous said...

Terrific analysis. What can Duke alumni, students and others do about this? Is there a course of action that makes sense?

Anonymous said...

After reading Holloway's rantings, I started to wonder about the quality of educators at Duke.
How did she become a professor, when she can't write a coherent sentence.
The answer appears to be if you follow the far left PC rules of hating America and Israel, lack of real academic achievement won't be held against you.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, K.C. An excellent article about the quality of educators in our institutions of higher learning. I wonder how many of the USNWR rankings are actually deserved based upon the education the students actually receive.
Texas Mom

Anonymous said...

I encourage all graduates of Duke to divest of any gifts to that institution until the Board and President of Duke demonstrate better leadership and clean up their house. This adds to the list of shocking activites at Duke.

Greg Toombs said...

re: anonymous 8:23 AM

Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado confirms your statement. He's another embarrassment, an academic of insubstantial standing with no apparent contribution other than a concession to political correctness and white guilt.

Anonymous said...

The faculty that signed this petition should be met with a student drive to have them affirm all of the 'FAQs'/statements of 'fact' that the group is putting out (israelis routinely torture people - including left leaning Israeli citizens...).

The 'divestment' issue is a joke. I would note, however, that if you were to follow this group's advice Duke would have to sell all their Berkshire Hathaway shares because a small subsidiary taken over this year (Based in Israeli but does much abrod anyway) is located in Israeli. Apparently this would be enabling them.

The divestment issue is a joke because I do not see many people asking for, say, the university to certify all their fuel comes from states that torture their citizens (much of the mideast), abolish all political rights, etc.

As it is these 'divestment' people don't seem to understand that University Endowments are basically closet tracker funds. That is, their performance closely mirrors that of a composite index of stock/bonds/or, now, hedge funds (which they access by using funds of funds which is an expensive version of a stock index tracker).

Their scholarship is horrid because the professors have warped incentives. Rather than have to teach to reach tenure they must produce research (and teach 2 classes a semester). This research is read by a very small segment of the academic community - the 'specialization' creates 'difficulty' in evaluating the merits of an individual when tenure comes they rely on letters from like minded 'intellectuals' plus they already tend to share some of the same views.

The group of 88 simply have too much time on their hands. You might want to read a book by 'Vedder' which, among other things, shows that the shift from teaching to research has led to professors who produce truly marginal research (which is subsidized by tuition/state/endowments/fed grants/etc)

Anonymous said...

all their fuel 'does not come' from such states.

Yes, I made an error. Forgive me.

Anonymous said...

Anthony Dick, writing about the Duke case in the NR...."The Crime of their Lives"

"In the academy and much of the media, the prevailing view of society is straightforwardly radical: Owing to a legacy of slavery and racism, America is saddled with a system of persistent structural inequality, which continues to confer significant advantages on dominant social groups. White men, especially, are collectively stained with the blot of original sin: Even if they are not themselves racist, they benefit from a society that has been oppressing minorities for ages.

On this way of thinking, the facts of the rape allegations at Duke can be seen as ancillary to a larger question of “social justice.” Whether the specific charges against the defendants are true or not, the imagery of the Duke rape scandal serves as powerful symbolic confirmation of what the Left already knows about America: There is little need to worry about the guilt of a few individuals when decades of scholarly inquiry have already convicted the whole society of rank oppression and exploitation.

This moral condemnation leads directly to feelings of guilt. The stars of today’s academy are mostly wealthy, white, and “privileged.” They are the gatekeepers of exclusive institutions with billion-dollar endowments. Socially and materially, they are entrenched near the pinnacle of Western society — the very society that they declare to be an oppressive hierarchy of exploitation, propped up by economic and racial injustice. From the comfortable heights of such a position, they perceive the need to seek redemption — to make up for the unfair advantages they have enjoyed. They accomplish this through a type of penance, performed by adopting pieties that display an appropriately critical attitude toward the established order.

This method of penance makes white liberal guilt quite distinct from self-loathing. In fact, the entire posture is infused from top to bottom with self-righteousness: Its very purpose is to establish moral superiority. By acknowledging one’s “privilege” and then striving to combat it through the conspicuous endorsement of radical political change, it becomes possible to dissociate oneself from the reactionary mainstream. Railing against the status quo thus facilitates the reconciliation of radical beliefs and bourgeois lifestyles.

Anonymous said...

Is there a web site opposing Duke divestment from Israel?

I remember when the campaign for Harvard and MIT to divest started, another group of students started an anti-divestment web site ... which got something like nine times as many signatures as the pro-divestment web site, in a shorter period of time.