Just when it appears the Group of 88 and their allies among the arts and sciences faculty cannot embarrass themselves further, another episode appears. The latest? A Friday article in the Chronicle, calling for Duke to “move forward”—but with two important caveats: (1) The institution should act as if that the facts involving the lacrosse team’s behavior are unchanged from March 31; and (2) How the arts and sciences faculty responded to the lacrosse case should, at all costs, remain unexamined.
Six professors penned the article. The sextet included:
- Group of 88 stalwart and civil rights historian William Chafe, who wrote on March 31 that the whites who lynched Emmett Till (even as he misidentified the year of the lynching) provided an appropriate context through which to interpret the actions of the lacrosse players;
- Clarifying professor Kerry Haynie, whose own record of responding to faculty critics of the Group of 88 is, to put it mildly, less than pristine;
- Biology professor Fred Nijhout, co-author of a sophomoric spoof of Paul Haagen’s common-sense proposal for a faculty athletics associates program.
With that sort of record, no wonder the Chafe sextet is so determined to “move forward” and prevent any critical inquiry into the faculty’s past actions.
The article’s apparent purpose: to pave the way for adoption of the Campus Culture Initiative’s proposals, most especially the requirement that Duke students take a required class that engages “the reality of difference in American society and culture.” It’s just a coincidence, of course, that the vast majority of these offerings are taught by . . . the Group of 88. The CCI, in effect, is a glorified Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative, with the Group seeking to use the lacrosse case to force all Duke students to take their classes.
Chafe, et al.—mimicking the “Listening to Lubiano” approach of the Group of 88’s statement—choose the all-too-familiar pattern of Duke professors using anonymous quotes from alleged Duke students to make their points. They write,
The comments of one Duke student illustrate the larger problem. “I went to a fraternity party on campus last fall,” a first-year woman disclosed, “and was shocked to see a stripper there, and hear insulting remarks made about her.” After listening to numerous such comments, it is clear that the hiring of such dancers for organized parties is no anomaly at Duke.
“We are all guilty,” another woman student declared, “because we have never called to account those people who have engaged in date rape or sexual assault.”
Who are these students? Were they potbangers? When and under what circumstances did they make their revelations? To what extent are they representative of campus opinion? What evidence exists that Duke as a campus has “never called to account those people who have engaged in date rape or sexual assault”? In what way do their comments, which appear to describe actual events, relate to the lacrosse case, which most people now consider a fraud? Chafe, et al., don’t say: such inconvenient facts would weaken their arguments.
The Chafe group likewise takes an unusual approach to the lacrosse affair, highlighting only three issues, all of which, they falsely claim, are undisputed. It is undisputed, these neo-prohibitionists proclaim, that underage drinking was “encouraged.” Encouraged by whom? Encouraged how? The Chafe group doesn’t say. They also deem it undisputed that “racial epithets” were used by lacrosse players—but while it is undisputed that one lacrosse player used a racial epithet as part of a racially charged argument initiated by Kim Roberts, only Mike Nifong, the accuser, and, apparently, the Chafe group consider anything else undisputed.
In a poignant yet determined critique, Michael Gustafson correctly noted, "I have no choice but to believe that moving forward, to these six faculty members, means take the story DA Nifong chose to tell and then fast-forward to now as if nothing else had happened. I have no choice but to believe that these faculty members, in seeing that the reality of the situation in no way plays into the assumptions of white, male, athlete privilege that our (blessedly former) colleague Houston Baker championed want us to base our thoughts and actions on the narrative created in the first two weeks rather than the realities discovered over the past eleven months."
Some of the Chafe group’s proposals seem in conflict with the public positions and actions of many members of the Group of 88 and clarifying faculty.
Chafe, et al.: “We need to demand accountability from every member of our community to maintain respect for each other, especially across racial, ethnic, sexual and gender lines. No use of racial epithets should be tolerated. Any denigration based on gender or sexuality should be equally unacceptable.”
On March 29, Houston Baker issued a public letter denouncing the lacrosse team. In the letter, he mentioned the players’ race and gender—in a denigrating fashion—no fewer than ten times.
No evidence exists that Chafe or his colleagues objected, then or now, to Baker’s remarks.
Chafe, et al.: “Duke students who experience abusive or irresponsible behavior should feel confident that they can speak out and know that their concerns will be heard and acted upon.”
Kyle Dowd certainly experienced irresponsible behavior from Kim Curtis, and no evidence exists that Duke ever “heard,” much less “acted upon,” his concerns. And, as Physics Professor Emeritus Lawrence Evans noted last week. “One hears stories, many with the ring of truth, about classroom discussions and even instructor’s lectures on the subject that clearly assumed the worst and suggested retribution against the players.” Students subjected to such in-class harangues never had their concerns “heard and acted upon.”
No evidence exists that Chafe or his colleagues objected, then or now, to Curtis’ actions, nor privately rebuked colleagues who abused their classroom authority this past spring.
Chafe, et al.: “We should have no double standards in academics or admissions and should insist on full integration of academic life and athletic life.”
Who could object to such a statement? Certainly not the lacrosse players, more than half of whom made the ACC Academic Honor Roll even last year, amidst all the controversy associated with Nifong’s actions. Are Chafe and his colleagues suggesting that the lacrosse players somehow benefited from “double standards in academics or admissions” at Duke? If so, upon what evidence do they base their claims?
Moreover, if Duke is to have “no double standards in academics or admissions,” racial preferences in admissions presumably would need to be eliminated as well. Yet in Chafe’s “farewell” address as dean of faculty (2004), he enthusiastically celebrated using “diversity” as a factor in admissions. It appears that the article of Chafe, et al., needed a rewrite: “We should have quantifiable double standards that advance our political agenda in academics or admissions, but avoid alleged double standards that we find politically or ideologically unappealing.”
Chafe, et al.: “Students and faculty alike should pledge to uphold a code of mutual respect and of caring about each other.”
Over the summer, History professor Peter Wood went out of his way to appear to slander Duke students. In October, Literature professor Grant Farred penned an op-ed accusing Duke students who registered to vote in
No evidence exists that Chafe or his colleagues objected, then or now, to the remarks of Wood, Farred, or Holloway.
On the Chronicle message board, one Duke alum lamented,
This is truly the saddest article I have read on this subject. To think that these professors still think that they can pontificate in this unsubstantiated way and be taken seriously is very depressing. Either the university is employing individuals entirely out of touch with reality or the campus environment has degraded to the point that this sort of behavior is normal. Either possibility is depressing beyond my worst previous fears of the situation.
Viewed as the third step in the Group of 88’s Rehab Tour, the Chafe, et al., article is as unimpressive as the “clarifying” statement or the “shut up and teach” forum. “Moving forward,” the ostensible demand of Chafe, et. al., will be possible only when those professors whose behavior violated tenets of professional integrity acknowledge their misconduct.