Friday, February 16, 2007

Condemned to Repetition

The Group of 88’s Monday event—ostensibly designed to confront “the current of criticism and attempts at intimidation directed against faculty who comment on larger social and political issues, and following the events of last spring, this forum addresses connections between faculty interests and local, national, and international politics”—seems to have fared no better in improving the Group’s reputation than did the “clarifying” letter.

Instead, the event only confirmed the aphorism that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Flyers for the event contained “McCarthy” with a line struck through the word. The invocation of McCarthyism generated a thoughtful letter to the editor from Economics professor Roy Weintraub, who had more than his share of personal experience with the issue:

In the late 1940s, my father, an economist, was attacked in newspaper editorials in The Brooklyn Eagle for teaching communism to nice Catholic boys at St. John’s University. He was, of course, an early Keynesian. In the late 1940s, the man who would become my doctoral adviser had to leave the United States for almost a decade to avoid the agitated involvement of the Regents of the University of Michigan in his tenure case, based on his admitted connection with the Communist Party as a graduate student and young instructor. In those years with the Smith Act in place, one could be jailed for being a Communist Party member. That he was doing the work for which he would later win the Nobel Prize mattered not at all to the Regents.
And my college classmate was Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s older son.

So I read with astonishment the recent panelists’ invocation of McCarthyism as their characterization of the criticism they have received for their public statements or writings. They face no death sentence, no jail time, no threats from Trustees or administrators of employment termination, no loss of income, no loss of custody of their children, no loss of their passports, no reduction whatsoever in their public or private circumstances.

I don’t ask the panelists to shut up and teach. I ask them instead to understand that for various Duke faculty, staff, administrators, students, parents and alumni to disagree with them in public or in private is neither McCarthyism nor an academic travesty and betrayal of the values of our institution, but is rather an expression of their believing otherwise.
Shorn of its inflammatory rhetoric, the Group members’ position appears to be:

(1) Their critics should “shut up and teach”—as, indeed, one presenter, Charles Piot, stated outright at the conclusion of his Monday remarks.

(2) It is McCarthyism to criticize faculty members at one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions for issuing a statement so extraordinary that it was cited in a defense motion for change of venue, even though they have given inconsistent and even demonstrably incorrect explanations regarding the statement’s origins.

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Monday’s event seemed unable to remember the past in another way. Though billed a “teach-in,” it restricted the exchange of ideas.

In their purest form, 1960s teach-ins consisted of faculty attempting to transmit their knowledge about Southeast Asia to students and even a public that had little understanding about the area. Participants in 1960s teach-ins wanted to make sure as many people as possible had access to their ideas, and weren’t afraid of defending their positions in the face of skeptical questions.

The Monday “teach-in,” on the other hand, went out of its way to prevent dissemination of the speakers’ ideas. At least two bloggers attended with video recorders, with intent to post a tape of the event on the web—so people could hear the Group members in their own words. Given that Group members have consistently claimed that their writings have been “misread,” they should have welcomed this move. Instead, they banned all recording devices from the event.

At the very least, participants in a “teach-in” should have been willing to defend their viewpoints. Indeed, one participant, Group of 88 member Mark Anthony (“thugniggaintellectual”) Neal, asserted, “We live in the world of ideas, in the marketplace of ideas.”

The participants did not practice what Neal preached. Instead, they seemed outright afraid of getting tough questions—perhaps on the basis of the open (and thus far unanswered) questions from Friends of Duke. The session opened with an announcement that journalists and bloggers would be forbidden to ask questions. In other words, the goal would be to preach to the converted, not to persuade the undecided.

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So what did occur at the session? John in Carolina, Locomotive Breath from the Liestoppers forum, and a blogger from Duke New Sense attended the session and took careful notes. Their reports make clear why the Group members worked so hard to prevent dissemination of their words from outside the confines of the “teach-in” room.

Looking forward to the day when “we’ll all get along together after the revolution’s over,” lead speaker Wahneema Lubiano promised to run to the barricades, to save her job at least, if the university adopted policies she opposed. Lubiano was fresh off the revelation in the Chronicle of Higher Education that eight of the anonymous student “quotes” from the Group of 88’s ad actually came not from a transcript but second-hand, from her notes. In effect, 87 other Duke professors signed a public statement declaring that they were “listening to Lubiano.”

Lubiano appears to have received only one tough question—from a Duke junior, who asked how the “listening” ad was formulated, how signatories found out about it, and why there was no response from the sciences. Her response? Reported LB, the African-American Studies program “wanted to produce ad and had to do it quickly. Circulated it to people on their lists. Sent to some departments and not to others. Gave them a 48 hour deadline!!” As LB notes, “If the ad wasn’t about lax, why the rush, except to capitalize on the moment?”

Recall the timeline: based on Lubiano’s remarks, it appears to Group wanted the ad out before the DNA reports came in, lest a report of no matches lead to—as Group member Thavolia Glymph would lament—things “moving backwards” on campus.

Then, according to LB’s notes, Charles Piot made an extraordinary claim: the Group of 88 is now, effectively, the Group of 89, because President Brodhead had signed on to the ad in a recent Chronicle interview. This assertion, to put it mildly, seems an overstatement of what Brodhead actually said.

Other speakers devoted themselves to less worldly matters. Pedro Lasch handed out a set of questions entitled, “game scenario: knowledge/power/violence vs. knowledge/power/social justice.” Diane Nelson passed around to participants a string, which a student then cut, to symbolize disconnectedness. As one commenter at Liestoppers noted, this activity seemed more appropriate for elementary school playtime than a serious academic presentation.

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As occurred in Lubiano’s and Piot’s assertions about the Group of 88, the presenters consistently strayed from the claim that the forum wasn’t about the lacrosse case. Amidst his game scenario, Lasch departed from the script to assert that “women live in an environment of constant sexual violence.” Robyn Weigman, Director of Women’s Studies, added, “It’s not a crime to assume alleged victim of sexual violence is telling the truth.” No, it’s not. But it is a rush to judgment, especially when 88 professors take out an advertisement based on this assumption.

Piot, meanwhile, devoted his presentation to . . . criticizing this blog—which, he hastened to add, was not read by even one of 100 students he had sampled. A good portion of Piot’s remarks came almost verbatim from an e-mail distributed by Orin Starn, to which I had previously responded by e-mail (a copy is here).

Piot’s assertion that the blog employs tactics comparable to those of unnamed dictators in West Africa was more than mildly amusing. His refusal to respond to straightforward questions from John in Carolina is unsurprising. His claim that the “blog produces vile racism” might have been more persuasive had he provided a quote from even one of the blog’s 403 posts. His complaint that the blog “had the temerity to question one of the Duke faculty on IRB approval for a study” might have made more sense to the undoubtedly perplexed audience had he mentioned that the issue involved a course taught by his partner, Group of 88 member Anne Allison.

Piot explained that he and members of the Group of 88 are not anti-athlete, and that “hundreds of athletes enrolled” in AAAS courses (since the program has only 33 majors, this claim seems remarkable). Nonetheless, if true, it seems to me Piot should eagerly sign the Economics Department professors’ public petition, which stated, “We welcome all members of the lacrosse team, and all student athletes, as we do all our students as fellow members of the Duke community, to the classes we teach and the activities we sponsor.”

Piot added a final charge: the blog, he fumed, had engaged in “publicizing syllabi” of Duke professors. At most academic institutions, syllabi are not considered top-secret documents: indeed, all of my syllabi, along with my lecture notes, are available on-line.

I fear that Piot based his belief that faculty should be free from public scrutiny on another overlooked aspect of the past. It seems that he has forgotten the famous saying of former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: sunlight is the best disinfectant.

218 comments:

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M. Simon said...

C4,

I was into Yeagly before I even heard of Ward C.

Dr. Y wrote an opera about the Holocaust that actually got performed. I haven't read any reviews.

M. Simon said...

C4,

Latin America went left because it failed to heed the example of Chile.

Real capitalism works fine if entry and exit from the market is open.

It fails where that is not the case.

Of course Chile had the advantage of that ruthless dictator Pinochet who brought in the Chicago Boyz.

Anonymous said...

O,

thanks for the links

beckett, when did you graduate from BP? I graduated in 1970, when Father Alexander was headmaster

Polanski

M. Simon said...

gary 10:57,

I wouldn't take all that as gospel.

It seems the universe has a prefrence for amino acids. They are found in outer space.

The anti-spontaneos creation guys tell you about a tornado in a junk yard.

The real universe is more like a tornado in a magnet factory. Why? Because chemical elements have preferred ways of bonding.

M. Simon said...

Observer,

Average IQ of the prison population is 92. I don't know the standard deviation. Probably around 10 since the higher the IQ the less likely to be in prison.

Any standard deviation less than about 12.5 would make the example an outlier. (greater than 3 std. devs.)

M. Simon said...

O 10:59,

The second piece is misleading.

Yes early intervention raises a child's abilities.

By age 25 that effect disappears. For most it is gone by age 16.

Anonymous said...

Simon,

Think you're off on the Ash IQ. My sources put it at 1/2 SD above non-Ash Europeans

Polanski

Anonymous said...

Father Alexander was also my headmaster. I got out two years ahead of you.

Jack Lawn, later head of the DEA and onetime VP for the Yankees, was my most memorable teacher, although the competition was stiff among that crew of whackjobs.

Years later I bumped into my sophomore latin teacher, a scholastic named Amandolare, on the streets of NYC. He'd become an Adlerian psychoanalyst. He was also a great favorite of mine and the first person in authority I'd ever heard use a profanity while conducting official business. He said "bullshit" in front of the class.

I've got a million stories about BP.

beckett

PubliusCorneliusScipio (Africanus) said...

The reason I brought up Venona was to point out that using the son of the Rosenbergs as an example of McCarthyist overreach is a terrible example. If one were trying to be sympathetic to the children of kidnap victims, one would not use as an example "I was in high school with Eichmann's son." That the Rosenbergs were guilty is unquestionable. As is the fact that many if not most of those accused by McCarthy were indeed Soviet spies. Many others were not spies in the sense that they passed classified info to the Soviets, but through their activities with the CPUSA, undeniably KGB front, they aided the Soviets nonetheless. Tailgunner Joe was not a good man. He helped the soldier who willfully allowed Goering to escape justice avoid justice himself. While his crusade against US communists overreached, the sad truth is that most leftists today will not accept the fact that so many of their "brothers" were indeed traitors and therefore not innocent victims of McCarthyism. Yes, they were "victims" of McCarthyism, the same way that the Nuremberg trials "victimized" the Nazi leadership or that Mussolini was "victimized" by the partisans. Their guilt is overwhelmingly established in the Venona decrypts, in the evidence provided by our spies in the Soviet Union, and in the writings of former KGB men who left Russia after the fall of the USSR.
I do not think that the professor chose the Rosenberg case to show solidarity with the "victims" of McCarthyism, but rather because he maintains belief in their innocence despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That said, 88 other Duke professors seem to believe things in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary too, so perhaps Duke has a problem with faculty being unable to discern fact from leftist fantasy.

Anonymous said...

Beckett,

Did you have Devlin for Latin? That bastard would call my father when I cut class--LOL

Artie Browne is opinion editor for NY Daily News.

Did Duffy the gym teacher ever verify you were waring a jock?

And swimming naked in the pool was a bit gay--don't you agree?

And the prefect of discipline would slap me if I spoke during jug--that guy was a real asshole.

You go to the reunions?

Polanski

PubliusCorneliusScipio (Africanus) said...

Bob_R said:
"While it is now clear that the Rosenbergs were traitors (at least in the case of Julius), their trial was tainted by a lot of prosecutorial overreach and political hysteria. This might not be a very good forum to say that one shouldn't care about the fairness of a trial if the outcome is desirable."


I find it hard to accept the notion that the Rosenberg's faced prosecutorial overreach for providing a man who killed more people than Hitler with atomic weaponry. . Prosecutorial overreach exists in the Duke non-rape case because of the extreme lack of evidence (and piles of exculpatory evidence) against the accused and in the actions of the prosecutor, not because of media and political hysteria. Certainly, we did not have access to Venona at the time of the Rosenberg trial, but that does not excuse the continued denial of guilt by their children AFTER the release of the Venona cables, etc. Nor does it excuse the sympathy among "intellectuals" for the Rosenbergs at the time. They were convicted spies, traitors to the United States, undeserving of any sympathy.

I cannot bring myself to care about the pain endured by the Rosenbergs' son. His parents were traitors whose worked resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens, Koreans, Vietnamese, Americans, etc. Again, would the example mentioned in my last post make one think of the sympathy one might have for the executed Adolf Eichmann?

Again, the Rosenberg reference, and the references to all of McCarthyism's "victims," came not from symapthy, but from denial. Even if the professor is on the correct side of the truth in the Duke case, his examples serve merely to satisfy leftists who are more concerned with his ideological purity on other issues than to make a point about history. Such examples are best avoided.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Duff the Gruff looked a little too closely as we frolicked nude in the pool. Never liked the guy.

I did have Devlin - a prick. Nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, locative, vocative. Ahhh, how sweet. I've still got it.

Artie Browne and I rode the LIRR together every morning. Did you know he could read backwards as quickly as frontwards. He amused himself, and annoyed us, every morning by reading backwards and out loud the ads on the train. He could also do 300 situps and was extremely proud of that fact. I wonder how many he can do now.

beckett

Anonymous said...

On the most widely used IQ tests, the standard deviation is 15. This means that 68 percent of the population falls between 85 and 115.

BTW, President Bush's IQ is estimated at around 125 to 127 based on his SAT scores and his military intelligence test.

I have read that Gore and Clinton come in around 134. One of the most brilliant presidents in the last century was Richard Nixon at an estimated 155.

John Kerry at around 115, based on his military intelligence test, comes in at around the 83rd percentile, this being a one-tailed test. While not exactly a slouch, Kerry would have been the dumbest president since JFK.

When Kerry was asked how he could have scored below President Bush on the military intelligence test, he responded that he must have been drunk the night before.

Finally, Lowenstien Institute hoax putting President Bush at 91 was completely bebunked.

Obviously, this is all off topic, but pretty interesting nonetheless.

Mike in Nevada

Anonymous said...

Beckett,

I took the train, too--to Rockville Centre.

Are you interested in defunding victim studies at Duke?

It's vulnerable to a serious attack right now--the alumni are fed up.

Polanski

Laika's Last Woof said...

Pedro Lasch: “women live in an environment of constant sexual violence.”

In a manner starkly reminiscent of Heisenberg's principle that observation affects the observed, the above statement simply by its utterance forces one of two mutually exclusive truths:

1. "Women live in an environment of constant sexual violence."

2. "Men live in an environment of constant false accusations of sexual violence."

The false assertion of (1) necessarily proves (2).

M. Simon said...

5:04AM,

in symbolic logic:

a = /b

if /a then b

/ standing for not (commonly used in some PAL programming logic interpreters).

Anonymous said...


Pedro Lasch: “women live in an environment of sexual violence.”


This, of course, is untrue, unless you define sexual violence so loosely that simply looking longingly at a woman when she doesn't want it is regarded as sexual violence.

And, of course, some percentage of women are capable of sexual aggression as well.

The real problem is that men and women run different risks. Women run the risk that they will be left holding the baby. Men run the risk that they will be left holding someone else's baby and also the big risk that they will have no offspring at all.

Laika's Last Woof said...

"This, of course, is untrue ..."

This is a revolutionary idea and should cause us all to rethink the very existence of Feminist / Women's Studies programs, as these are the source of the constant stream of false accusations, all of which are against men and all of which are therefore sexist.

If the first rule of holes is "stop digging" one of the first steps to ending sexism is ending feminism.

While we're at it we need to see if any of the various Critical Race Theorists pushing the "everyone is a racist" trope are correct or not. Again, in a perfect world a class of paid academics whose role or net effect is to accuse the innocent of racism are themselves the cause and should be defunded accordingly.

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