In recent weeks, a consistent mantra from the Group of 88 has been the need to “move forward.” A late February op-ed coordinated by Group of 88 stalwart William Chafe raised the theme the most explicitly, with the accompanying caveat that how the arts and sciences faculty responded to the lacrosse case should, at all costs, remain unexamined.
But Chafe and his ideological allies also want to remain free to exploit the lacrosse affair to advance their personal, ideological, or pedagogical agendas, all while implying that the institution should act as if that the facts involving the lacrosse team’s behavior are unchanged from March 31.
The Group of 88’s position amounts to the following: other Duke faculty should accept its agenda uncritically, without exploring whether the Group’s dubious conduct over the past year calls into question the merits of its recommendations.
It is difficult to reconcile the claims of Chafe and his colleagues that they are interested in “moving forward,” in encouraging a healing process on campus, with the decision of Group of 88 member Paula McClain to run for chair of Duke’s Academic Council. A strong candidate with impeccable Duke credentials, Craig Henriquez, was willing to serve. (Henriquez, a professor of biomedical engineering, received his B.A., summa cum laude, and Ph.D. degrees from Duke.) He had taken no outspoken positions, one way or the other, on the lacrosse case.
Instead, Academic Council members narrowly elected McClain, a figure with minimal Duke connections. She received her B.A. and Ph.D. from Howard, and came to Duke only in 2000, as part of a wave of “diversity” hires championed by then-Dean Chafe.
McClain, it’s worth recalling, has done more than affix her signature to the Group of 88 and “clarifying” faculty statements.
- When asked over the summer if she was willing to speak out publicly to urge due process for the Duke students targeted by Nifong, McClain answered succinctly: “No.”
- When asked about Paul Haagen’s proposal to pair individual professors with athletic teams, to give the faculty a better sense of athletic life for Duke students, she told the N&O that “people are just aghast that it’s being considered.” To reiterate, McClain and her supporters were aghast not that the common-sense idea was adopted, but that an idea she didn’t like was considered. Was this a preview of the type of open-minded leadership that she’ll provide over the next two years?
- McClain incorrectly asserted, in a summertime interview, that black faculty members never got to meet with a top administrator to discuss the lacrosse case, even though a University-prepared timeline of the administration’s actions indicated that President Brodhead himself met with black faculty on April 3 to discuss the incident.
While extraordinarily sensitive to perceived racial slights from the administration, McClain remained silent as her Group of 88 colleagues delivered racially inflammatory statements. She said nothing when Houston Baker issued a public letter that mentioned the players’ race, in a derogatory fashion, no fewer than 10 times. She stood aside as Grant Farred preposterously alleged a “secret racism” among Duke students. She had no rebuke as Karla Holloway sent out an e-mail containing unsubstantiated, fifth-hand, slanderous allegations against Duke students.
McClain’s presence as chairwoman of the Academic Council means that the Group of 88’s response to the lacrosse affair will remain alive for at least the next two years, since any position that she takes will have to be viewed in the context of her apparent desire to promote the most extreme aspects of the Group’s agenda.
The reality is the world is changing, the country is changing, and we have to change. If Duke wants to remain competitive and remain a top-notch institution, it’s got to change with the times. Change is very difficult, especially for people who came through Duke years ago.
Quite beyond her condescending dismissal of Duke alumni, a critical aspect of the CCI’s proposals is the Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative, the measure to require all Duke students to take a class that engages “the reality of difference in American society and culture.” The vast majority of these offerings are taught by . . . the Group of 88.
Take, for instance, McClain herself. Her website lists three undergraduate classes that she teaches:
- Race and American Politics
- Introduction to Racial and Ethnic Minorities in American Politics
- Race in Comparative Perspective
Each of these offerings would be included in the Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative. So Academic Council Chairwoman McClain will use her position to champion the agenda of Group of 88 member McClain to boost the enrollment of classes taught by Professor McClain.
McClain’s narrow election suggested a peculiar tone-deafness among the Academic Council. It does not serve the best interests of either the faculty or the institution for the Council to be led by a figure whose statements and actions of the past 12 months have discredited her.
McClain did not respond to multiple e-mails requesting comment.