Yesterday’s Chronicle featured a statement endorsed by more than 1,000 Duke students asking, “What Does a Social Disaster Sound Like?” To the students, it sounded like a group of 88 professors who, “in a time of intense emotions and enormous stakes, when our community dearly needed a call for calm, for patience, for rational and careful thinking . . . instead took a course of action which escalated tensions, spurred divisions along lines of race and class, and brought our community into greater turmoil.” The Duke students termed themselves “ashamed by the apparent decision of these faculty members to exploit a tragic situation to further their own political and social agendas.”
Accordingly, the students demanded either an apology from the Group of 88 or President Brodhead to “come forward and defend his students against the assaults launched by his own faculty.”
The timing of the student ad could not have been more appropriate: it coincided with a major article from the Chronicle’s Chelsea Allison and Nate Freeman exploring the Group’s attitudes after the AG’s report explaining his proclamation of the players’ innocence. The headline: “Profs stand by ‘social disaster’ ad.” There would be no apologies from the Group of 88. (One of the 88, Math professor Arlie Petters, had previously expressed his regrets for signing the ad; the other 87 signatories have refused to do so.)
That said, the Group members quoted in the article—History’s Claudia Koonz, Pete Sigal, and William Chafe; and History/Women’s Studies professor Jocelyn Olcott—appeared to take different approaches to the path ahead.
Divided. Koonz’s comments best captured this division. She admitted that Mike Nifong had committed “misconduct”—an almost unprecedented assertion for a Group member, most of whom spent months enabling the disgraced district attorney’s efforts. She also conceded that the signatories of the ad were “naïve”—a remarkable statement in many respects, given that we’re talking about professors at one of the country’s best universities. More important, Koonz affirmed that while she would still support the statement, “I would just add one more sentence: ‘Let the justice system decide.’”
The Group’s statement, of course, declared that something “happened to this young woman [Crystal Mangum]”—not “allegedly” happened or “might have” happened. It also said “thank you” to protesters “for not waiting and for making yourselves heard”—protesters who in the 10 days before the statement appeared had blanketed the campus with “wanted” posters and who had carried banners reading “Castrate.”
In short, the philosophical change that Koonz retrospectively endorsed would have required re-writing much of the statement, not just one sentence. At least, however, she was somewhat apologetic in tone, and wasn’t attempting to deny the ad’s purpose.
Defiant. Contrast Koonz’s approach with the hard-line responses of Olcott and especially Sigal.
Olcott declared, “We have a lot of work to do to close the wounds that have opened up, but I hope that the healing can start now.” This is an admirable sentiment—but since Olcott refuses to acknowledge that the actions of the Group contributed to the “wounds that have opened up,” her call for “healing” to “start now” seems more like a desperate plea for the Group not to be held accountable for its actions.
Olcott also bizarrely rationalized her decision to sign the statement by citing the media portrayals of Duke from late March and early April of 2006—most of which, as we know now, were based on a false premise that a crime occurred. The women’s studies professor told the Chronicle, “I’ll admit that the combination of all these stories coming out made me ask myself, ‘Would I want my niece to come to Duke?’ I want this to be a place where someone like her can thrive intellectually and personally, and that wasn’t what I saw.” I e-mailed Olcott to ask whether, given the conduct we have seen from Duke professors over the past 13 months, she would want a nephew who played lacrosse to come to Duke. She didn’t reply.
Sigal, meanwhile, suggested that the ad wasn’t even about the lacrosse case—its copious references to events of March 13/14, and the guilt-presuming student quotes, and the thanking of protesters apparently referenced some other, unknown, event. He added that he signed the statement because “I support working with students to help amplify their voices.” I e-mailed Sigal to ask how many other full-page Chronicle ads he had signed onto (either before April 6, 2006, or since that time) containing anonymous student quotes. I also asked what steps he took to ensure that the quotes in the ad were accurate, and actually came from Duke students, as opposed to non-Duke students who attended the March 29, 2006 forum. He did not reply.
It is, moreover, difficult to take seriously Sigal’s “student-based” agenda given his silence, and that of every other Group member, to obvious attempts to silence student voices—whether in the form of death threats against Reade Seligmann last May, or questionable in-class conduct by some Duke professors (including several in the History Department) late last March. It seems as if Sigal is more interested in “working with students to help amplify their voices” if he agrees with those students’ positions on issues of race, class, and gender.
Delusional. Meanwhile, William Chafe identified the true victims of this case—the Group of 88. And he lashed out at the real villains—people who produce blogs.
In an e-mail to the Chronicle, the former Dean of Faculty wildly contended, “I am appalled at the way that bloggers who have targeted the ‘Group of 88’ have put words in our mouths, denied our individuality and [used] racist and violent language to attack us—including sending us e-mails and making phone calls wishing our deaths and calling us ‘Jew b-’ and ‘n-b-’.” [emphasis added]
Chafe cited no evidence to substantiate his allegation about “bloggers who have targeted the ‘Group of 88’.” But coming from the same person who argued that the whites who kidnapped, beat, and drowned Emmett Till provided the appropriate historical context through which to view the behavior of the lacrosse players, unfounded allegations are no surprise.
Quite beyond the unintended irony of accusing “bloggers”—as a bloc, stripped of their individuality—of denying the “individuality” of people who signed a joint public statement, Chafe’s claim is absurd on its face. Imagine how such a threatening phone conversation would work:
Blogger Who Has Targeted the Group of 88: Prof. Chafe?
Blogger Who Has Targeted the Group of 88: I am a blogger who has targeted the Group of 88. I now am going to shower you with vile racist, sexist, and anti-semitic epithets . . . By the way, please visit my blog at www.racist.blogspot.com.
Unfortunately, since the Group has publicly claimed to have involved the police in this matter, Chafe’s very specific allegation—that not anonymous e-mailers but “bloggers who have targeted the ‘Group of 88’” have engaged in criminal activity—needs to be treated seriously. I contacted every blogger who has done more than one post about the Group and its activities (except for Johnsville News, which has no e-mail contact info). I asked each whether he or she had phoned or e-mailed Chafe or any other Group member; and if so, in what context.
The responses: Bill Anderson, Michael Gustafson, and La Shawn Barber, as well as the bloggers from Liestoppers, Friends of Duke, Lead and Gold, Betsy’s Page, Crystal Mess, and John in
I have e-mailed many Group members at various stages of the case to request comment. Along these lines, I e-mailed Chafe once, on May 3. The full text of my e-mail exchange with him is here. I doubt that anyone could argue that my two e-mails wished his death or in any way used violent language.
So who, precisely, are these “bloggers who have targeted the ‘Group of 88’” to which Chafe referred? I suspect that we will learn their identity at about the same time the Group of 88 takes the advice of the masses of Duke students represented in yesterday’s ad and issues a joint apology.