The Group of 88’s ad did not include a list of all 88 Duke faculty members who signed onto the statement. But it did specifically assert that five Duke academic departments (Romance Studies; Psychology: Social and Health Sciences; Art, Art History, and Visual Studies; Classical Studies; and Asian & African Languages & Literature) as well as 10 academic programs formally endorsed the statement.
It is hard to overstate how unusual such an endorsement is. Academic departments rarely sign onto statements that do not directly deal with departmental concerns. That nearly 20 percent of a school’s arts and sciences departments would endorse a statement such as that produced by the Group of 88 is extraordinary. These departmental (and program) endorsements gave the statement added heft—perhaps explaining why the statement’s principal author, Wahneema Lubiano, included the names of the relevant departments in the text.
How could it be, as occurred in each of the five departments above, that a majority of a department’s professors did not sign onto the ad individually, but then took the far more significant step of supporting a formal departmental endorsement of the statement?
Well, it turns out, they didn’t.
In some, and perhaps all, of the five departments, no vote to sign onto the ad ever occurred. There was no informal polling of department members, either. Some, and perhaps all, of the departments listed as signing onto the Group of 88’s statement did not, in fact, ever endorse the ad.
Two members of the Classical Studies Department had informed me that no departmental vote on whether to endorse the ad occurred, and so I asked the department’s chairman, Peter Burian, what had happened. He replied,
Your information is correct. The department did not vote to endorse the ad. An individual faculty member gave the “go ahead,” and at least one member of the department was upset that this had happened without departmental consent. The action was well-intentioned, if in retrospect it may appear mistaken; it needs to be understood in the context of the immediate, highly emotional reactions to the first reports of the incident.
In effect, then, a professor decided to confer upon herself the authority to speak on behalf not only of her 10 colleagues but also an established department of
No doubt that the situation in
Academic freedom carries with it responsibilities as well as rights—and one responsibility is to follow accepted procedures, or at least make a good faith effort to do so. It’s hard for me to believe that a tenured, full professor was unaware that she did not have the authority to unilaterally say that her department endorsed a public statement.
An even murkier situation exists in the (since consolidated) Department of Psychology: Social and Health Sciences. Two members of the (then) department told me that no vote occurred on whether the department as a whole should endorse the ad; and the department’s then-chairman, Tim Strauman, confirmed that he had no recollection of any vote. Had such a vote taken place, of course, the motion to endorse almost certainly would have been rejected—since not even one member of the department individually signed the Group of 88’s statement.
So on what basis did Lubiano claim that Psychology: Social and Health Sciences endorsed the ad? She isn’t saying: she earlier had instructed me, when I asked her what evidence she possessed that the Brodhead administration had responded last spring in an overly favorable fashion to the lacrosse players, “Do not email me again. I am putting your name and email address in my filter.”
The “endorsement” of a third department also does not appear to have occurred: In Art, Art History, and Visual Studies, 10 of the 12 faculty did not sign the statement individually. I e-mailed the department chairman, Hans van Miegroet, to ask under what procedures his department endorsed the ad; he declined comment.
The chairs of the other two departments to sign onto the ad (Leo Ching and Margaret Greer) were members of the Group of 88. They did not reply to requests on what procedures their departments followed in electing to sign onto the ad.
At the Volokh Conspiracy, Northwestern law professor Jim Lindgren (who has served as an associate dean at two universities) explained the severity of this breach of academic protocol.
Could it be that one or more of the approximately 15 departments or programs that supposedly endorsed the letter did not do so? Did the letter writers fabricate departmental or programmatic support that did not exist, either intentionally or out of confusion?
That is a truly frightening possibility, even if less likely to have happened than some of the other [possible explanations]. After the Group of 88’s letter was published with departments and programs at Duke presented as official signatories, the President or the administration would likely have talked to at least a few chairs to determine the circumstances of their departments’ signing on. Is it possible that the President or another member of his administration had discovered that the authors of the Group of 88 were falsely claiming official Duke departmental endorsements that were fraudulent—and kept silent about it?
Leading a university is like herding cats, and faculty members can be expected to make many irresponsible statements for which the administration can’t reasonably be held responsible. But claiming departmental support (if there were none) is a claim that an administration would have a moral (and perhaps a legal) obligation to correct. Publishing the Group of 88’s letter certainly damaged the reputation of the Duke students accused of rape, and encouraged those who were harassing them. If a professor lied about whether departments or programs at Duke joined in the denunciation of the accused Duke students, that lie would have damaged the reputation of those students.
The false claim of departmental endorsements, ironically, was then reaffirmed in the January “clarifying” statement—which defiantly rejected calls to apologize or to back down in any way from the Group of 88 statement. Whatever else motivated them, the “clarifying” faculty certainly were not responding to the emotions of Crystal Mangum’s initial allegations and Mike Nifong’s pre-primary publicity barrage. So it remains the official, public position of more than 100 Duke professors that the departments of Classical Studies, Psychology: Social and Health Sciences, and Art/Art History formally endorsed the Group of 88 ad.
Last spring, there was a spring break party that featured drinking and boorish, raunchy entertainment—hardly an extraordinary occurrence, except perhaps at institutions such as
A few weeks later, what Lindgren correctly called a “frightening” breach of academic protocol occurred, in which three and perhaps five departments were listed as endorsing a highly controversial public statement even though the departments had never voted to endorse the statement—and, in fact, even though a majority of at least three of the departments clearly did not support it. This abandonment of standard academic procedure has, to date, produced no critical comment at all, from anyone in the Brodhead administration.
In one of her essays on the case, USC law professor Susan Estrich wrote, “There are reasons you follow procedures. In general, they are there to spare outrage.” Following procedures in this instance would have spared the outrage of a document prominently cited in the defense change-of-venue motion falsely claiming endorsement from several of Duke’s academic departments.