Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Defending the Indefensible

Yesterday’s post looked at President Brodhead’s pattern of asserting that the Group of 88 has nothing to apologize for—even as some Group members themselves have admitted they’re sorry for their statement.

Today’s post examines another peculiar aspect of Brodhead’s approach: the president’s defining the statement as innocuous and unrelated to the specifics of the lacrosse case—even as some Group members themselves have admitted that their intent was to criticize the lacrosse players.

The first sign of this element of Brodhead revisionism came in his January Chronicle interview, when he positioned the Group of 88’s statement as an example of “faculty members talked about those underlying issues [of race, class, and gender].” In this version of the past, the Group’s statement was nothing more than what might be seen in the average department meeting of the Duke Literature program.

Then, in April, in a “Duke Conversation” appearance in Chicago, Brodhead offered another benign definition of Group of 88’s statement, terming it “a petition defending students who, as minorities, felt threatened by the situation.” The suggestion seemed to be that dozens of Duke professors routinely take out full-page ads in the Chronicle expressing solidarity with student viewpoints the faculty happen to find appealing.


Upholding Brodhead’s claim about the Group’s benign intentions, however, requires ignoring the words of Group signatories themselves. Several Group members made clear—both at the time and thereafter—that their intention in signing the statement was to condemn the lacrosse players.

So wrote the statement’s point person herself, Wahneema Lubiano. In the e-mail that she sent early last April requesting signatories, she was blunt as to the ad’s motivation. The opening sentence: African & African-American Studies is placing an ad in The Chronicle about the lacrosse team incident.” [emphasis added]

Those who received Lubiano’s e-mail responded in kind. Take, for instance, English professor Maurice Wallace. In an April 3, 2006 e-mail, Wallace chastised his colleagues for not endorsing Houston Baker’s March 29, 2006 open letter, which demanded the summary expulsion from Duke of every member of the lacrosse team and the dismissal of Coach Mike Pressler.

Wallace proclaimed that his actions would be guided by his displeasure with “the university’s handling of this unambiguously racist and sexist social disaster, whatever a criminal investigation turns up.” He, for one, would not “let pass, unchallenged, the affront to higher education and anyone’s moral intelligence the Duke men’s lacrosse team and its coaches have been permitted to carry out over years.”

Wallace’s words contained no mention of defending minority students. Three days later, Wallace’s signature appeared on the Group of 88 ad.

Or take the case of Literature professor Kenneth Surin. Several months ago, I asked Surin how he could sign the “clarifying” faculty statement, which purported to explain the intent of the Group of 88’s ad, when he had not signed the original ad. He replied that he would have endorsed the statement had he been able to do so (he missed Wahneema Lubiano’s tight deadline, which was apparently designed to get the ad out before the initial results of DNA tests appeared).

What was Surin’s rationale in supporting the statement? To express his outrage at the lacrosse party, the team’s “significant track record of alcohol-abuse and public-disorder convictions,” and lacrosse players’ “unruly and antisocial behavior in the Edens Quad on campus and the Trinity Park and Trinity Heights neighborhoods off campus.” Surin concluded that “in no way can condemnation of this persistent pattern of lacrosse team misbehavior be a problem for any ethically upright member of the community.” Indeed, in his mind, “The Duke lacrosse team cannot be left off the hook for any responsibility for all the surrounding behavioral conditions and transgressions which, even if one were not a philosophical or religious determinist, made that March 2006 disaster virtually inevitable.”

As with Wallace, Surin made no mention of the Group’s ad as an attempt to defend unnamed minority students, and he made crystal clear that his hostility to the lacrosse team motivated his actions on the case.

Or take the case of Alex Rosenberg, who told the New York Sun that he signed the ad because of his outrage about student drinking “affluent kids violating the law to get exploited women to take their clothes off when they could get as much hookup as they wanted from rich and attractive Duke coeds.”

Again, no mention of protecting minority students, and a clear statement that the ad’s purpose was to condemn the lacrosse players.

Some signatories, in fact, celebrated Lubiano’s approach of using anonymous quotes from alleged Duke students as a clever tactic to allow the faculty to involve itself in the case under the façade of an appropriate action. “Horrified by the substance of the allegations against the lacrosse team,” Ranjana Khanna, who just took over as director of Duke’s Women’s Studies program, demanded in early April 2006 that the administration institute “a pedagogical response of some sort to the more generalized problems of sexual violence, sexual coercion, and racism on campus, as well as an examination of the culture that surrounds athletics, a sense of class entitlement, and institutional complicity in this.” (In other words, she wanted a Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative.)

Khanna also passed on to colleagues some unsubstantiated gossip: she had heard “more widespread allegations of sexual violence against this lacrosse team from students who are clearly suffering the consequences of it.” The Coleman Committee uncovered no evidence at all to substantiate this wild allegation.

Despite such beliefs, the women’s studies professor worried about departmental endorsements of Lubiano’s initiative. Without full access to, or ability to investigate, the facts of the case, a formal departmental action could even backfire. How, then, could race/class/gender faculty members best to exploit the situation? The Lubiano approach—an ad ostensibly telling “students that we are listening to their concerns,” signed by individual professors but not endorsed by departments as a whole, seemed “frankly at the limits of what any department, or faculty member, could do publicly at this time.”

Khanna’s agenda was clear: not “defending students,” but channeling the outrage that the (false) allegation had created to bring about her desired pedagogical changes at Duke.


In light of such remarks, how is it possible to explain Brodhead’s persistent defenses of the Group’s statement—and his implicit rebuke of the Duke faculty members who have had the courage to criticize the Group?

Moreover, whether from fear or attraction, Brodhead’s disinclination to criticize the Group has included silence on one matter (the phony departmental “endorsements” of the ad) that even some of the most extreme Group members considered improper at the time.

Tomorrow’s post will explore these issues.


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Anonymous said...


Black was my hero. When noone else would listen to what I had to say, I sent my work to him.

I called him about two weeks later, actually got through to him (he was a Goldman Sachs partner) and got a "its here on my desk ...I'll let you know if and when I get to it."

It was a don't call me, I'll call you.

I was....well disheartened,

Two weeks later, I got a call...Friday afternoon...May 1992...

"Hi,. this is Fischer Black...I wanted to get back to you on your theory...you should publish this..."

Instead of publishing, I pursued commercial opportunity.

Fischer Black remains one of my heros.

Thanks for your comments.

Bubba Geezer

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bubba and Hamilton--P

Anonymous said...

Marx was a fraud, a liar, a reprobate, possibly a misogynist, refused hygiene, and generally sloppy in thought.

That he could change history and ultimately condemn tens of millions to violent deaths, which he actively advocated hardly places him anywhere other that hell.

If that's genius, then call me Mr. Dumbass.

Anonymous said...

It speaks of closed minds that some of you would be going on about "what do you balance it with?" rather than focusing on the intellectual stimulation.

Jul 3, 2007 10:48:00 PM

The obvious, (and correct), answer is, "I balance it with my original thought that is an intrigued by righteously skeptical reaction to the writing of a man who clearly was brilliant, but under seasoned; before his time, yet poorly informed as to the real world; and ultimately susceptible to manipulation of his thoughts by evil people beyond his ability to imagine what they would do with his thoughts." Marx, for anybody who cares to study his biography, was exactly what the Gangsta's of Hatey-Hate accuse the Lax Boyz of being. He was the son of an influential lawyer who sold his soul (by way of converting his faith for political expediency)...Who was forced by Daddy to study at "proper" schools and to get a "proper" education. Leninist/Stalinist spin on Marx's philosphy (which is what most Americans...indeed most post-modern Westerners call "Communism") came much after his death. The violent, malevolent, collectivist bent of "Soviet Communism" (my terminology) was a great perversion of the Utopian dream expressed by Marx, and his thoughts of a benevolent dictator who would eventually loose the reigns of self governance to the "proletariat" were much closer to what has actually happened in the good ol' U.S. of A. than most would like to realize. I do not consider myself a Marxist, nor do I identify in any way with the collectivist/socialist bent of the G88 and their ilk. What I am is a scholar who recognizes that many great men's thoughts are perverted by others, and ultimately their legacy is not one they would be proud of.

mac said...

Glad you boys could have a reunion.
Who brought the eggplant?

Anonymous said...

To 2:31 and others have commented upon Marx/Marxism. Thanks for making it clear that the history of socialism is not just Marx and post-1917 Marxist-Leninism, etc.

Let me add my bit: I think of Rousseu as a precursor to the French utopian socialists, among whom I include Henri Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier. (I always wonder how much such thinkers influenced the development of nineteenth-century French left politics, which weren't only socialist.) At the same time in England, one can talk about Owen. Ferdinand LaSalle was an early German socialist, but not a Marxist.

While Friedrich Engels, Marx's partner/patron and the son of a wealthy mill owner in Manchester, might be called one of the first Marxist revisionists, Eduard Bernstein is probably better known in this department. (It was, as you know, the Engels factories that provided examples for Marx's "Communist Manifesto.")

Socialism has a context, of course: 1789, 1848 and societal change. In the same way one can hear the beginning of concern over the way the Chinese economy is producing, there were concerns over early industrial capitalism,especially on the examples of England and France.

One doesn't have to like the subsequent application of Marxist ideas, although I LOVE Sweden, to appreciate his thought.

And, that he had a brilliant mind, doesn't mean he was easy to live with or a good family man. And, yes, Engels pretty much bankrolled Marx, etc., all those years he sat in the BL writing _Capital_.

Happy Fourth of July!

Anonymous said...

On endowments:

A quick Google search shows Duke, w/ almost 4.5 billion dollars in 2006, to have been 13th in a recent ranking. Harvard (almost 29 billion), Yale, Stanford/ the UT system, Princeton, MIT, the UC system, Columbia, Michigan/the Texas A/M system, Penn, Northwestern, and Emory occupy the top spots.

BTW: The largest private school in the US in New York University. NYU, like Duke, has graduate programs, so this skews student numbers and endowments. A small, private, and very good liberal arts undergraduate program like Pomono has an endowment of close to 1.5 billion. Ditto Swarthmore at 1.2 billion.

Anonymous said...

Try googling "university endowment per student." That information shows the relative strength/size of Duke's endowment.
Although Stanford is at the top, small schools like Grinnell, Pomona, Swarthmore, and Williams are way up there.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the argument against the Fairness Doctrine

Anonymous said...

Marx's poem spoke of doomsday; "History is the judge, its executioner the proletariat."

Tens of millions whose remains are in shallow graves worldwide would likely take exception to his purported genious and the notion that others modified his Utopian ideals.

"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" - Karl Marx? Nope, Louis Blanc.

"Workers of all countries unite." - Karl Marx? Nope, Karl Schapper.

"Money is the jealous God of Israel, beside which no other God may exist." - Adolph Hitler? Nope, Karl Marx.

"Socialism cannot be brought into existence without Revolution." - Pol Pot? Nope, Karl Marx.

Defending the indefensible is KC's apt title for this blog.

Marx was a liar and a fraud; he manipulated data, advocated violent revolution, he was a dead beat, he treated women horridly, he rarely bathed, he never spoke with those (peasants)that were used as the basis for his positions,...a picture forms. About the only thing he didn't do was bang pots.

To suggest others altered his ideas only supports the horribly failed legacy that led to the violent end of so many - poor execution of the ideal, excellent execution of those that dissented.

To teach Marx without consideration of other competing ideas is abetting a very, very bad model. But that's just me.

Anonymous said...

And another thing about Marx...

The economic conditions cited in his work is horribly dated. He conjurs up problems from days gone by. He ignores reforms that were already put in place. He doesn't utilize primary data. Like most intellectuals he wouldn't be caught dead with a peasant, yet he uses their plight as the basis for his model.

If that approach doesn't make ones reading of the Gang of 88 "Listening Statement" take on new meaning, it should.

Anonymous said...


It's Adolf, not Adolph.

You be smarter to provide background for your soundbites. And, have you read Marx in the German? I'd suggest making your own translations.

Are you advocating getting rid of everyone who doesn't bathe? Think historically: how often did people bathe in the nineteenth century? Not every day, certainly.

All good ideas are revised. Duh.

Finally, there are plenty of people in shallow graves for reasons other than Marxism. Indeed, I'm not sure Marx inspired any revolutions, although he certainly thought the Commune was the harbinger of revolution.

Surely you know that the Russian Revolution, which took place well after his death, flew in the face of Marxist ideology?

Anonymous said...

No Peace,

I think you'll discover his "primary data" for the Manifesto were the conditions in the Manchester Cotton Mills. I think you might also discover that his work was theoretical--calling upon great economic minds whose work is still read today--but that some of Marx's ideas and conclusions soon proved to be incorrect. Marxists know this. What's the problem here?

You like Francis Fukyama, perhaps? Some of his ideas have already proved incorrect, but he's still important.

Why are you so afraid of Marx? Does he haunt your dreams or something?

Anonymous said...

9:16 "Primary" research meaning - his lack of first hand interviews with those impacted. He, like most all "intellectuals" wrote about people he didn't interact with at any level.

Inre: Marx in German? Does his anti-semitism, misogynic leaning translate as well?

Inre: personal hygeine? He had a choice, it was not the middel ages. He chose to live filty. Sloppy living, sloppy details, sloppy model. By the way, his body odor was not likely the reason he had few friends, maybe none besides Engels. Instead, it was the deplorable way he treated people - all people, not just the proloteriat.

Afraid of Marx? Hardly. Afraid of those who defend his fraudulent lies, well yeah I guess I am, but not for me, but for my children.

Off to a 4th of July parade. You know...unalienable rights...life, liberty, pursuit of happines...power derived from the consent of the governed...truely disruptive ideas that speak to truth and not lies.

Anonymous said...

Hey 9:11: Marx's work wasn't dated when it was written in the nineteenth century.

Dim bulb, you.

Anonymous said...

5:44 inre: Marx's work...please excuse my lack of clarity.

I mean the cases, examples, etc. that he uses to define working conditions. Those were dated, but rarely challenged. It would be like considering a meat-packing plant today to one from fifty years ago. It demonstrates a complete and total lack of communion with the working-man.

More shocking is that actual reforms at some level had already been employed.

Marx is a liar and a fraud by commission and omission.

"Dim bulb"...many thanks that is the nicest thing any "progressive" has said to me all afternoon.

Tenured Radical said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hah -- I see a post has been removed. Some progressive saw we were getting to close to the truth. Cowards.

Anonymous said...

yes they canrun they cannot hide.

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