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.