Friday, July 13, 2007

Group Profile: Joseph Harris

[Scheduling note: This is the latest installation of a Friday series profiling Group of 88 members, building off earlier posts on Wahneema Lubiano, Grant Farred, Sally Deutsch, and Kathy Rudy. The posts examine the scholarship and teaching of Group members, trying to show the mindset of professors who last spring abandoned both the tenets of Duke’s Faculty Handbook and the academy’s traditional fidelity to due process. An item to keep in mind: in higher education, professors control new hires. So the people profiled in this series will craft future job descriptions for Duke professors; and then, for positions assigned to their departments, vote for new hires.]

Group of 88 signatory and “clarifying” faculty member Joseph Harris teaches English and directs the University Writing Program. He received his B.A. from Haverford and his Ph.D. (in English Education) from NYU.

Harris has published three books, each of which discuss how to teach writing. His courses have included “Framing the 2004 Election”; “Writing, Rhetoric, and Democracy”; “Writing and Social Change”; and “Writing and Social Class.”

Harris has an unusually direct impact on the average life of Duke undergraduates. All Duke students must take a first-year writing class—staffed by people that Harris, as UWP director, plays a large role in selecting.

Harris’ academic writings suggest a vision of the writing program that might not be what most Duke parents expect when they encounter the requirement in the first-year orientation packet.

Harris has explained that, as a writing program administrator, his job is to function as “an activist reformer in the university.” In a 1991 essay, he asserted that composition classes should “teach students to write as critics of their culture,” with “teaching itself as a form of cultural criticism, about classrooms that do not simply reproduce the values of our universities and cultures but that also work to resist and question them.”

It seems quite unlikely, however, that Harris wants his UWP teachers to design their courses to “resist and question” the “values of our universities” as reflected in the Group of 88’s statement. In another 1991 essay, he opposed using English classes as an opportunity to “pass down and preserve the legacy of high [W]estern culture.” Why? Because students “need to use language to question the demands their society makes upon them.”

In other words, students need to write as particular kinds of “critics of their culture.” Courses designed—say—to critique what some people would term the culture’s devaluing of life since Roe v. Wade don’t fit into Harris’ preference. Nor would he seem inclined to encourage criticism of a “culture” whose elites overwhelmingly endorse loosening the nation’s immigration laws or preserving “diversity” preferences in higher education.

[I write, in the interests of full disclosure, as a supporter of abortion rights, an opponent of a get-tough immigration policy, and a critic of the “diversity” agenda.]

“Identity,” Harris further asserted, “rises out of identification; we define who we are through who we choose to stand with and against.” When George W. Bush uses this kind of language, members of the Group of 88 have howled in protest.

In a 2002 article, Harris urged structuring writing classes so that students would “participate in the ongoing disputes and controversies of our culture.” Implementing this goal fairly, however, would seem to require a politically and ideologically balanced professoriate. Otherwise, Harris’ agenda amounts to little more than providing a rationale for an ideologically imbalanced faculty—like, say, Duke’s humanities faculty—offering students an array of courses from a one-sided political perspective.

Harris, effectively, has admitted as much. “One form of teaching in this public-ness in this adjectival sense,” he noted, “asks students to consider how their lives are connected to and shaped by social forces and events.” Writing courses could be oriented around service learning, where “students collaborate with local activists”—on a topic, of course, pre-selected by the professor. Or the classes could have students comment on current affairs—screened, again, by the teacher. Harris celebrated one Duke class where students were asked to write about campaign against sweatshops and whether the Chronicle should have rejected an ad opposing reparations for African-Americans—two issues of great concern to the academic far left.

Harris’ vision of the academy also falls well outside of the mainstream. In a 2000 article, he stated that professors “need to admit that we are indeed workers in a corporate system that we hope to reform.” (Not too many corporations give lifetime positions at six-figure salaries to people like Wahneema Lubiano, who received tenure after listing non-existent “forthcoming” books.) Too many academics, he complained, favor a meritocratic approach, concentrating on their own individual achievements rather than recognizing that they are “mid-level bureaucrats in large corporations.” Harris, for one, described himself as “from a union family and . . . troubled by my position as a manager in a system that treats so many of its teachers unfairly.”

Harris also has offered some unusual recommendations regarding grading policy. In a 2002 essay, he lamented “sense of loss that can haunt working-class youths when they find themselves newly schooled as part of the professional middle class.” Professors, he noted, need to adjust their grading policies, recognizing that they can’t “judge the work of minority and working-class students according to an abstract set of standards that fails to account for the ways the economic realities of their lives impinges on their careers as students.”

Beyond the point paternalistic assumption that all minorities are poor or working-class, it’s unclear how lowering standards helps anyone, including poor or working-class students. Indeed, we had this debate at CUNY, when disastrous policies along the lines recommended by Harris devalued a CUNY degree in the 1980s and early 1990s; the institution has revived only through the initiatives of Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, who has advocated raising standards across the board.

In April 2006, Benjamin Albers, Christina Beaule, Jessica Boa, Matt Brim, Jason Mahn, and Marcia Rego joined Harris in signing the Group of 88’s statement. Unlike Harris, none of these faculty enjoyed the protection of tenure, and therefore were vulnerable to the political whims of their superiors. Harris does not seem to have concerned himself with how a self-described “manager” signing onto a highly controversial statement might have pressured—even if unintentionally—his contingent subordinates to endorse the statement as well. By the time the “clarifying” ad appeared in January 2007, Boa had left Duke, but Albers, Brim, and Rego joined Harris and five other UWP faculty members (Erin Gayton, Erik Harms, Fred Klaits, Tamera Marko, Kristin Solli) in signing onto that anti-lacrosse statement.

What sorts of courses are taught by these Group of 88/clarifying faculty, people hired by a professor who argues that composition courses should be designed “to teach students to write as critics of their culture”? Below is a sample of classes taught by UWP faculty who signed anti-lacrosse petitions:

  • “URBANcultureSPACEtimePOWER” (all one word), which explores such questions as, “Why are there no supermarkets in some neighborhoods, only liquor-stores? . . . Who gets ‘a view’ and who is put under surveillance?”
  • “Cell Phones to Designer Babies,” which examines how “cell phones to cybersex to ‘designer babies’” to other technologies are “produced, marketed and consumed in terms of [naturally] race, class, gender, sexuality, labor, family and nationality.”
  • Queer Eye Culture,” in which, “Reading key texts of queer theory, we will evaluate just how transgressive and non-normative (i.e., queer) everyday America is becoming. Core issues will include the distinction between gay/lesbian and queer, how race impacts queer identity, the commodification of queerness, and the ways in which queerness complicates the idea of homophobia.”

Harris is an associate professor; from 2000-2005, he served on the Arts and Sciences Course Committee.


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Anonymous said...

Amazing. Simply amazing. Duke has a major problem

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff, but not an instant comedy classic like last week's Kathy Rudy profile.

Anonymous said...

Actually, this helps to clarify what I suspected: the G88 saw the LAX case simply as a way to gain power. When it went south, they still were parroting the same lines, but were shocked when people started resisting.

As I have said elsewhere, professors like this simply are frauds. He is not a teacher; he is a propagandist and a coarse propagandist at that. It is distressing to see just how evil the legacy of Stanley Fish really is, and how these people have tried to destroy a truly great university.

Anonymous said...

This one is going to be tame. Not as much fun as last weeks.

Anonymous said...

Is Harris a Communist.

Anonymous said...

It was obvious from the start that the 88 wanted power.

Gary Packwood said...

Harris has explained that, as a writing program administrator, his job is to function as “an activist reformer in the university.”

Harris functions as an agent for Duke University...and therefor assumes responsibility for all those activists who signed the document with him.

Are the defense attorneys, the IRS, the BOT, the accreditation body and Broadhead aware of this?

Anonymous said...

I was going to post a comment. But this is beyond any reasonable comment.

This has entered the twilight zone.

Anonymous said...

JLS says....,

I have heard rumors that this is not atypical of frosh comp these days.

Anonymous said...

It sure would be great to hear from former students on how they felt being in his class.

Most bright kids who expect to go to a private university would have taken AP English courses and been prepared by their high school teachers on what to expect their freshman year. I hope that when moms and dads called to see how they were doing, surely at least a few would have told.

This is so depressing. There are no solutions in the near future. These professors have their union card, and every semester they hire reinforcements.

What to do?

Anonymous said...

Carolyn says:

Harris isn't as obviously stupid and berzerk as Rudy. And for that reason, he is even more dangerous.

Those impressionable young kids can't fight evil if they can't recognize it.

Anonymous said...

This is not only Duke's problem, but is typical of any large university. These people behave like they won the war, have the power, and are now free to enjoy telling other people what to do
and how to think. And they are correct on all three counts (and thus the enjoyment is especially palpable).

The lowering of standards is one of their important tactics. When knowledge, scholarship or anything of measurable value matter less, ideological decisions can be more easily validated.

Once again, I would caution against viewing the lacrosse hoax case as a defeat for the race/sex radicals in the academia. To the contrary, they used the case to consolidate their position at Duke despite being hopelessly wrong on the facts. As a demonstration of their power, they could not have done better!

What to do, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, back when I was a freshman I placed out of having to take that class.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
What an odd state of affairs when the Duke Basketball Report has to explain how Duke University was negligent and at fault to the unconvinced editors of The Daily Tar Heel.

Jul 11, 2007 4:19:00 PM
Sorry if this is a bit out of place and late--but I just had to add it to this post. I have been away for the week--just catching up. Tonight I read the blogs about UNC's editorial on this case. Once in awhile a blogger really comes up with a truly great insight! I urge everyone to let the above statement roll around their heads for a few minutes.

Just when I thought I could not be surprised anymore---I must say, whomever wrote that UNC editorial is a total nitwit.

I feel sorry for the good people of North Carolina.


Anonymous said...

I want everyone to picture the faces of the brave people of the NYPD and NYFD on 911.

What is the group of 88 (or the UNC newspaper editorial board) going to do if they finally destroy the sort of brave people who try to keep us safe?

That's what they are doing--slowly and systematically.

Anonymous said...

"One form of teaching in this public-ness in this adjectival sense..."

Huh? Mommy, what's that man saying? Oh? He teaches English?
I don't understand him. Can he give me a clarifying statement? He has? Oh. Well, maybe he's just another one of those bull-shitters....

Anonymous said...

this isnt about english its about propaganda...

the great religions embrace and teach one to develop moral conscience while paganism and pagans like this moral degenerate, teaches how not to have a conscience about anything...

getting a duke education is like taking a trip to a san francisco queer brothel

Anonymous said...

I'd love to know how many of the group of 88 have been entertained by a stripper? Or how many have had a brother, spouse, boyfriend , or father visit one?. You can be sure the answer is not zero.

You can also be sure these jokers are the biggest hypocrits around on these and other issues.


They must be one of the least intelligent and most unethical groups on earth.

One Spook said...

Anon @ 1:18 writes: This is so depressing. There are no solutions in the near future. These professors have their union card, and every semester they hire reinforcements.

What to do?

As several commenters have said here, Duke is a private university. As such, it can offer whatever courses its leadership and administration chooses, with little recourse except from its controlling board.

I would wager a guess that few board members are familiar with these absurd faux-professors or the pseudo-intellectual, ideologically unbalanced garbage that is fed to Duke students under the guise of "education."

Private universities, at the end of the day, are concerned with money. Raising money and continuing to bring in large contributions is one of the chief duties of any university board and its president.

The only answer to "what to do" is for reasonable people who truly care about Duke to bring to an end this entire charade of extremist politics and ideology of far left "professors" that is grossly out of balance in several of its departments.

There is one non-legal lesson many people have learned from this entire affair, and that is, sadly, that a good portion of Duke is a freak show, and the lunatics are in control of the asylum.

KC's book should be required reading for any person engaged in the selection process for higher education in this country.

People who love Duke and can affect its finances need to get "mad as hell" and not take this lack of intellectual prowess and ideological diversity among the faculty at Duke.

These people need to refuse to send money or highly qualified students to Duke until this far-leftist academic cancer is eradicated from what was once a great university.

One Spook

Anonymous said...

Hello, KC,

This post isn't up to your usual standards. It rates a C in a first-year comp class. A discussion of one 88 faculty member, Joseph Harris, ends with a brief sampling of course offerings by other, unnamed 88 faculty members...

If you knew that a number of the 88 signees were untenured, I wish you had made that clear to the poster who several days ago asserted that the 88ers were all tenured faculty with comfy/cushy jobs?

Finally, how many writing instructors does Duke employ? Do you really think this man checks their ideological/political-writing credentials?

Anonymous said...

How do you know the Duke humanities faculty offers students courses from a politically one-sided perspective? Have you read all of the course syllabi and readings? Have you heard recordings of class discussions and seen comments on coursework?

Anonymous said...


No, m'am, I'd argue he's not stupid at all. You just disagree with him. Guess what? In the USA, people can disagree without being stupid. Did you forget to learn this in whatever ideologically rigid place you studied?

Anonymous said...

2:24 : I disagree. Look how many Christians were the worst offenders in trying to hang the Duke boys. On the other hand, I know Pagans who have enough of a moral compass that they'd never be part of such a lynch mob.

Anonymous said...

Religion is not the only arbiter of behavior. Although several pastors condemned what they understood to have been the behavior of the LAXers, it's not clear to me there were a lot of "Christians" or anything else among the people who encouraged action before all of the evidence was in. And, how many self-identified "Pagens (;-p) spoke up in their defense?

Perhaps, moral compasses in this case weren't dictated solely by religion or lack thereof?

Anonymous said...

sic: "Pagans"

Anonymous said...

Harris is stereotypical of too many academicians today. Their object is to inculcate ideology and political agendas into their respective disciplies. Somehow they manage to work the "race/gender/class" triumvirate into higher math, english composition, music, chemistry (though few of the "hard sciences" have been infiltrated thus far). They are truly a fifth column in our colleges. One can debate such issues, but when they are surreptitiously imposed as part of another discipline, young minds, which are not taught critical thinking today, are vulnerable. I don't see anything but an increase in this mischief.

Anonymous said...


Duke like many universities gets millions of dollars from foundations like Ford and Rocckerfeller. Ford foundation makes near 1 billion per year in income. None of these schools are spending their principle.

The most powerful union in the country is not the AFL or whatever, it's tenure. Trust me, we had some at my college that the administration wanted to get rid of and could not. You cannot say, well, they'll retire someday. As KC indicates, tenured faculty decides who gets hired and who gets tenured.

When our son was a freshman some 13 years ago, we just told him "Get in and get out." He had fun, was in crew, a fraternity, and student council. They all knew, don't make waves if you are going to grad school. If some of these professors only knew how the students mocked them as a bunch of baffoons.

But, I wish something could be done. It has to ba a radical solution.

Anonymous said...


Since you have a son, you obviously know that he & his friends also mocked you & everyone else of your generation as a bunch of baffoons. How do I know? I hear the comments regularly from students.

FYI: some of the students who get the best letters for graduate and professional schools are those who make the most waves. Faculty know and respect enquiring minds.

Reading your letter and other letters like it makes me support tenure in a way I hadn't before. You're apparently afraid of other ideas.

My son is still in secondary school & he comes home regularly with ideas that differ from his; some from other students, some from his teachers. He has learned how to engage with these ideas. He accepts some and rejects others. I don't have the impression from his academic grades that he is marked down for not sharing the opinion of his teachers. I hope this kind of analysis will help him when he is in university.

I pity people who reject opposing ideas and opinions without engaging the ideas intellectually. They are the union of the intellectually apathetic/unable that frighten me. And they seem to be a very large union, indeed.

Anonymous said...


If you had a child who was victimized in class or any public place by others attacking him or that with which he identified by using any of the trinity of race, class, and gender, you would understand why this is important. What names do you want to call people that you feel this kind of awareness contrains?

Anonymous said...

6:29 AM

. . . the union of the intellectually apathetic/unable . . . frighten . . . are the tenured. They are dogmatic, dishonest frauds who were part of a pot banging intellectual lynch mob at Duke . . . who encouraged a mob mentality and who consolidated their power even as it all went "south" for them . . . it didn't matter. They are intellectual bigots who come down on the same side of any difficult question. They are not open minded, and that frightens me.

Anonymous said...


I wonder where you've been during this whole Duke fiasco. Are you familiar with the 88?

Most of the humanities professors seemed to want to preach their gospel and not interested in their students point of view. Young people are pretty smart. They know what will get them where.

My son is now 32 and still owes just under $100K - this includes grad school. He works for a Fortune 100 corporation and knows how to calculate risk and reward.

You may have an opinion on the thread of this conversation, but the audacity of declaring what my son and his friends did. YOU DO NOT KNOW MY SON.

Are you a baffoon or one of the 88?

Michael said...

My son is taking an english class at a university so I'll have to ask him to read this. He's already noted the political bent in the classroom but the professor is fair in terms of your point of view.

The kids at Duke have to be sharp enough or compliant enough to know that they just have to get through.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of bringing out the boo birds, I have to say I think some of this criticism of Harris is taken out of context. The two 1991 articles, for example, concern issues pretty typical in discussions of composition theory and pedagogy, and while their terminology may be a bit jargonistic and pedantic, I can find nothing in them to support K.C.'s conclusion that "Courses designed—say—to critique what some people would term the culture’s devaluing of life since Roe v. Wade don’t fit into Harris’ preference. Nor would he seem inclined to encourage criticism of a “culture” whose elites overwhelmingly endorse loosening the nation’s immigration laws or preserving “diversity” preferences in higher education."

The first one addresses primarily the theoretical concept of "discourse communities" and focuses on helping students learn to be "critics of their culture" by discussing and critiquing popular culture--advertising and television--in the writing classroom. There is no suggestion in this article that the critique must be left-wing or that it is designed to replicate the teacher's political views in the students; to the contrary, it includes the "wisdom" received from writing instructors in the material students might appropriately question.

The second one also deals with issues of pedagogy, and while it does critique the view that English classes (and here he is talking about secondary reading and writing classes as well as about college composition classes, less so about college literature classes) should have as their only or primary goal to "pass down and preserve the legacy of high [W]estern culture," the article isn't really an attack on the value of Western culture so much as it is an argument in support of a broader conception of English instruction than that favored by "back to basics" or "cultural literacy" proponents (and also a broader one than the one the "back to basics" folks were reacting to, which focused only or primarily on teaching methods and nurturing students' "natural" abilities).

In this second article, in fact, not only does Harris not propose a politically doctrinaire approach to writing instruction, he actually offers this example: "[h]ow does a devout Christian find a place to speak within the aggressively skeptical and secular terms of most criticism?"

One might well disagree with Harris's views on the proper role of composition instruction. And not having been in Harris's classroom, I can't speak to how he implements them in practice. But I don't think they are fairly described as an attack on Western culture or a call to use college composition classrooms to indoctrinate students into left-wing political views.

And, based on the experience of two children who took Writing 20 at Duke with two different instructors, I can say that the course was valuable in both cases and didn't seem to have an overtly political agenda either time. Both kids had a wide range of topics to choose from in selecting a section; neither felt constrained to modify her views on the topics discussed to fit the professor's preconceptions.

Anonymous said...

People who meander into the world creating wealth and opportunity for others are impervious to sociopaths like Harris. They're chihuahuas. Just look at the guy's picture. He's all about payback for the ostracization and humiliation he suffered grade 1-12. His appeal is to people who carry the same baggage. Outside of the university he'd be working at Borders Books.

Anonymous said...

I was curious how Duke compared to another near-Ivy-League southern private University, Tulane.

I read all of both Universities course descriptions for English.

If I was going to major in English, or hire someone (based on courses listed), I would absolutely pick Tulane over Duke. There were clear differences in class content and quality, not to mention the rambling commentaries by the Duke profs trying to describe their classes.

If nothing else, this blog has taught us how we will determine where our children will go to college.

And a note to those critical of how Dr. Johnson does his research, stop whining! If you want to see something else, do your own research.

Anonymous said...

michael 7:07

What you say at the end is key. Kids have to be sharp enough. My son really never thought of himself as being compliant. He thought some of these professors lived in their our universe and that was just fine with him.

But why would a finance major care about the world of race and queer identity? He just did not have a dog in that fight. Now sports were different, though he never got on a soapbox. The sports he had participated in were already under the race microscope. In high school he played water polo and then crew in college. He was not on an athletic scholarship. They had open tryouts. But no blacks. He made it on skill, not race.

I think mostly he thought, if a professor wants the last word, let him have it. He's stuck here and I'm leaving.

I think the whole rape hoax is why I wish we could do something. It could have happened at any university with like-minded-88s

Anonymous said...

Also, Tulane didn't mention "gay" or "queer" on their site, at least where I looked.

Anonymous said...

6:59/7:12 and all of the rest of you:

What are your jobs that you know so much about what your think? Do you stalk them on facebook or my space?!! Otherwise, my bet is you know what they tell you. They may well be compliant--with their racist, sexist, chauvinist, prejudiced parents. You're paying for them, correct?

And, if you don't want your children and/or employees exposed to ideas you don't like, then I suggest you move to a theocracy. Iran comes to mind...

Anonymous said...

Dear 7:39

Try typing in "gay" under student affairs at the Tulane website. You'll find plenty of entries.

BTW, I'm sure the big companies are happy if you want to hire Tulane grads over Duke grads. I'm sure your company would be less than happy to know that you hired by school rather than by individual CV.

Anonymous said...


Word missing. your children

Anonymous said...

6:29:00 AM said:

" I pity people who reject opposing ideas and opinions without engaging the ideas intellectually. They are the union of the intellectually apathetic/unable that frighten me. And they seem to be a very large union, indeed. "

That perfectly characterizes the Group of 88 types. Apparently the author's intention was to disparage their opponents; unwittingly, the 88'ers themselves were skewered.

The incredible rise in college tuition, leaving graduating students with six figure debts, is what supports these academic frauds. Propaganda, Power, Self-Indulgence, Wealth, a Closed Community of Elitists -- that is what higher education has produced for these academics.

Students quickly learn to toe the party line. Dissention results in your GPA being sent to the gulag for reeducation.

My daughter experience in Duke's freshman writing course (in the days of Stanley Fish) was, "do what they want, write to their weird requirements, and get out of the course".

Anonymous said...

A Passage in "Theoretics"
Critical Race Narratives: A Study of Race, Rhetoric, and Injury (Critical America Series) (Hardcover)
by Carl Scott Gutierrez-Jones (Author

Keep in mind that this is designed to be read by the public -- by the students who are deciding whether to take the course

"Narratives of Race
"This course takes as its central object the idea of race. Race is understood as a social construct that designates relations of structural difference and disparity. How race is treated is a crucial issue in this course. It is in this question of "the how" that the term narrative becomes salient. The term narrative intentionally focuses attention on the material practices through which we have come to define race as a social construct. This terminology, "narratives of race," spotlights an interest in investigating the historical events and visual and verbal images employed in the linking, patterning, sequencing, and relaying our ways of knowing race and its social relations. Implicated in the construction of race is its production and deployment of the moral and intellectual values that our academic disciplines bear. In considering such values as part of the investigation, this course includes careful comparative analyses of the ways in which the disciplinary systems of ontology, epistemology, aesthetics, and politics are used in the making and remaking of the academic and social grammars of race. Thus the analysis necessarily includes an intertextualization of the several academic disciplines engaging the question of race."
Here is the translation: "This is a course about what we mean by 'race,' particularly at the university." All the rest is smoke, endlessly paraphrasing this slender meaning.

"In this class, there will be no content. You will not have to understand anything about the real world. You just have to have all the correct opinions -- which you already know -- and then learn to speak Theoretics fluently and parrot back to the teacher the same empty language that you see here in this course description. Anyone who thinks for himself or disagrees with the teacher will be abused and ridiculed. When you have achieved complete incomprehensibility, with the right attitude, you will pass the course."

May be offered at Duke in the fall.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these profiles - of course many of the 88 are completely beyond the pale and very satisfying (and worthy) targets. I will be interested in your analysis when you hit one that has made legitimate contributions to knowledge or thought (maybe Rosenberg).

Michael said...

re: 7:42

> What are your jobs that
> you know so much about
> what your think?

Perhaps the missing word is children?

> Do you stalk them on
> facebook or my space?!!
> Otherwise, my bet is
> you know what they tell
> you.

We homeschooled our kids and our son started taking college courses at 15. He lives at home and I've driven him back and forth to college, typically 20 to 40 minutes one-way. You get to learn a lot about your kids when you spend that kind of time in the car with them.

> They may well be
> compliant--with their
> racist, sexist,
> chauvinist, prejudiced
> parents. You're paying
> for them, correct?

That's a rather odd characterization of parents. Seems more valid for the professors.

I don't mind the exposure but we've done it in a gradual way.

> And, if you don't want
> your children and/or
> employees exposed to
> ideas you don't like,
> then I suggest you move
> to a theocracy. Iran
> comes to mind...

First the complaint is that they aren't choirboys though Mr. Finnerty's aunt did a nice job in disproving that.

Now you want people that don't agree with you to move to Iran because you assume that we want a theocracy. That's like asking a vegetarian to eat a cow because it falls into the class of food.

Our son is just as argumentative as I am and he is far more conservative than I am (not sure how that happened). I just don't want him to run into problems arguing over things that really don't matter.

The bigger problem is racist professors that discriminate against their white students. Or the sexist professors that discriminate against their male students. I haven't seen this kind of discrimination but perhaps that's because we've used mostly state schools so far.

Anonymous said...

Pick a number (just be sure it's between 1 and 88).

Maybe nothing can be done about tenure or changing the agenda(s) of tenured professors (and, yes, they profess their agendas on a regular basis) but policies can be changed at universities to limit the input these tenured idiots have on hiring. Nothing in the definition of tenure indicates a "right" to select their colleagues.

Yes, this was a relatively "bland" post. KC has to save some of the more antagonistic 88ers for later. We don't want to finish our dessert before the appetizer is served!

Maybe Michael Moore can do a new movie Tenured about the evils of agenda driven professors and their stranglehold of academic perversion in higher education. Can a "Sicko" really criticize his liberal left 88ers?

Anonymous said...

I've taught the freshman writing courses.

There is just the tiniest bit of truth in what Harris has to say, but that truth got all twisted.

To encourage inexperienced writers, a good instructor is going to try to create some excitement and controversy in the classroom. The traditional manner for doing this is to debate the great issues of the day. And, of course, students get most involved if they see these issues relating to themselves.

Teaching argument is a big part of teaching the freshman writing course. Where Harris goes wrong is in demanding that his students appropriate his point of view. It's not a bad thing to present one's own viewpoint with some conviction in this class. But, the students must feel that they have the freedom, and that they are encouraged to develop and express their own viewpoints.

Anonymous said...


What on earth makes you know what professors think? And against whom they discriminate and why? Where do you get off?

Anonymous said...


There are a couple of historians and literature sorts that KC Johnson will have more trouble discussing. His academic production pales in comparison to theirs...

Anonymous said...

Where is Duke's customer focus? In other words, who is more important-the students, alumni or faculty? I guess I always thought that it was all about the students. Providing a great education to young people. By the way, I don't think Duke gives a damn about its alumni. They just want alumni money and for the same alums to keep their mouths shut. But back to the students, these kids need to recognize and be made aware by their parents or other trusted advisors that some of these Duke professor clowns need to "played" if enrolled in their classes so that the students can survive the ordeal of suffering fools. I wouldn't get so worked up over the 88. They, in some form or other, have always been on college campuses. And they are as irrevelant today as they were in the past-just some silly clowns that one has to deal with.

Anonymous said...

Dear Duke dad,

If you save money from the time a child is born (assuming you don't have zillions of children), and do not give said child the idea that s/he should have all kinds of stuff while in school, you can usually save enough money to get your kid through school with well less than a six-figure debt.

It is poor working-class families that need help to educate their kids. And, often they get that kind of monetary aid from private schools.

Faculty do not for the most part make huge amounts of money. Get a screaming clue.

Anonymous said...

duke dad 7:58

Maybe what you say and others also say, is what we can do for now. Let parents of new students know what they will face, and let them get their priorities right.

Graduate with a good GPA so you can go to grad school if you want.

There are students that have strong constitutions, like Dinesh D'Souza when he was at Dartmouth. He made a lot of people there very uncomfortable. He did not have his family here in the US and maybe this battle became his life. Of course it translated into a great career. But, Dartmmouth has not changed.

Anonymous said...


That's a stupid attitude. Most faculty I know don't care so much what is asserted as they care that it is well asserted and backed up with evidence.

I've had students in classes who make comments that would appear to place them to the right of Dick Cheney. If they write essays well and present clear arguments in class discussion, they get good grades; their personal political opinions don't enter into it. I think this is true in most cases.

I think many of you haven't any idea what you're talking about when it comes to university grading standards and just blather on.

Anonymous said...

Some of the posters have their knickers in a twist of Stanley Fish. One wonders if he upset parents at University of Illinois Chicago?

Anonymous said...

anonymous tenure-loving professor said at 6:29 AM:

I pity people who reject opposing ideas and opinions without engaging the ideas intellectually. They are the union of the intellectually apathetic/unable that frighten me. And they seem to be a very large union, indeed.

Then you must pity most of your peers at the academy. Look at the ones who are hiding from KC and others of us who want to dialogue with them about what they have done at Duke. They run, they hide, they hide in their tenure-protected offices from any discussion of their works.

"No comment!" "Your son is a farm animal!" "Don't e'mail me again!" "Shut up!"

Those are the professors you seem to defend. If they have a hair on their intellectual asses, tell them to come out from under their tenure-protected desks and answer the questions about their conduct.

R.R. Hamilton

Anonymous said...

Dear 7:45,

Thanks for pointing out that I wasn't clear. I just didn't find reference to sex on the Tulane English Dept website, and I did find it on the Duke site.

I am not an academic, just a scientist and would prefer hiring someone with a more classic/structured writing ability.

I'm not sure what you meant by saying big business would rather hire a Duke grad. If you could explain, that would be great, if it's not too OT.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes what people say or do gives a window to what they think.

When your picture is in the front page of the school paper because your team just won that weekend, and your professor asks you during class in front of all the students how you can play a sport that discriminates on the basis of race?

If you visibly wear a cross and the professor ask you to justify attending a church that has caused so much pain to Native Americans?

What if you have an Italian last name and on Columbus Day, your professor berates Europeans for their 500 years of terror. And then asks you if you agree?

That's how students know what some of their professors think. And in my family there are 4 of us. My mom and I taught at state schools, but 2 others teach at Yale. Trust me we know what many professors think. They don't try to hide it.

Anonymous said...

Hello, 7:45,

You probably won't necessarily get more structured writing from than another. Kids who get into good undergraduate schools probably already write fairly well or they wouldn't have scored high enough on standardized tests to get into selective schools.

My experience--and it is limited--is that many undergraduates in science and engineering don't write as well as many undergraduates in the humanities, in part because they don't write as much. The more writing one does, usually the better one becomes.

I'm not in an English department & we spend some time explaining that different disciplines write differently. My students seem to understand this.

If English comp gets them to write at all, this is a good thing! I don't care what they write.

FWIW: not having sex/queer whatever on a department website doesn't mean much. Ditto having it there. All kinds of courses fruitfully include topics that address these issue. Book titles don't necessarily contain them, even if that's what they address.

Anonymous said...

What kind of academic losers get stuck teaching required freshman writing? That has to be what drove Harris over the top. Think about it--At a seriously disfunctioning school (Duke) you're required to teach a required BS course. Folks, people like Harris are simply bottom-feeders in the university world.

Anonymous said...


At my Ivy League school (not Yale in tasteful New Haven), I knew what some of my professors thought, but not what others thought. All of them, however, irrespective of their views, thought I could and should learn a great deal. And I did.

I've never heard of anyone berating an Italian about Christofer Columbus. I have heard people challenge the claim that he "discovered" the Western Hemisphere. Discovered it for whom? The Portuguese already knew it was there as did, of course, all of the people living in the Americas. Is that what you mean?

Anonymous said...

Dear 8:50,

Some people enjoy the challenge of first-year composition. They want to help people write better. This doesn't make them losers or academic bottom feeders. This just makes their interests other than yours...

Anonymous said...

I've now had time to look at the Harris article from 2000, which K.C. Johnson describes as depicting "vision of the academy. . . well outside the mainstream." That may be so, but again, I think the criticism fails to view Harris's analogy between university professors and corporate workers in context.

Harris isn't suggesting that tenured faculty members are subject to hiring and firing as they would be in corporations. Instead, he is arguing that, within their departments, tenured faculty are comparable to bosses who benefit from the labor of underpaid adjuncts and graduate teaching assistants who are assigned the required composition courses that other faculty don't want to teach while the tenure-stream faculty are free to pursue their individual interests. I don't see this as a criticism of meritocracy so much as a criticism of a system that allows English departments to get resources (including instructor and TA slots) by offering required classes and then slough them off to "workers" with low pay and no benefits while the "bosses" get to pursue their individual interests. The likely losers, in addition to the composition instructors, are the students who must take a required course that is an afterthought and may be poorly taught by an adjunct with little or no departmental guidance or a grad student with no interest in teaching. English Departments, he argues, should try to upgrade the quality of instruction in composition, both by paying the instructors better and giving them more training and by ensuring that tenure-line faculty share the responsibility for teaching required composition classes.

To note my own interest here, I have been teaching English composition classes as an adjunct at a state university for the past 7 or 8 years. I am paid approximately $3000 per semester class of 19-22 students, which is higher than many schools pay. In each class, I read and comment on drafts and finals of, usually, 3 papers of 3-4 pages and one 8-10 page paper as well as numerous exercises and informal responses. In addition, of course, I plan and lead 3 classroom hours per week and meet with students outside of class or answer their questions by e-mail. I've never recorded my hours, but I estimate I make somewhere between minimum wage and, in a really efficient semester, $10 an hour.

I am lucky enough not to be doing this for the money, so I don't personally feel exploited; I know I could have made other choices. But I think the concerns Harris raises are legitimate ones, and he appears ultimately to be demanding more of tenure-line faculty and department bureaucracies in terms of meeting their obligation to provide high-quality undergraduate education even in the most basic courses--which I suspect is a goal most of us would agree with, whether or not we think his methods will work.

Anonymous said...

8:23 I took the writing course years ago at Duke. Reynolds Price was teaching then. I would guess we don't have any of his ilk in Duke writing these days, unfortunately. I am a "first in family" college type-not much preparation and no money but I loved the writing course and loved Duke. It was a profoundly interesting place back then. That was before we "needed" some of the faculty types that lurk around the campus these days. My ire is focused on the "agenda at any cost" types at Duke. I teach as an adjunct at an urban university and also serve as chairman of the school's board of visitors. My wife and I provide scholarship support for "first in family" kids attending the school and we have committed to be a major part of a new building on campus to be announced on August 8. But not at Duke. They don't care about alums and the way they treated the lacrosse kids (men's and women's teams) it appears that Duke doesn't treat its students fairly. People spend time and energy writing letters to the BOV and the administration and all that they receive from the BOV are FORM letters from the chairman. They literally don't have the inclination (or sufficiently care enough) to personally address their alumni base. So I have concluded that if they don't have time for me, then I won't support them personally or financially. I am currently focused on a university that is widely ethnic and located in an urban setting where most kids are working their way through school. And that university truly values its students. I have ceased supporting Duke for what Duke has become. And if you are a Duke professor, then good luck to you as I will not be supporting the school any longer. The actions of some of your administration and faculty colleagues have soured my interest in the school and my love for it.

Anonymous said...

1:56 am

"they used the case to consolidate their position at Duke despite being hopelessly wrong on the facts. As a demonstration of their power, they could not have done better!"

Nail. Head. Bang.

Anonymous said...

Shouting Thomas--
Glad to hear the point of view of a fellow veteran of composition instruction, which is similar to my own with one exception: in the three Harris articles I've read, I can't find the place where he is "demanding that his students appropriate his point of view" or suggesting that this would be a correct approach. Is it in one of his other pieces? Or have I missed something?

Anonymous said...

When did faculty take on the role of hiring new faculty? I'd really like to know.

Another great post, KC.

Anonymous said...

Zeke 2:15

let us not forget the other recent inversion - that Titus, one of NC's "potted plant" judges, was *more* concerned about Duke students' privacy rights than the Duke administration was.

kcjohnson9 said...

A couple of quick replies.

The 8.54 notes:

"Harris isn't suggesting that tenured faculty members are subject to hiring and firing as they would be in corporations. Instead, he is arguing that, within their departments, tenured faculty are comparable to bosses who benefit from the labor of underpaid adjuncts and graduate teaching assistants who are assigned the required composition courses that other faculty don't want to teach while the tenure-stream faculty are free to pursue their individual interests. I don't see this as a criticism of meritocracy so much as a criticism of a system that allows English departments to get resources (including instructor and TA slots) by offering required classes and then slough them off to "workers" with low pay and no benefits while the "bosses" get to pursue their individual interests."

Harris, in one of his articles, criticizes academics for thinking too much along meritocratic lines. But the comment above actually exposes the shallowness of Harris's thinking: as the commenter notes, "Harris isn't suggesting that tenured faculty members are subject to hiring and firing as they would be in corporations." Given that, it's rather hard to argue that the academy is organized in a "corporate" fashion--that's a pretty big difference between the academy and the average corporation.

To the 3.34am:

"This post isn't up to your usual standards. It rates a C in a first-year comp class. A discussion of one 88 faculty member, Joseph Harris, ends with a brief sampling of course offerings by other, unnamed 88 faculty members... Do you really think this man checks their ideological/political-writing credentials?"

I'm sorry if I wasn't clear in the post. Harris is director of the program. He, therefore, plays a key role in hiring all of these temporary staffers, and in setting the agenda for the program. The courses included at the end (all of which are linked, and list the instructor teaching them) are of UWP faculty hired under Harris's watch and who report to him.

This is, in short, not a usual academic department, where tenured and tenure-track faculty have more or less carte blanche to teach what they want.

Steven Horwitz said...


Faculty have always hired new faculty for as long as I've been aware in academia.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter how intelligent or scholarly a professor is, it doesn't matter even what their beliefs and agendas are. Plain and simple it is being a good, decent human being and not wearing your hate and predjudicial views for all to see. As a professor you teach the course and don't try and persuade the students to be robots like you. As for humanity, the professors of Duke 88 have shown they have none, no consciences, no hearts. What they did to those 3 young men is unforgivable. All the babble and sideways talk that no one can understand what the hell they are saying can excuse their behavior. There is no way at the end of the day any of them can look in the mirror and say, I was a good person today. There is more to life than (falsified) high intellect. Heart and soul come first and foremost and that is what they are missing. The Duke 88 just don't get it. They are the pathetic ones, sad, sorry people who are empty shells of hate. They have outraged the many who do have heart and soul and can't come to grips with why they won't acknowledge the harm they have caused. It will never happen. All I can say now is keep your children away from such people as they preach hate and prejudice, not an alternative way of looking at things or open discussion, only their way and if you are not on board than they hate you.

Anonymous said...

Friday, July 13. Isn't this the day that Nifong is going to resign?

Anonymous said...

to 8:53

My son was a freshman on the 500th anniversary of Colombus. It was all the rage to discredit him for even being an explorer and colonialist.

Some of the Italian kids wanted to celebrate this important date by displaying the Italian flag.

They had marches, supported by professors, that portrayed Chris as a Hilter. Lots of ugly words.

Anonymous said...


You could be right. I did not read Harris' essays in full, and relied primarily on KC's summary.

When I taught these courses, I think that we did present a biased perspective. Most of my colleagues were very liberal. Their assumption was that all students had been exposed to the conservative, religious point of view during their formative years with family and in school.

This assumption is not necessarily correct in an age when broken families are the norm, church attendance cannot be assumed, etc. In short, what my colleagues and I failed to notice was that the culture had shifted markedly, and that many kids grew up with no exposure to the conservative, religious viewpoint.

So, we were busy "enlightening" our students that alternative viewpoints existed to the cultural norms, and it seemed to escape our attention that many of our students had never been exposed to the cultural norm.

I do think that it is a good idea for a writing instructor to argue forcibly for his/her own convictions in class. The student should learn to argue in the face of strong disagreement. One of the hardest things to do is to restrain yourself from disliking a kid because he/she vehemently disagrees with you.

Anonymous said...

8:12 am

"What on earth makes you know what professors think? And against whom they discriminate and why? Where do you get off?"

I, like many people on this board, have been to college. We've all experienced it first-hand, so don't bother trying to BS us.

Anonymous said...

Before I retired from a major US corporation, I wondered why I would often read letters and reports from associates and subordinates that appeared to have been written by a high school student.

This was especially puzzling since most of the "writers" achieved a 3.0 GPA or better in undergrad and graduate school at many of the country’s most prestigious universities. Often when I rejected a communication from a subordinate and returned it to be re-written, I would do so with the following question?

What grade did you receive in English 101?

The answer was always either an “A” or “B” which did not seem possible considering their current writing skills. I honestly never understood how that could happen.

Now I do.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ralph,

I'm always amused when my students tell me what I think because they are more often than not incorrect. I've never felt it my job to let them know. I assume others feel that way as well.

You strike me as a bit of a know-it-all. You know, the kind of person who tells others what they think. An Ugly American sort.

Anonymous said...

Donald Kagan commentary on Derek C Bok's(Harvard) opinion of the downfall of areas of undergraduate education.
Even though Bok has scant interest in the issues that preoccupy the most perceptive of the critics—a politicized faculty, threats to freedom of expression, the absence or the actual suppression of a balanced exchange of ideas—when it comes to “how much students are learning,” and “what is actually being accomplished in college classrooms,” he too sees trouble, and plenty of it, in the beautiful groves of academe:

"Many seniors graduate without being able to write well enough to satisfy their employers. Many cannot reason clearly or perform competently in analyzing complex, non-technical problems, even though faculties rank critical thinking as the primary goal of a college education. Few undergraduates receiving a degree are able to speak or read a foreign language. Most have never taken a course in quantitative reasoning or acquired the knowledge needed to be a reasonably informed citizen in a democracy. And those are only some of the problems.

It seems, in short, that our colleges are “underachieving” after all—and that even their supposedly happy clients know it. Fewer than half of recent graduates, according to Bok’s ever-ready statistics, think they have made significant progress in learning to write, and some think they have actually regressed. Employers confirm this self-assessment, complaining that the college graduates they hire are inarticulate. As for critical thinking, “The vast majority of graduating students are still na├»ve relativists who ‘do not show the ability to defensibly critique their own judgments’ in analyzing the kinds of unstructured problems commonly encountered in real life.”

Anonymous said...

I just finished American Prometheus, a biography of Robert Oppenheimer. It is incredibly FANTASTIC. I bring it up because the last 150 or so pages beautifully depict the total railroading of Dr. Oppenheimer in the stripping of his security clearance. And, of course, he was stripped of his security clearance allegedly because of his pre-Las Alamos communist ties and interests but really because he expressed publicly strong misgivings about the direction of US foreign policy and military strategy post WWII in the new nuclear age. Lewis Strauss and Roger Robb formed a powerful team against Dr. Oppenheimer, one that Mr. Nifong & Co. would have to admire. Now, the proceedings involving Dr. Oppenheimer were not criminal in nature, and at no point was he threatened with a loss of his physical freedom. Although highly adversarial, the procedures were strictly administrative and addressed the issue of security clearance, so Dr. Oppenheimer enjoyed NO due process rights. Even if you have already read this book, you may want to go back and reread from the chapter titled "The Beast in the Jungle" to the end in light of what we have witnessed in Durham. It is a most gripping reminder of why due process rights are so important and why people like Mr. Nifong and the Gang of 88 are so dangerous. Also, Dr. Oppenheimer's early involvement with and ultimate rejection of communism illustrates how a very fine mind could find allure there pre-WWII and come to despise its hypocrisies and total failure in practical application...of course this requires a willingness to acknowledge, accept, and assimilate information that contradicts one's expectations and views...not a strength of Mr. Nifong & Co. or the Group of 88.


Anonymous said...

6:29 "You're apparently afraid of other ideas"

This, of course, assumes that all ideas are equal or should have equal standing which is complete bullshit and relativism at its worst.

While these academic progressive frauds suck all of the oxygen out of the room, ideas that advance society, lift the human spirit, and are the basis of our culture get thrown intentionally into the dust bin as a not so subtle deconstruction of Western thought.

Ironically most all, if not all, of these progressive ideas are only repackaging of failed dogma that is fundamentally based upon lies and fraud, a.k.a. Marxism. If only someone would execute the ideas properly all would be well…

The progressive frauds are the ones afraid of truth. They are the ones who intentionally refrain from honestly presenting what they teach and their publications (if any) to those that consume their product. Neither facts, nor self-critical analysis are their friends.

Duke has institutionalized the fraud, abetted the lack of transparency, foisted a laughable governance structure for oversight, and has a huge leadership vacuum.

The fact that other institutes of higher learning are also infested only shines light that the race is to the bottom and not the top.

Anonymous said...

The nasty little veil that many college professors advocate indoctrination as opposed to education has been torn. KC Johnson's most important work, I think, has just begun.

And I say it's about time.


Anonymous said...

I got a C in freshman English and frankly didn't learn a lot about writing while at Duke. I was able to structure my course selections so that they involved little reading and writing ... as little as possible. Oh, and I avoided science, too, since that would have required lengthy labs.

The reason I got a C in freshman English is that the instructer was a pluperfect jerk who had no idea or conception of my background and perceptions. It would be, for example, like a well-out-of-the-closet gay man from San Francisco teaching the child of a Southern Baptist minister -- a child whose life was spent in a small town where everyone knew everyone esle's peccadillos as well as who was related to whom, and on the 4th of July, everyone was either watching the parade or in the parade.

I didn't like the guy. It was visceral. He also knew that I didn't like him, judging from his actions and reactions. Although I was constrained in my behavior and demeanor, something showed. It may have the pheromones.

Anyway, my interest in writing was pretty much poisoned after that, .... until much, much later.

My point: It is just as important to teach how to properly assert one's own identity -- even when that identity is at odds with the faculty's political or racial or gender disposition -- as it is to teach one to assault the family histories and values and character that made each who they are.

The freshman writing program, in other words, should have an optional course: "Rich White Men: The Culture of Athletic Competition, Hard Work, Hard Play, Social Grace and Wealth" or "How Fraternity Interactions and Parties Teach A Lot of What You Need to Know on Wall Street."

I'd hire a competitive D1 athlete who was a successful (but not outstanding) student and who was a member of a social organization (even a fraternity) over a pot banging, 1600 SAT liberal artist any day of the week. And the writing skill they need is simply the ability to convey thought accurately (or if in sales, persuasively) ....oh, and -- yes -- after self-editing.


Anonymous said...

How many of you would be the first in line to shriek at faculty who gave your beloved a richly deserved C? The US has too long since been a country of Lake Woebegone, where all children are above average.

Anonymous said...


I guess it matters what you'd hire the person for, but you seem to plan to hire a male (note frat comment) anyway. But, you're getting close to retirement, so maybe that kind of thinking is leaving the picture.

Anonymous said...

10:06 A big difference between those of Oppenheimer's age and before is the timing. Communism's allure has been exposed as fraudulent, time and time again. It is evil, those in shallow graves have no voice.

One may forgive prior generations for buying into the fraud. There is absolutely no excuse for those that should know better and they are the ones teaching it as progressive thought.

Anonymous said...

No justice, not peace,

Not all Communism is "evil." Sometimes, it has done much better things that other governmental forms, eg, promoting literacy. You think in overly black & white terms.

Anonymous said...


So, communism can't be taught? One can't think communism--like capitalism--contains some good elements? What are you, the local ideology Nazi?

Anonymous said...

I have a son who will be entering the freshman class in a university down the road from Duke which may account for my interest in this blog . This has prompted me to take a look at the required and elective courses . I cannot perceive the value of " cell phone to designer babies ; Queer eye culture as preparation for any productive / practical career . Also if one does the arithmetic - -the total costs of tution ,room , board , books divided by the number of courses - - parents are spending enormous sums on silliness . "Underwater basketweaving 101 " would be more useful .

Anonymous said...


You've taken liberty with my words. And I've hired, worked for and worked with men, women, Black, white, Hispanic, s etc. etc. etc.

"even a fraternity" -- the predicate word "even" was intended to imply a lower (PC) status than other social organizations.

Anonymous said...

As the parent of a rising sophomore who attends a North Carolina university, these profiles are eye-opening and frightening.

Anonymous said...

10:14 Why not teach the earth is flat...give it enormous consideration? All ideas are equal, huh?

Relativism at it's worst...suck some more oxygen out of the room...

There's a big difference in spending some time exposing Marxism for what it is and building an entire department and course load around it's fraud.

It's also another thing to be standing on the commons espousing ones muddled ideas for free, and quite another to be fraudulently sucking $60,000 per year from unsuspecting parents to pay for the pap.

But that is just me, don't take it personal.

AMac said...

To the actively-commenting faculty member(s) defending Prof. Harris --

Thanks for offering your insights in this thread (the snark, I could do without, but that's a more general note).

It's not all Black Hats and White Hats. It's good for those of us who are appalled at the conduct of Duke's faculty over the course of the Hoax/Frame to be reminded of that.

We are dismayed and angered about particular actions that particular people took, not about everything that every Listening Statement and Clarifying Statement signer has ever done (some may even like puppies).

Professor Joseph Harris formally joined the Rush to Judgment to punish Duke students for nonexistent crimes.

His Listening Statement signature might have been the casual act of somebody caught up in the passions of campus politics.

But Prof. Harris lacked the decency and honor to retract that support and apologize for his actions. Instead, he doubled down by signing the disingenuous Clarifying Statement.

That history is what leads to the question, "What Went Wrong?" Some of the Group of 88 have turned out to be hacks who are hardly distinguishable from that noted teacher-scholar-fraud Ward Churchill. Others have meaningful classroom awards and respectable records of scholarly production.

In this post and its comments, we can gain some insight into Harris' philosophy and conduct, beyond what his choices about the Listening and Clarifying Statements might show.

It looks like he's no choir boy: if he is uncomfortable with having attention drawn to his professional track record, I'd suggest that he refrain from attending disreputable parties.

Oops, wrong closing line there. But you get what I mean.

PS -- How about adopting a pseudonym? Sure, you know which comments are yours, but it's harder for the rest of us to tell.

mac said...

Harris must have been on a Bored of Education committee.
That's what happens when academia loses sight of it's primary duty.

On the other hand, KC is exposing something that is historical in nature:
fits perfectly into the context of historical movements.
History is not only a study of past centuries (but it's good that it does, as well:)
it begins with the concept of "now," and what transpired immediately before it.

Why do professors like Harris feel determined to undermine most of the great pillars of knowledge,
to be replaced by a nostalgie de la boue (like Farred's odd notions?) Or to be replaced
with nothing of value? (to such people, what is value, anyway?)

A one-word answer: boredom.

He should get a job as a Massage Therapist or something.

Anonymous said...


Aren't people allowed to disagree with you on communism? What if someone thinks it was good?

Anonymous said...

10:13 inre: communism promoting literacy...

Certainly not in the Duke humanities Dept., that's for certain.

By the way executing those that may be illiterate is hardly promoting literacy. Neither is starving them to death.

Anonymous said...

If you walk like a duck, quack like a duck, look like a duck and hang out with ducks come open season you ARE gonna get shot at.

Anonymous said...


Maybe he has apologized--privately, to the people who were concerned. What you seem to want to do is publicly humiliate him & every other one of the 8o-how many ever. When I started reading this blog I was way more anti-this group than I am now. And part of it is due to the nasty comments from people like you. You confirm my prejudices about older whitish males...

Anonymous said...

"Although several pastors condemned what they understood to have been the behavior of the LAXers, it's not clear to me there were a lot of "Christians" or anything else among the people who encouraged action before all of the evidence was in."

Wow, that seems like a very carefully tailored statement. It sounds like you're saying: it's okay to jump to conclusions about who's guilty and who's innocent; it's okay to actually exhort people from your pulpit to jump to the same conclusions; it's okay to publish falsehoods to try to make people jump to your desired conclusions -- it's okay to do all that, as long as you don't "encourage action". And I suppose if one does "encourage action", for instance specifically demanding that the law administer gratuitous humiliation to untried suspects ("Pastor John Bennett proclaimed that he would lead a protest outside 610 N. Buchanan every week until the suspects were not only arrested but led away in handcuffs") -- well, I guess that's some sort of rare exception, hunh?

Anonymous said...


Couldn't follow your non sequitors. Try again?

You just can't stand the idea that Communism wasn't all bad. You say the same stuff again and again and again. Like the Duracell battery. You don't convince me. I've lived in a communist country & can think of plenty about it that wasn't bad.

Anonymous said...


Have you run stats?

Anonymous said...

I am a National Merit Commendation winner who attended college in the late 60's on scholarship. At least 70% of the professors reqired students to parrot their points of view. After 1.5 semeters I couldn't take it any more, left college, achieved a successful career in the business world and have no regrets. I am self educated, well read and enjoy hearing many viewpoints. I have encountered many in the business world with similar backgrounds. PS Thanks KC for this blog, I find it informative and entertaining.

Anonymous said...


You don't really think you hear many non-right views on the blog, do you?

Anonymous said...

8:54 wrote: "Some people enjoy the challenge of first-year composition. They want to help people write better. This doesn't make them losers or academic bottom feeders. This just makes their interests other than yours..."

You're right, but not in the way you think so. To be sure, some people do have an interest in, as you say, "first-year composition" (and for the sake of argument, I'll just assume that is what, in fact, is going on at Duke--but I seriously doubt it). You could have also noted that other people have an interest in, say, teaching first-graders to read, of fifth-graders algebra. All well and good--indeed, God bless them all. But just because people like Harris have such an "interest" doesn't entitle them to respect among the community of real scholars. Trust me--within the university culture that Duke likes to think it's part of--idiots that get stuck with "first-year composition" duties are simply not viewed seriously. And this is especially true at Duke given all the crap that is going on in these "courses." *That* was my point.

Anonymous said...

10:35 Like the Duracell comment, communism is like bunny, only it runs out of juice, is re-named and fails again for the same reasons.

Got to run, but would be curious to see your list of what's so good, why you left, and what happened to your neighbors?

Anonymous said...

At 10:04, Professor Harris said:

"You strike me as a bit of a know-it-all. You know, the kind of person who tells others what they think. An Ugly American sort."

Thank you for making my point for me. Arrogant jackassery is a fault as old as humanity, and I freely confess to having more than my share of it. But by equating it with being American, you've confirmed all my speculations about you.

Anonymous said...


"Aren't people allowed to disagree with you on communism? What if someone thinks it was good?"

Certainly. In this country people are allowed to be both evil and stupid.

But many people would rather not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to have their children "educated" by someone who believes in human sacrifice and is unable to learn from experience.

Anonymous said...

"You don't really think you hear many non-right views on the blog, do you?"

Depends on one's definitions, doesn't it? Would you say that wanting to apply the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" to people who are neither of color nor female is "right wing" view?

AMac said...

Anon 10:34am responded to my 10:27am note --

> Maybe [Prof. Harris] has apologized--privately, to the people who were concerned.

Yeah, maybe he has. By the way, how many people are on that "concerned" list? Three, or 47, or more?

> What you seem to want to do is publicly humiliate him (Prof. Harris)

Explore that thought, please. I am humiliating him by noting that his freely-chosen actions contributed to a corrupt DA's effort to railroad three demonstrably-innocent men to jail. And that when the Hoax was made plain for all who cared to see, Prof. Harris' response was to sign the self-pitying and dishonest Clarifying Statement.

Sorry, Anon--I haven't done anything to Prof. Harris beyond commenting on the public record. That you equate a deserved apology with humiliation is noteworthy.

When a former Klan sympathizer apologizes for his former sympathy to the KKK's racist agenda, is that similarly humiliating?

> And part of it is due to the nasty comments from people like you. You confirm my prejudices about older whitish males.

Self-refuting attacks have their own queer elegance.

How about choosing a pseudonym, Anon? A professional writing to her/his audience, and all that.

Michael said...

re: 10:06

Our son took a university course that we both thought was way to easy so I had him take a harder version of the course. I always tell him to enjoy the learning and not to worry that much about grades. But he worries about grades anyway.

Anonymous said...

Commie basher,

I left because I went on exchange. My neighbors? Doctors and other professionals. Oh, and some athletes. I return regularly. That's how I can make the comparisons... Why?

Anonymous said...


What on earth makes you think I equate an apology with humiliation? Not what I said at all. Read better???

Anonymous said...

to 10:40 on your response to 8:54

I agree, well said.

It reminded me that KC told us that Gottlieb had gone 18 years without a promotion. Can you imagine the conversation around his dinner table? " I love being so low on the career ladder. There's something so fullfilling about watching others get promotions year after year after year after year. So, I don't mind not being promoted. It gives me a chance to interface with younger guys, at least for a while before they get promoted."

These people are going to the outside to get respect, because inside their workplace, they are not getting any.

Anonymous said...

The point about humiliation is the attacks many of those posting here have made on the 88. There have been repeated attacks to embarass & humiliate them. You have participated in attacking as many parts of their careers as you can get your noses into.

Anonymous said...


I don't know from whence comes your info, but the head of comp at my institution is an associate professor. Presumably, he got the same hike as everyone else w/ his tenure and promotion.

Not sure about elsewhere, but I'm too busy thinking about my own work to spend a huge amount of time thinking about the relative rank of others outside my field.

Anonymous said...

Dont know if this has already been posted but it now looks like Nifong has to pay for the rope for his own hanging...

Michael said...

re: 7:45

Hiring by school.

There are companies that do have lists of schools that they only do college hires from. And of course you then have to pass a ton of interviews. I work at such a company. I don't know if Duke is on our list but you can probably imagine the names of the schools that are on the list.

Anonymous said...

I love it when KC prints these faculty profiles because it brings the professors out from under their desks (if only anonymously):

Anonymous Commie Prof said at 10:13 ...
Not all Communism is "evil." Sometimes, it has done much better things that other governmental forms, eg, promoting literacy*. You think in overly black & white terms.

Joined by his/her equally Anonymous Commie Prof who one minute later said...

So, communism can't be taught? One can't think communism--like capitalism--contains some good elements? What are you, the local ideology Nazi**?

Followed by Anonymous Faculty Comrade (are we noticing a pattern here?) at 10:32 AM...

Aren't people allowed to disagree with you on communism? What if someone thinks it was good?

* Everyone familiar with communism knows that the reason communists demand literacy from its subjects is so that none can use illiteracy to claim ignorance of the diktats of the dictatorship. Hence all may be shot for disobedience. What -- Did you think communists want all their subjects to read so they can supplement their time in the breadlines by reading Das Kapital? Truly some ideas are so stupid that only an "intellectual" could believe them. (I will admit that the idea of interspecies lesbian sex never occurred to me before I read KC's last faculty profile.)

**If NJNP were a Nazi, he could make a pact with the communists and party like it's 1939. And if NJNP thinks Naziism has some good points, shouldn't that be taught in American universities? And anyone who opposes the teaching of Naziism -- Do we say they are Nazis?

AMac said...

anon 11:13am wrote --

> What on earth makes you think I equate an apology with humiliation? Not what I said at all.

You wrote at 10:34am --

> Maybe he has apologized--privately, to the people who were concerned. What you seem to want to do is publicly humiliate him & every other one of the 8o-how many ever.

If you don't wish to conflate related concepts (apologize & humiliate), don't jumble them together.

> Read better???

Write better?

anon 11:14am wrote --

> The point about humiliation is the attacks many of those posting here have made on the 88.

The publishing of scholarly articles and books are not private, secret activites. Most academics have no aspiration to keep their work away from the prying eyes of a skeptical public. A subset of the Group of 88 is different--why?

Anonymous said...

"Write better?"

And *this* is what's supposedly teaching freshpeople how to write?

Anonymous said...

Public humiliation is a good thing when the object of that humiliation fails to know shame. We simply fill the void.

Nor do I feel very sorry for Professor Harris, who thought nothing about signing a condemnation of an entire body of individuals when he signed the infamous "listening statement." Think of it as humiliation being met with counter-humiliation.

Or, better yet, think of this blog as a "listening statement" that defines what a "social disastor" looks like. Or perhaps the Group of 88 fails to understand that they are part of an evolving social disastor in and of themselves?

Maybe you can all actually learn something (but I doubt it).


Anonymous said...

It is interesting that communism is so favorable to some Americans.

Having spent a lot of time in Florida, you would not find that opinion from people who had to find whatever floating device they could find, to travel 90 miles to the land of opportunity. Unlike many other immigrants, Cubans love their country and did not want to come. But they had to leave Castro. They say the price for communism is too high. They came here, and if you ever go to Miami, you'll see their homes and businesses. They are not the only immigrants there, but they leave the Mexicans, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, and others way behind.

My mom was Chinese. She came to the US and became a college professor. This would not have been available to her in China. She left in 1950. She also married a westerner and had 4 kids. Not possible in China. Did she ever want to go back? No way jose. She cried biterly about Tienamon Square. She passed away some time ago. I wish she was here. She could have written so elequently about the evil cancer that is communism.

Anonymous said...

Ralph Phelan said...

"Write better?"


Sure. It's the comparative form of "How to write good".

Anonymous said...

Esquire wrote, "Or, better yet, think of this blog as a "listening statement" that defines what a "social disastor" looks like. Or perhaps the Group of 88 fails to understand that they are part of an evolving social disastor in and of themselves?"

What a great analogy. KC's blog is in fact one big listening statement that talks about a social disaster.

There is one major difference between this blog and the statement of the 88. This blog's author and readers are actually interested in a dialogue. When he is challenged KC either admits error and makes changes or argues his point. He doesn't run and hide and threaten to block people from emailing him.

That alone tells you all you need to know about the true intentions of the 88. Thanks KC, for bringing the real social disasters to light and for starting the dialogue the 88 are too cowardly to engage in.

Anonymous said...

anonymous said at 11:41 AM:

It is interesting that communism is so favorable to some Americans.

I would call them "U.S. residents", not "Americans". Those Cuban swimmers and your mom are more "American" than any communist can ever be.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


treat sb teach

Anonymous said...

Here's a listing of all of the freshman writing courses offered this fall at Duke. I'm surprised by how many of the courses deal with Christianity, Jesus, or religion, and not always negatively either. . . must be the Methodist/Divinity School link.

University Writing Courses (for 1st year students) - FALL 2007

As the basic unit of social and economic organization, the household is the context within which culture is passed down and transformed.

This course looks at urban environments as cultural landscapes of power. We read every feature, monument, building, or road in a city as a set of meaningful assertions, as choices people make about how to organize social action and how to regulate the ways that people move through and experience space and time.

What does it mean to be a libertine? Libertines throughout history have challenged authority in ways that defied the prevailing social, political, religious, and cultural norms, but what does it mean to transgress established modes of power?

What do social networks have to do with seemingly solitary pursuits like art and literature? What can social networks tell us about how social movements gain momentum

Since the fifth century B.C.E., when Herodotos published The Histories, an account of his travels around the Mediterranean and in Mesopotamia, travel narratives have flourished. This popular and enduring genre has been alternately celebrated as a mechanism for cross-cultural exchange and condemned as a propagandistic tool of imperialist hegemony.

From music videos to computer games, advertisements to sports events, religious imagery permeates popular culture. But popular culture does more than just make use of religious images. It can take on the trappings of religious practice, fill social desires for transcendent experience, even influence the self-perceptions of religious communities. This course will examine the intersections between popular culture and religion in contemporary America by asking how popular culture may be functioning as religion, how it may shape what a society understands about religion, and how it may permeate the faith experiences of religion’s adherents.

Although many Americans only became aware of the militia movement after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, it has actually been growing into a conspicuous presence upon the American political landscape for the last thirty years. In their most extreme incarnations, militia groups have adopted racist and anti-Semitic doctrines, and the movement’s paramilitary ideology has prompted bombings, robberies, and other acts of intimidation and terror within the American heartland.

This course goes on to explore the role of collaborative reading in constructing public religious identities. We’ll examine how individuals from both inside and outside Muslim communities use reading to exercise agency and produce collective identities. Using both academic and journalistic accounts of Muslims in America, we will work to recognize, evaluate, and create written arguments about religion and religious identity.

Generations of college students have been told to make their prose clear, brief, and simple. We will begin this course by trying to follow this advice—both as offered by Strunk and White in their famous handbook on The Elements of Style, and then as recast by the linguist Joseph Williams in Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace.

Despite the size, quality, and economic impact of the arts in America (the non-profit arts industry alone contributes over 857 billion dollars a year to the U.S. economy), the arts community struggles to be articulate about how to serve the public interest, and citizens struggle to fully appreciate the role of strong art in communities. Recently, questions about the mutual responsibilities of artists and their publics have emerged in controversies over display, funding, and aesthetic politics, resulting in civic skepticism and diminished public support for the arts.

What is a “normal” body and what does it look like? Who has the authority to define normal? How are differences from the norm celebrated, exoticized, or vilified? This course will investigate definitions of normal bodies. Participants in this course will read and analyze theories of the body offered by established academic disciplines such as medicine, anthropology, and sociology as well as new possibilities offered by the interdisciplinary fields of medical humanities, disability studies, and performance studies.

Ancient ruins, sand, harems, and more sand are often the scenes that the “West” has historically associated with the “Near East.” Certainly, Hollywood cinema has tended to assume these are harmless romantic or exotic depictions. But the late Edward Said argued in his 1970s landmark study _Orientalisms_ that images like these produced over the last two centuries have actually operated as the means by which the “West” has constructed the “Near East” as stuck in time, as irrational, and as feminine so that the “West” can appear more “advanced,” rational, and masculine.

More than 80 years after the famous 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, the debate between evolutionists and creationists continues to rage in science classrooms and in courtrooms across the country. Representatives from both sides of the controversy are frequently accused of any number of ‘isms’: Creationists, we are told, are guilty of anti-intellectualism, religious fundamentalism, and biblical literalism. Evolutionists, on the other hand, are frequently accused of elitism, moral relativism, and scientific materialism. At the heart of the debate lie tensions between traditional values and modernity, academic freedom vs. popular control over public education, the nature of science vs. religion, and the relationship between church and state. In this section of Writing 20, we will develop strategies for academic writing through attempting to understand the evolution debate. Rather than weigh the evidence in favor of one faction or the other, our focus will be to develop a critical understanding of the underlying concerns motivating each side.

Everywhere around the globe, people adorn, paint, pierce, mutilate, shave, or otherwise transform their bodies. Practices as diverse as cannibalism in the Amazon and body art in North America variously embody religious and/or political values and expectations, while prescribing forms of social interaction. In this course, we will read and write about the physical body as a locus for social meaning.

One of the earliest forensic detectives, the Greek physician, Antistius, examined the corpse of Julius Caesar to determine which of the twenty-three stab wounds produced the fatal injury. He announced his findings “before the forum,” suturing vision, speech, and evidence as the root of the term “forensic.” Today this connection is perpetuated and extended in academic and legal essays, crime scene textbooks, novels, photographic exhibits/archives, television shows, and films where forensic investigators espouse mantras such as “people lie, evidence doesn’t” and “we speak for the dead.”
Writing in this course will explore the question of evidence in its many facets: how investigators, academics, and artists translate visual technologies to speak the details of forensic science, how bodies (of victims, suspects, even detectives and writers) become texts to be read, how the “rules” or “truth” of evidence construct social knowledge(s), and how these textual constructions influence narratives and politics of detection, crime, and punishment.

Why is health care different from other products in the market? Why do we pull out our credit cards to buy a chocolate cake, and our health insurance cards to buy a routine physical? Why does every Canadian have health insurance, yet 40 million Americans do not? Do we get our money’s worth for the $5,000 per American we spend each year for health care? Could we achieve the same health outcomes more cheaply? In this seminar, you will write about the workings of health insurance, both in the United States and abroad. By the end of the course, you will be able to judge for yourself the various health care reforms being proposed in the United States. You will also have a stronger grasp on how to use evidence to assess public policy.

The campus of Duke is often referred to as a “gothic wonderland,” a phrase dimly associated with pointed arches and the central location of the chapel on West Campus. But the term “gothic” is a richly evocative one that stems largely from tales of “gothic horror.” This class will focus on the examination of the gothic in works from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to later texts such as Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about suburbia. For many families, owning a plot of land in a neighborhood of single-family homes represents the epitome of the American Dream. Scholars and social critics, however, have offered decidedly disparaging appraisals of America’s “suburban nation,” highlighting the economic and racial exclusivity, gender politics, and environmental costs of suburban living. American literature and film have similarly focused on the dark underside of the suburban dream: murder, suicide, adultery, and sexual abuse. These popular works tend to depict the suburbs as cultural wastelands of SUVs and McMansions, as undifferentiated landscapes of violence, sexual repression, and interminable boredom. While the subject matter sells tickets at the box office and puts books on the Times Best Sellers list, we need to ask ourselves what these “gothic” images of suburbia obscure from view.

How do Superbowl ads, women’s and men’s magazines, university flyers, and pop music shape our sense of self and the values we use to decide how to act in the world around us? In this class, we will explore the concept of constitutive rhetoric, or the ways that language, music, narrative, and visuals don’t just effect an audience, but create that audience’s identity and ethics. We will first gain a working knowledge of the strategies used to craft effective persuasive visual, aural, and verbal texts, strategies applicable in our personal, business, academic, and cultural pursuits.

What is the relationship between the part and the whole? The individual and the group? How can we make a space for ourselves as individuals in sites of collective reading, thinking, and writing? As we work to answer these questions, Part I of this course will focus on collaboration and agency in sites of group reading; Parts II and III will continue this work by looking at individual and collaborative authorship in narratives like John Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks (1932) and other Native American autobiographies told through non-Native “editors.”

Today, natural places are accosted from all sides—excessive visitors, invasive species, fragmentation, ecosystem disruption, and climate change. Just how much of a role should humans play in maintaining ecosystems in their “natural” state? Our perspective on nature is informed by the American relationship with wilderness, and most of these environmental issues facing us today have roots in our relationship with nature. I want students to consider nature, expanding on their personal experiences and challenging their viewpoints with works from other authors and explorations of natural places.

How could the Declaration of Independence affirm that "all men are created equal," while it created a country in which slavery was legal? Why was the late-nineteenth-century working class so miserably poor in a country where anyone with energy and ambition could supposedly become wealthy? Why did the war in Vietnam, presumably fought to prevent civil war and protect freedom abroad, bring about civil strife and serious concerns about freedom at home? Life in America has been shaped by disagreements that have threatened to fracture¬or even to destroy¬the nation. Claims about the rights of the poor and the powerless have violently collided with claims about personal liberty and property, leaving us with complicated questions about the moral requirements of being American. This course will focus on several episodes of moral disagreement, and will ask what bearing these past events might have on the conflicts we face today. Using primary archival documents from American history, students will closely analyze and evaluate conflicting claims and arguments, will learn the methods and techniques of academic research, and will generate arguments of their own.

Controversy swirls around health and social policy issues. Decision makers in government are often asked to influence the behavior of individual citizens. If you were serving in Congress, what process would you use to decide how to vote on a bill eliminating federal funding of stem cell research? As a governor who believes in intelligent design, what can/should you do to promote its being taught in the state’s public schools? Another public decision maker might have to take a stance regarding capital punishment. This class focuses on cases, such as these examples, where the evidence supporting one policy solution over another is complex and subject to multiple interpretations.

A recent survey showed that 63% of Americans were unable to place Iraq on a map of the Middle-East and that 74% believed that English, rather than Mandarin-Chinese, is the most commonly spoken native language in the world. Such surveys have often been used to demonstrate how little Americans know about the rest of the world. This course, however, asks how Americans come to know what they do know – or think they know – about other countries, cultures, and places. In short, what informs American perceptions of the rest of the world?

Does money buy happiness, and if so in what forms, for whom, and under what circumstances? Contemporary popular images of the lives of the wealthy reveal some competing views in American culture on what ought to be done with money, and on what counts as a happy or a good life. The American media celebrates the extravagance of Donald Trump and Paris Hilton, while also extolling billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates for giving away their money in order to improve the lives of the poor around the world. In this course, we will explore how people’s understandings of what it means to lead a happy and/or a good life shape their own and others’ attitudes toward accumulating and spending wealth, and in the process help to determine patterns of wealth and poverty in the world today.

This course will go on to consider the potential conflict between the individual and society and how it is resolved in the narratives of coming-of-age. The seminal works of this genre date back to the tradition of Bildungsroman, “the novel of formation”, which portrays the moral, psychological and intellectual development of the protagonist from youth to maturity. Although this genre has a very rich historical and philosophical background, in this course, we will mostly be looking at more recent examples such as The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce and Ferdydurke by Witold Gobrowicz. We will continue by thinking about the concepts of subjectivity and collectivity, and we will look into the relationship between the idea of “maturation” and conformity to society: Is maturity defined by conformity or individuation? We will work as a group to consider the theoretical and ideological implications of the concept of self-development which is essential to the narratives of coming-of-age. In the final project of the course, you will write on a work of your own choice which takes up this theme, whether it is canonically regarded as a narrative of coming-of-age, or not.

As members of various communities, you occupy certain roles. For example, you are a member of the community here at Duke University, and within this community, you occupy the roles of student, friend, and perhaps worker, mentor, or roommate. These roles, however, only describe those that you occupy in one community. You also belong to other smaller and larger communities. When asked to define yourself, you may answer by stating your gender, race, academic field of study, religious affiliation, nationality or sexual orientation. However, within those specific communities, these definitions might also indicate something about particular behaviors, representations, affiliations, language, and associations. Where do these particularities come from? How might society or culture influence your perception or representation of yourself? To what extent has your understanding and representation of these distinctions been culturally inscribed and personally defined?

A recent book about representations of Jesus in American history bills itself as the story of “how the Son of God became a National Icon.” Jesus, says the author, has become a sort of American obsession. Christians describe Jesus as the Messiah, whereas Jews claim him as a model Rabbi. Hindus have made Jesus into a yogi; Mormons call him their elder brother. And outside of the strictly religious realm, political activists enlist Jesus in social movements, while businessmen fashion him as a model marketer. In short, Jesus has become a man of a million faces in America. Because every presentation of Jesus reflects the religious, cultural, and political situation in which that presentation emerged, studying the many images of Jesus in American culture provides a wonderful subject for our writing seminar. Academic writers—and that is what you will become during this course—engage and build on the work of others by examining how and why writers have made claims, used evidence, and constructed arguments. In this course we will read both primary historical documents (like Thomas Jefferson’s Bible) and secondary literature (like Stephen Prothero’s book American Jesus), in order to explore how portrayals of Jesus reflect Americans’ religious beliefs, cultural locations, and political agendas. Because this is a writing course—and not a course about who Jesus “truly was”—we will primarily concern ourselves with what depictions of Jesus reveal about American culture and values.

At a time when war and politics fan people’s anxieties about religion, missionaries surface in increasingly strange forms in American popular culture. There are the mind-tricking Jedi heroes of Star Wars, the cryptic sect of The Da Vinci Code, and the “non-combat” humming priests in the computer game Age of Empires, to name a few. Why are darkly-clad spiritual envoys the objects of such public fascination? What exactly do they do and why does this frighten and intrigue? This course takes the missionary—mostly the Jesuit missionaries of the colonial period—as a window into the controversial sphere of religious conversion. The Jesuits, officially known as the Society of Jesus, were accused of conspiracy throughout Europe in the eighteenth century, leading to their expulsion from the empires of France, Spain and Portugal. They left behind reams of writing about their global missionary endeavors that have since been used to study the indigenous peoples they converted. These Jesuit sources will be our springboard both to discuss conversion, and to practice the craft of historical writing. Historians take the written word as their primary evidence, and are therefore obsessed with the promise and dangers inherent in text. Did eighteenth-century Jesuit writers, with their blatant agenda of conversion, do more than point to their own missionary worldview? Can they help us to recover voices otherwise lost in violent cultural encounters? We will be tackling these questions as readers and as writers, charting our own process of decipherment in essays and a final research project.

Anonymous said...

Of course this silliness is fixable...

Tenure is an outdated concept that does little more today than protect the incompetent or incorrigible from their just rewards...

, do away with it and watch this crap dry up overnight.

wayne fontes said...

Could the Duke faculty commenting today please adopt handles so I can tell you apart. It's not difficult to type a few characters, say Uncle Joe for example, to make it clear who the comments belong to.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


I think Nazism is a v. popular subject in lots of universities. It fills history courses with lots of warm bodies...

I think that capitalism also requires literacy (no child left behind). It just doesn't get the job completed.

Anonymous said...


Ah, someone who disagrees with you on communism gets his/her citizenship "revoked" by you? You're so cute. A nice little fascist. Do you do radio talk shows, too?

AMac said...

Anon 11:59am --

Posting such a lengthy comment makes it harder to read the thread. Please subsitute a link to the material of interest, instead.

Google will direct you to a tutorial on how to use the "a" HTML tag.

Or, go to and follow their instructions on how to create a short URL. Then copy it, and paste it into the comment form. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hee Hee!!! "reading key texts of queer theory" LOL--this is mental masturbation at its finest! What pray tell is gay theory? All identity based curriculum should be thrown into a proper receptacle until these charlatans can come up with something worth studying--you know like real histories of said groups. I went to college in the late 80's and I took a course called "Cross-cultural Communication" and it was hilarious. They paraded out one academic fraud after another, each more crackpot than the last. My personal favorite was the dreary, montotone hag with the brillo pad hair who brayed on and on for what seemed like hours about the subjugation of women in American society! She did a little slide show about women models, whining about their beauty and how it made them SLAVES. "Her skin is impossibly smooth--indeed, she has no pours!!" LOL. My friends and I were rolling laughing! Trust me--this professor needed some beauty tips and she needed them quick!!! I kept asking her annoying questions like why she was concentrating on American women rather than, say, women in Somalia who were treated far worse. She got all huffy puffy and indignant because my common sense questions were shattering the world view she saw through the windows of her limousine. She was like the mother in the movie "Carrie"--only with less humor and no religion. The only two people in that class who took her seriously were two man-like, man-hating lesbians who scribbled notes frantically as their dreary idol droned on and on. I knew these two from the dorm. All they did was complain about men and organize "take Back the Night" anti-rape demonstrations. Neither had come within 50 miles of a man, so I'm pretty sure neither was ever raped. The less attractive of the two looked like Tiny Tim having a bad hair day, and the other looked like Truman Capote in drag. I'm sure they are both working at Duke now--who else would hire them?


Anonymous said...

If those topic gets students to write, more power to the faculty member. I go for the Jesuit-inspired course myself. I wonder if the students get to watch "Mission"?


Anonymous said...

Dear BobC,

Queer theory is a legitimate part of intellectual enquiry. Why don't you find out about it?

AMac said...

11:59am posted the list of this fall's first-year writing courses offered at Duke. I, too, would rate this offering an "A," based on titles and course descriptions.

If properly taught by instructors open to diverse points of view, most or all of these seminars would offer a great jumping-off point for improving one's academic writing. And learning about an interesting subject, in the bargain.

Anonymous said...

Yes, queer theory has really played a large part in my professional success. WTF? You have got to be kidding me!!!

Anonymous said...


No one is requiring that a theory play any role in your success. I learned a lot of things--many interesting--that had nothing whatsoever to do with my professional success. I'd've been bored silly if all I'd been taught in school was directly related to my "professional" success.

Talk about one dimensional!!!!

Anonymous said...

Who decides what it "proper teaching" and "open to diverse points of view"?

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous

I am gay and I have this crap and it is an insult not only to gay people, but academia as a whole. First off, the clowns who teach this nonsense need have no other "qualifications" than the fact that they don't like the opposite sex. Oh yeah and their entire dreary lives revolve around their victim hood and how it interacts with other career victim's victim hood.Thank GOD that 99% of gay people have enough self-respect and dignity to completely ignore this crap.

Second--don't you see how dated this stuff is? It was old and ridiculous in the 80's. "Queer Studies" is nothing more than self-pitying, dreary mental masturbation that allows a bunch of whiny liberal white people to stand and pose at cocktail parties, pretending to be socially relevant.

Sorry--but I'll pass.

Anonymous said...

I think queer theory is more 90s, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it is the case with all professions, but what interests me with about many of the comments on this blog is that so many people--admittedly non-academics--think they know how to teach.

Is this the case with every profession?

Anonymous said...

"Who decides what is "proper teaching" and "open to diverse points of view?"

I do! This is just the kind of vague, moronic question that has allowed the whole victim hood lobby to propagate at Universities, despite their lack of any real credentials. Read Camille Paglia if you want to see what real scholarship is. That woman knows more about history, art and culture than anybody on the planet. To even suggest that someone of her caliber would lower her self to the intellectual ghetto of "Women's Studies" is almost funny.

Identity Studies are intellectual frauds that sprung up in the hippie era--they need to go. We need to get back to real scholarship.


Anonymous said...

Does no one just teach literature anymore?

Read the work, discuss the themes, POV, author's intent and so forth?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Assume that Galileo Galilei had met Nicolaus Copernicus **

Galileo: "Nick ... that's a queer theory you've got about the solar system."

Copernicus: "Yeah Gabby *** ... but I gayly proffer that it is true."

Clearly, queer theory has been around for centuries and is now part of mainstream physics.

** For historians among us...yes ...I know that they did not live at the same time.

*** His childhood nickname?

Anonymous said...

No, BobC, you do not. What set you off? Where did your rant on various studies come from? The question dealt with the courses offered in Duke's first year comp.

But, why would anyone let someone like you decide anything? You don't tolerate dissent. (Imagine being married to you! Or your child. Worse. ARGHGGGGGGGGGG!!!) I've read C. Paglia and I am underwhelmed. If she were as hot as you think, she'd have a better position, despite being on the far side of difficult. More about history, art, and culture than anyone on the planet? What planet are you from? She may know a great deal, but I'm sure a number of people also know a great deal on similar subjects.

Anonymous said...

Of course people still teach worthwhile courses like American Literature and so on. Which is great! We need to get back to that and get rid of the intellectual parasites.


Anonymous said...


I think the courses under discussion are composition rather than literature. It's different.

Anonymous said...


How do you think that those who teach "worthwhile" courses like American Literature and so on decide what topics/books to teach? Thematically, very often. And, you might not like the themese.


Anonymous said...

From the urban birth of the “metrosexual” to sex on the “down low” between hetero-identified African American men; from celebrity lesbian moms to straight guys voluntarily exposing themselves to the critical gaze of “queer eyes” for millions to see, the rules for how Americans define and regard sexual identity seem to be changing. In this course we will write critically about such instances of apparent sexual identity transgression in U.S. culture (from fiction to visual media to campus life). Reading key texts of queer theory, we will evaluate just how transgressive and non-normative (i.e., queer) everyday America is becoming.

Yes, yes, I am sure that this is exactly what the parents of every Duke student were hoping for.

Anonymous said...

In re: 12:48's comment

If my child took this course, I'm sure s/he'd be kept on her/his toes. Might even learn something. Dunno. Haven't taken it. Looks to be more fun that White Men in History, don'tcha think?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do.

Anonymous--I am not surprised that your dim and sausage-like mind cannot fathom the complexity of Miss Paglia's work. That's a given. However, your inability to see the humor in my posts reveals a dreary personality that would by all means enjoy sitting through a Womens Studies lecture. So yeas, let's not get married.


Anonymous said...

Like BAs, I think we've watered down the PhD. How else can we wind up with so many self-ordained intelligencia teaching/promoting such manure?

Anonymous said...


"Ah, someone who disagrees with you on communism gets his/her citizenship "revoked" by you? You're so cute. A nice little fascist. "

You seem very intolerant of fascists. If we're to treat respect communists and radical muslims, doesn't fairness require that we respect followers of all totalitarian ideologies?

Anonymous said...

12:49...if you prefer to spend your $40,000 per year on garbage like this for your child, that's your decision. Thanks for joining the discussion Mrs. Malaklou.

Anonymous said...

Hi BobC,

I don't think I'm dim because I disagree w/ you on Paglia. You're as bad as the people you claim to be defending the world from--the 88--if I have to be "dim" because she's not my girl hero. Sorry, I think you're worng. And wrong-minded.

But, you're at about this level of mental development, so I'll remind you from grade school: I'm rubber, you're glue. Everything bad bounces off me and sticks to you.

Anonymous said...

12:55...could that be classified as a metrosexual argument based on queer theory? I don't know because I would never study the horse shit.

Anonymous said...


While I realize that you have obviously taken this course, otherwise you wouldn't be so arrogant as to have formed an opinion about it, I don't know if the course is garbage haven't not taken it. Nor do I know anyone who has taken it. I'd trust my child's intelligence to figure that s/he would know enough to pick challenging courses.

Anonymous said...


I was simply identifying your politics as fascist. It's fine. You can be a fascist. And, of course, fascist thought is studied and respected. May not be liked. What's the problem?

Anonymous said...

anonymous smacks commie at 12:12 PM with a little red book. One doesn't get "American citizenship", but rather "U.S. citizenship".

Michael said...

re: 12:45 American Literature

Our kids have read though some of the literature anthologies used in university literature classes and their obscenity meter got kicked off. That is they complained to me about the r or x rated content.

I guess that's par for the course these days and you just have to live with it. That's not to say that all professors assign that sort of thing but it is there.

Anonymous said...


Where was the mention of American citizenship?!!

Anonymous said...

Hello, Michael,

What literature do you mean? Lady Chatterly's Lover? Or do you mean violence?

I really am wondering...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Dear BobC,

Queer theory is a legitimate part of intellectual enquiry. Why don't you find out about it?

What theory, if any, is not a legitimate part of intellectual inquiry?

GaryB said...

KC, do you think it's fair to attack these people on their sometimes amazing lack of productivity while not at the same time acknowledging that for many of them, their greatest contribution is exactly to remain unproductive??

Let us at least agree that for Wahneema, silence is itself an active and positive contribution not only to her field, but to her people and to our nation.

Anonymous said...

Yes yes, queer theory is very worthwhile. Parents and students alike tout the many benefits of studying metrosexuals and queer theory. I have been told it is very beneficial when you are trying to decide what to wear out to dinner for an evening of fondue with Elton John and George Michael.

Anonymous said...

KC Johnson--re your response to my 8:54 comment:

I concede the point about the criticism of meritocratic attitudes, because I didn't read all the linked articles; I just didn't see a clear statement of that point in the particular one I was discussing.

Granted, as an extended metaphor, the corporate middle management-- university faculty one doesn't go very far; Harris might have been wiser to choose one that didn't seem to claim more than the point he was addressing. (And he also made an--admittedly small--error that sets my teeth on edge, using the phrase "flaunt convention.") I would be interested to know, however, what you think about his main point in this article on the merits.

Shouting Thomas--
You make a good point. The principle of encouraging students (especially freshmen) to examine the preconceptions and received wisdom they bring to college is a valuable one, but if we make our own assumptions about what those preconceptions are, we short circuit the process and do the students a disservice.

In my large university, the orthodoxy in composition relates to process, rather than politics: the goals for the program concern approaches to writing the students (and instructors) should be using (multiple drafts, peer feedback, collaborative work, etc.), as well as the skills the students should be developing and the quantity and type of graded written work they should produce. Beyond that we are pretty much free (with some training and supervision for TAs and annual or biennial reviews for adjuncts) to develop our own courses. But I can see how, in programs and departments structured differently, a uniform sociopolitical bias might develop.

And I completely agree that it can be challenging to judge fairly those who disagree with us most vehemently (just as I also often find myself struggling with the temptation to give a break to students I like or who seem to like me). This is a challenge for instructors at every school, and in just about every department. The best of us recognize its importance and meet the challenge all, or almost all, of the time; the rest of us do the best we can; the worst, perhaps, perceive the whole point of teaching differently.

Anon at 10:18: I would agree completely with you if the point of these classes were to teach students information about the subject matter of "cell phones to designer babies" or "queer eye culture," but it's not. The classes are meant to teach writing, critical thinking, argument, and use of research materials; topical or provocative subject matter, often involving popular culture in some way, provides a focus for this teaching that, it is hoped, will already be somewhat familiar to students (i.e., no special expertise will be required) and may interest them.

I don't teach at Duke and don't mean to defend these particular sections of Writing 20, but I think if you are judging the classes by whether, say, an accountant or business executive would ever need to discuss "queer eye culture" at work you may be applying the wrong standard.

10:40: "[I]diots that get stuck with "first-year composition" duties are simply not viewed seriously." Interestingly, this is very close to the point Prof. Harris was making in the 2000 article linked in this post. He recommended that tenure-track faculty get more involved in composition, and universities offer higher pay and more support to part-time composition faculty.

Anonymous said...

gary @ 1:11pm

Best post of the day!

We needed the humor; thank you.

Anonymous said...

Good post, 1:18.

Anonymous said...

Could you please remove post 1:25?

Anonymous said...

As a child my father (who owned a gay bar in North Hollywood at one time) taught me all I needed to know about queer theory, and it has served me well for many year.

'All the world is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer', attributed to Robert Owen (1771-1858)

G88 takes it to extremes.

Bill Alexander

Anonymous said...

"Here's a listing of all of the freshman writing courses offered this fall at Duke...."

There are a lot of promising course descriptions in the list. In particular, something like "PROSE" should be a universal requirement for graduation from any college or university. Yet a few of these descriptions provide further evidence that Duke has a severe quality control problem when it comes to selecting its faculty.

I hope the quality of the writing appearing in these class descriptions is not indicative of the quality of the writing instruction offered in these classes:

.... what does it mean to transgress established modes of power?"
Awkward. Shouldn't that be "transgress against?" And can one transgress against a "mode?"

Unclear. Does the author mean "performing normally?" or "performing 'normality'?"

... At the heart of the debate lie tensions between traditional values and modernity, academic freedom vs. popular control over public education, the nature of science vs. religion, and the relationship between church and state."
Poor parallel structure. Pick "and" or "vs." and stick to it.

"In this section of Writing 20, we will develop strategies for academic writing through attempting to understand the evolution debate."
Pompous and obfuscutory. "Through" should be "by".

... forensic investigators espouse mantras such as ..."
Wrong word. A mantra is not a slogan or statement of fact, it is a phrase used in meditation.

"Writing in this course will explore"
Awkward. "Students will explore..." or "Students' writings will explore..."

"... speak the details of forensic science..."
Awkward. "... speak about" or "... explain" the details.

One reason I suspect that these writing instructors were chosen on political grounds is that it's hard to believe they were chosen for thwie writing ability. And don't go picking apart the quality of my writing ... I'm not teaching a class in it.

Anonymous said...

Then what makes you think you have the ability to criticize the writing of others?

Anonymous said...

12:59 -

"What's the problem? "

No problem. Just wanted to point out that a defender of one murderous ideology trying to insult his critics by calling them followers of another is amusingly ironic.

Anonymous said...

BobC 12;13

Your description took me back many years. (I am now retired.)

I was really very naive. I was in college in the mid 60s. I went to a Jesuit college, which is liberal, but it didn't matter becasue I was not Catholic. Anyway, they required you take a course in religion, so I decided to take it at the begining and get it over with.

I don't even remember excactly what the assingment was, but we had to read some passage in the Old Testament and write an essay from a woman's prespective. That was easy, I am a woman. Anyway, I was really proud when I turned it in, but I got it back and told to rewrite it or it would turn into an F.

The paper was unmarked so I had to ask her what was wrong with it. (She looked just like the one you described but with bad complexion and red frizzy hair- she seemed to take great pride in looking like a washer woman.)She said I had not followed directions--I still did not understand. I was frustrated, it was my first semester! Then she said she could hardly read it because it did not read as though a woman had written it. She acted as though I had offended her. (I'm thinking, you, a woman?) Then she read a few lines, and commented how what I had written was not from a woman's perspective. I don't know if I would have understood it better if she had said"feminist". Anyway, the whole semester she trashed the Catholic church because nuns could not be priests. At that time NONE of the nuns there wanted to be priests. Many years later I could sympathize with black students that did not write the black experience correctly and then called "Uncle Tom's"

She would give extra credit if you wrote papers that were clearly anit-Catholic and could get them published.

It was costing my family a lot of money to go there, so even though almost all of us did not agree with her, we played along.

AMac said...

Insightful comment at 1:18pm, Newly Pseudo.

As a prejudiced older whitish male (see 10:56am, this thread), I could add that students' university experiences these days are mixed--it's not a monotone of p.c. oppression. My son is to my left, but still far to the right of the professors he had last semester. Based on classroom discussions and some unsolicited advice he received from one, he had concerns about being graded on the basis of his politics, major, and personal characteristics. Didn't happen: he got the mark that his performance suggested he should have received.

His writing in high school was good, and it has further improved since he started college. Professors at his university deserve much of the credit.

Anonymous said...


By: Joseph Harris

The Old Man, as Chief Executive Officer of a patriarchal, capiitalistic and anti-interspeciest corporation, flung his bait into the the unnaturally still water ....


The Big Fish, struggling mightily with the hook and the line and also struggling with his lower middle-class fish upbringing and thoughts of his inattentive and poor fish father, said to himself, "Should I be judged on my ability to eat other fish and impregnate hot Marlin babes, or should I be judged based upon my class as compared to other Marlins?" ....


The Young Boy pushed the hut's door open and stared down at the Old Man with stark fear in his eyes. The Old Man stirred, his eyes opening slowly, and noticing the Young Boy's presence, said in a weary voice, "If 'Queer Theory' has taught us anything, Manolin, it is that we will live 'happily' ever after."


"Johnson, himself an X-wing pilot, convinced Han Solo to help Luke fight the Death Star, while simultaneously destroying a squad of vicious cyborg Chuck Norrises." A BRIEF HISTORY OF EARTH, at p. 7,913 (3094, Endor Pub.) All rights reserved. MOO! Gregory

Anonymous said...

July13--your problem was that you hadn't been properly brainwashed yet. Please repeat the phrase "I am a woman and I am a victim" over and over until you are sufficiently blanked out.


Anonymous said...

newly pseudo @ 1:18pm


I teach at Duke in the Social Sciences. My understanding is that the University Writing Program (UWP) is supposed to provide a service to the rest of the University. Specifically, it is supposed to train students to write clearly and effectively. In a similar fashion, the Stats and Math Departments provide several service courses in basic subjects like, say, Statistics 101 and Calculus 101 that are supposed to train students in basic skills that are then used to pursue subjects (e.g., sociology, economics) other than more advanced studies in stats and math.

If we agree on this, then an uncontroversial indicator of the performance of these programs and courses is to ask professors whether the students that take their classes are properly trained in these basic skills. In my experience, the Stats and Math Departments perform very well, the UWP is a total failure. Over the years I have noted that the majority of the students that wrote term papers for my classes required an unreasonable amount of help with their basic writing skills.

In my opinion this is a big problem. The UWP is NOT a department and it has one mission only: to teach students how to write. If it fails in this mission it is legitimate to question its very existence.

I hear stories that this problem is not unique to Duke.

I would like to hear your opinion on this.

Anonymous said...

Ralph Phelan said at 1:37...

12:59 -

"What's the problem? "

No problem. Just wanted to point out that a defender of one murderous ideology trying to insult his critics by calling them followers of another is amusingly ironic.

Good point, Ralph. I would add that it's also amusing to watch the commies try to claim that international-socialism is the opposite of national-socialism. They try to airbrush out the commie-nazi alliances just like their political forebearers airbrushed Trotsky from photographs.

Anonymous said...


I don't claim to be better than moderately skilled as a writer Any writing error I can recognize and define has got to be a very basic one.

I don't craft and polish internet postings the way I would a catalogue entry that will be read by potential customers, or even a business memo.

So to see writing worse than mine in a catalogue of university writing classes is a bit shocking.

The whacko sociopolitical obsessions I expected, the incorrect word use I did not. At least not at Duke's prices.

Anonymous said...


Our comp program is part of our English Department. I don't know if the hed of the program teaches anything but composition & does administration. Most of the staff are instructors & graduate students.

Many of our students go into their first year with what I consider minimal writing skills. Some of the students learn to write better English essays and possibly to structure general essays better. The class that seems to help the most--and should be a prerequistie for writing--is a course on grammar.

Anonymous said...


The Nazis and the Communists were different. Just read their ideological tracts and this will be clear. The Communists made a pact first with the Nazis and then when it suited them, they made a pact with the so-called Democracies. What's new about this? It's basic Western Civ.

Anonymous said...

1:46--I don't understand your point.

National Socialism grew out of social democracy as did communsim. They grew out of social democracy in different ways and for different reasons. The predecessors of the National Socialists created various "national" socialist parties in contrast to international social parties because they didn't like social democratic internationalism.

Some people--like the Swedes--have taken to social democracy. I vote for their standard of living.

Anonymous said...

"The Nazis and the Communists were different."
Yeah, while the Nazis had a higher peak killing rate, the Communists through better staying power managed to acheive a higher total body count.

Anonymous said...

"Some people--like the Swedes--have taken to social democracy. I vote for their standard of living."

Are you from Mississipi? As of a couple of years ago every other state in the Union has a higher median income than Sweden.

Anonymous said...

As someone already noted, composition classes are not intended as a substitute for literature classes. In fact, having writing courses that don't address literature as such can be extremely valuable, because some students' interests and talents don't incline in a literary direction. For these students, combining writing with literature can lead them to believe that they don't like writing or aren't good at it when that isn't necessarily the case.

That's not to say that it isn't valuable to study literature; it is. And writing about literature is often a very useful way to study it.

Since the subject of literature has been raised, however, I also am curious about the identity of the r- and x-rated texts encountered by Michael's children. In this connection, I also think it's important to look at the approach that is taken to these materials and the purposes for which they are being used.

I used to teach a required Intro to Lit class for college freshmen and sophomores using the Norton Introduction to Literature--a pretty standard basic anthology. At the end of the semester we would read a play, and I would let each class choose the one they wanted to read from among a few in the anthology that I felt I could teach effectively.

One semester, my class chose M. Butterfly. For those who are not familiar with it, this play, based on a real incident involving a French diplomat, concerns a man who has a long term affair with another man who is posing as a woman. Most of the students found this idea a little shocking, if not preposterous ("how could he not have known his lover was a man?"), but that was part of what interested them about the play. But one student, who had otherwise been a well prepared and active participant in the class, stopped coming when we began discussing the play; he e-mailed me to ask if he could write his drama paper about another play in the text. He was uncomfortable because, in his mind, the play promoted homosexuality, which went against his religious beliefs; he did not want to engage with this idea even to question or oppose it.

The play is not prurient, although when it is staged there is a scene with nudity (we did not see it staged, though we watched excerpts from a movie version). As I read it, it neither promotes nor opposes homosexuality; instead the play concerns primarily the playwright's view of Western misconceptions and misunderstandings about Asian cultures, for which the main characters' relationship serves as a metaphor, and the nature of personal and cultural identity more broadly. Our approach to the text was a traditional literary one, addressing topics like characterization, dramatic irony, and the development of themes in the play.

While I probably would not have assigned this particular play in a required general education class without giving my students a choice, I don't think the material is inappropriate for a college-level literature class or anthology just because the subject matter may be controversial.

As for my student, because my other class that semester had chosen a different play, it was easy enough to allow him to change his assignment, so I did. But six years later I'm still not sure whether that was the best thing to do.

AMac said...

Anon 1:45pm responding to Newly Pseudo --

Thanks for commenting.

Duke's UWP might not be at fault for the unimpressive writing skills your students often show. Would those skills be even worse absent the program? (A study of the UWP's effectiveness wouldn't be hard to design; one would think its results would be of great interest to faculty and administrators. Has one been attempted?)

On another subject, were you offered the chance to sign the Listening Statement? Did you, or would you have? Any thoughts on that?

Anonymous said...


Swedish-Americans live better than Swedes. Compare apples with apples.

Anonymous said...

"But six years later I'm still not sure whether that was the best thing to do. "

Depends on the mission of your institution and your deprtment/program within it. Were you hired to broaden his traditionalist views on morality, to broaden his exposure to literature and ideas, or were you hired to teach him to write?

Anonymous said...


That's because math and statistics are objective. There is usually a right or wrong answer.

Evaluating the content of writing is subjective and if the teacher and student do not connect on a personal level, then there will likely be a chasm of thought between them that prevents teaching and learning.

Criticism of thought process is different than criticism of style ...and for me, and perhaps others ... was difficult to parse when I was a freshman (17 years old).

Is clear concise writing more dependent on the latter or the former? I think style trumps content when it comes to learning how to write. But when I was evaluated, content seemed to drive the grading process.

Anonymous said...

"Duke's UWP might not be at fault for the unimpressive writing skills your students often show. "

But then again it might, at least if they took any of the four classes I picked on in my 1:30 post.

Anonymous said...

"What a Social Train Wreck Looks Like: A False Rape Charge, a Corrupt DA who Pandered for votes, and 88 Idealogue Duke University Faculty Members who dirted the Reputations of their own Students based on their own Prejudices."


Anonymous said...

I was a writing tutor in college, and what I saw on a daily was shocking. I am talking people who could not string a subject and verb together to save their lives. I am a practical, non-pretentious guy so I agree with the poster who said teaching kids to write should be the bedrock of any education. After that goal is achieved, the students should be exposed to the classics of both yesterday and today. I am no snob--I loved "Confederacy of Dunces" as much as I loved "Sexual Personae" and "Moby Dick." But I just see courses like "Queer Studies" as a complete waste of valuable time--and I think it reinforces the minority-as-victim mentality that cripples people. What real, useful life skill is acquired by taking these courses? How do they prepare students for anything?

Beyond that--I am gay and have never, not even once, heard any gay person refer to themselves as a queer (outside of the gay press and universities, that is). "Queer" is an ugly word and the ridiculous idea that taking it on as an identity "removes it's power" smacks of stale 60's pseudo-intellectualism. I mean do women go around calling themselves the C-word? No. Do straight men run around calling themselves carcker breeders. Any gay person, as far as I am concerned, who refers to himself as a queer is wallowing in victim hood--in fact they have taken on victim hood as an identity. It is beneath our dignity.


LarryD said...

Re: the issue of private apology.

The Gang of 88 publicly defamed the LAX team and publicly incited demonstrations, harassment, and other forms of persecution. A private apology is inadequate, not just because the injury was done publicly but because part of the injury was done to their reputation. Only a public apology can repair some of that damage.

I suspect that accepting responsibility for an error is not in their psychological makeup. Take a look at the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder and see how many of the traits the Gang of 88 exhibit.

Anonymous said...

BobC @ 2:12

Well spoken. And I am not gay. But it begs a question. I work with a younger man who is quite open about being gay. I was somewhat surprised the other day when he referred to himself as a "homo". I suspected that it was for shock effect. Is that a similar situation that should not be dignified?

Anonymous said...

Ralph Phelan said at 2:04 PM ...
[first quoting Newly Pseudo at 2:01 PM:] "But six years later I'm still not sure whether that was the best thing to do. "

Depends on the mission of your institution and your deprtment/program within it. Were you hired to broaden his traditionalist views on morality, to broaden his exposure to literature and ideas, or were you hired to teach him to write?

Ralph is right again. In fact, I think if Prof. NP would just re-read his FIRST paragraph, he can appropriately answer the question at the end of his own post about whether students should, in a class for teaching composition, be forced to "confront" ideas that a professor may think are worth addressing:

newly pseudo said at 2:01 PM:

As someone already noted, composition classes are not intended as a substitute for literature classes. In fact, having writing courses that don't address literature as such can be extremely valuable, because some students' interests and talents don't incline in a literary direction. For these students, combining writing with literature can lead them to believe that they don't like writing or aren't good at it when that isn't necessarily the case.

Anonymous said...

“The reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety.” —Thomas Paine

I'm happy that an exchange was created for you, however if you don’t much care to stay and add value, why don’t you consider giving your seat to those that do have something to offer that raises the human condition?

Inre: Nazi... another ad hominem nonsense consistently used by those that cannot defend a position. In this case the wonders of communism.

For what it's worth I am lucky to be here as my father narrowly survived the front line liberation of Europe. His unit had 100% attrition. His respect for German soldiers and people was remarkably high given they spent over a year trying to kill him. His utter contempt for Nazi and Communist Intelligentsia was profound. I consider myself blessed to have a centered influence that is apparently lacking from some.

Anonymous said...

amac @ 2:01

Hi. I am anon@1:45.

Good question. To my knowledge nothing of the kind is in the works. It should. Regular departments are subject to periodic reviews. I don't know about the UWP.

On the other subject, the answers are: No, No and No.

I'd rather not comment on the statement here. I'll just say that I commend Prof. Johnson for his research and read his posts -- and the readers' comments -- with great interest because they provide useful insights for the kind of self-reflection that Duke now needs.

Anonymous said...

11:59 inre " many of the courses deal with Christianity, Jesus, or religion, and not always negatively either..."

The word deconstructing was omitted between "with" and "Christianity".

What ever happened to truth-in-advertising? You know, sins of commission and sins of omission or forgive us for things done and things left undone...

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