The Campus Culture Initiative was among the most outrageous examples of the Duke administration’s response to the lacrosse case. Launched in the same message in which President Brodhead canceled the 2006 season (and on the same day in which he sent his guilt-presuming “letter” to the Duke community), the CCI functioned as a caricature of what’s wrong with higher education today.
To head up the initiative, President Brodhead turned to a politically correct administrator, Robert Thompson, and the member of his senior leadership most hostile to the lacrosse players, Larry Moneta. (Moneta already had remarked on tape that he didn’t believe the players were innocent, and his record of indifference to student rights he brought with him to Duke from Penn.) To chair three of the CCI’s four subcommittees, Thompson and Moneta then named figures who had distinguished themselves for their extremism in response to the case—Karla Holloway, Anne Allison, and Peter Wood.
Wood’s extremism ultimately proved too much even for Brodhead. The combination of intense opposition from students and alumni to the CCI’s agenda, coupled with the recommendation of Wood’s subcommittee for scheduling changes that would have forced Duke to withdraw from the ACC, led to Brodhead postpone implementation of the CCI’s proposals. That said, te internal record of the CCI reveals a committee whose leadership began with a preconceived agenda, excluded information that contradicted that agenda, and engaged in phony “outreach” whose sole goal was to develop “data” that would confirm the desired ends of the CCI’s leadership.
The opening line of Brodhead’s initial charge to the CCI, dated April 18, 2006, linked the initiative to the lacrosse case: “Allegations springing from the party held by the men’s lacrosse team have prompted strong feelings and much discussion about issues of race and gender, class and privilege, difference and respect, and campus and community”; therefore, the president continued, “we must use this occasion to take the measure of our campus culture.”
The next week, in two 90-minute sessions, the CCI task force got down to work.
Peter Wood set the tone. The History professor, who spent much of spring 2006 giving bash-the-lacrosse-players interviews to every media outlet in sight, rejoiced that the University had placed him “in a position to tip the balance for groups that are slightly disappointed in Duke, particularly those groups in the Humanities and the Social Sciences [i.e., the Group of 88 and their allies], and build up a strong center so that they are restored and empowered.”
Fellow CCI member Marie-Lynn Miranda got the message: “We fail to highlight the unique opportunities available at Duke (to study race, class, gender, culture, for example) because we’re too busy apologizing for being in the South.” Wood shared Miranda’s vision but didn’t like her tactics, sourly noting that “the South is also characterized by its hyper sports culture.”
Thompson agreed that the committee had a clear curricular charge. Building off the statement made a few days before by Mark Anthony (“Thugniggaintellectual”) Neal that faculty “activists” needed to exploit the case to push through a “progressive” curriculum, Thompson cited a need to “look at things such as course evaluations on courses . . . that deal with race, or ask how many courses we have that deal with issues like racism.”
In other words: Duke’s curriculum would be set not by academic standards, but to accommodate the CCI’s preferred ideological agenda.
Thompson also reminded his fellow CCI members that “events surrounding [the] lacrosse team activated a series of issues that shocked us in terms of our reactions and responses. How could we promote such a climate?” Moneta chimed in that “date rape has been and continues to be a big issue.” Of course, if no rape had occurred, no connection could exist between “date rape” and “events surrounding the lacrosse team.” But even as of this meeting (April 25, 2006), Moneta appears not to have considered such a possibility.
On another front, it was clear, even at this early stage, that the student body’s basically positive attitude toward Duke athletics would be a problem for the CCI.
The committee members conceded that “sports are recognized as one element of the campus community that bring people together.” How could this data be reconciled with the desire of a committee majority to downplay athletics? The CCI never really developed an answer to this question, although Moneta offered one possibility to achieve student solidarity without promoting athletics: more campus jazz concerts! Even the politically correct CCI majority didn’t seriously consider this suggestion.
As the first CCI meeting came to a close, a question hung over the room: “How counter-cultural are we willing to be”?
The CCI next met on May 4, 2006. The intervening nine days had been unkind to the group’s agenda. First, Reade Seligmann’s attorney had released his client’s unimpeachable alibi, showing that even if the rape of which Moneta was so certain had occurred, Durham police had arrested an innocent Duke student. Second, that alibi filing included the statement of Kim Roberts, who admitted that she had made the 911 call from outside the captains’ house. And so it turned out that the conventional wisdom of the lacrosse players hurling racial epithets at two black women who had no connection to the party but just happened to be strolling down Buchanan Street was false. Perhaps, despite Brodhead’s previous apology to the “woman and her friend,” the lacrosse players weren’t all racists after all? Then, the Coleman Committee released its report, finding that the players drank much too much, but that they also were good students, with good records of community service, who most of their professors liked, and who had shown no tendencies toward sexist or racist behavior to Duke students or staff.
This clearly wasn’t the sort of information that most CCI members wanted to hear. So they simply chose not to listen to it. Wood, whose credibility had been destroyed by the Coleman Committee report (which found that even Wood’s TA couldn’t corroborate his after-the-fact remembrances of alleged misconduct by lacrosse players in his class) fumed that the committee’s “conclusions” were “premature.” He predicted that new evidence would emerge, since “other issues [were] buried in the report or missing.” The History professor told the CCI that an East Campus Residential Life person would demonstrate the fundamental indecency of the lacrosse players, and that this unnamed figure was ignored, for reasons unknown, by Coleman.
Wood’s scowling set the tone for the meeting. After a long and basically fruitless discussion of the problem posed by alcohol on campus, the CCI adjourned.
Most CCI members appeared to be sincere at least in assuming that they had an accurate picture of the Duke student body (most white male students were sexists and racists; African-American students were oppressed, etc.). And so, for its May 18, 2006 meeting, the CCI invited David Jamieson-Drake to report on surveys of first-year Duke students, which they obviously expected would confirm their preconceptions.
Instead, Jamieson-Drake reported that, in general, white, Asian-American, and Hispanic students were happy with their experiences at Duke, while satisfaction was lower for black students. The CCI ignored the obvious questions from these findings—namely, if the “dominant” university culture was a hotbed of discrimination against students of color, why didn’t Asian-American or Hispanic students seem to notice it?
Jamieson-Drake also addressed other student attitudes. He noted a widespread concern among undergraduates with security in and around campus. An unintentionally hilarious discussion ensued, showing just how out of touch most CCI members were with the day-to-day experiences of Duke undergraduates.
At a time when the local DA was breaking myriad rules to prosecute innocent Duke students, the local police department had established a “separate-but-equal” justice system in which Duke students were punished differently and more severely for various offenses than all other Durham residents, and even Moneta had sent around a campus-wide notice telling Duke students to be more on guard than usual, it would seem that any normal person would have found unsurprising Jamieson-Drake’s revelation that Duke students worried about security matters.
Not so the CCI. “These trends don’t make sense,” the minutes record CCI members exclaiming. Why? “Because Duke is not in a huge urban setting (or near any big metropolitan center) like a lot of top tier universities, so why would students be more anxious and concerned about security?”
In other words: data that failed to fit the predisposed outcome was dismissed. This pattern would occur again and again over the course of the CCI’s existence.
The meeting also spent a good deal of time on the various categories of students that Jamieson-Drake’s survey had detected. Lots of discussion ensued about the negative effects of a group Jamieson-Drake designated “hedonists”—“primarily white and Asian-American men” who liked to drink and party and were only average or below-average students. (Several committee members were confused: who, they wondered, would label themselves a “hedonist” in a student survey? Jamieson-Drake had to remind them about how he had already noted that the labels, including such obviously derogatory ones as “hedonist,” came from him, not from the students on the surveys.)
The Jamieson-Drake presentation prompted a CCI musing: “Why don’t we use this data to determine what type of students we want to admit?” The time had come, according to the CCI majority, to start exploring “what % of our students are unqualified because they are either athletes or legacies?” There was, of course, a third category of statistically unqualified or less qualified students (“diversity” admittees). But the CCI showed no interest in exploring their performance: some unqualified students, it seems, were perfectly acceptable. In the event, the CCI would turn much more attention to the admissions process in fall 2006.
Brodhead’s personal appearance before the CCI came on May 12, 2006. Conditions had changed dramatically in the 37 days since he decided to—as the Chronicle later noted—stack “the CCI with critics of ‘white male privilege’” so as “to pacify countercultural professors.” The backlash against the Group of 88 had begun; student opinion had turned decisively in favor of the falsely accused players; and some alumni and donors had started to ask why the administration hadn’t demanded that local authorities respect the due process rights of Duke students. Brodhead told CCI members that he didn’t want to dictate their actions, but he cautioned against their employing “polarizing” language. The “activists” on the committee disagreed, since the “lack of explicit language, such as race, will be seen as a superficial attempt to discuss culture.”
Instead, in this, their final meeting of the spring 2006 term, the CCI membership considered the possibility of going more extreme. Thompson and Moneta already had decided to create four subcommittees (race; gender/sexuality; alcohol/student judicial system; and athletics). But the committee considered the possibility of a fifth subcommittee, focused on the issue of “prejudice.”
Committee members wondered whether “‘prejudice’ [should] be taken out of the Race category and be established as a separate one or not included at all.” For instance, “where do Jewish people fit in?” (Needless to say, the CCI never considered the disturbing problem of anti-Israel attitudes among the academic far left, including many members of the Group of 88.) The committee also wondered whether separate subcommittees were needed to address “LGBT folks,” or “religious minorities,” or “issues of class/affluence/privilege.” In the end, the CCI decided that it “may be OK to put ethnicities [except, it seems, Jews] under one umbrella for logistical purposes as long as everyone [except, again, Jews] is accounted for in the actual fieldwork.”
Over summer 2006, the CCI’s four subcommittees took center stage. Thursday’s post will explore their work.