Monday, August 24, 2009

The Gerst Oasis

Despite the many problems in contemporary academia, working within the system is almost always preferable to seeking solutions imposed by legislators. A good example of the unintended consequences of outside intervention came a few years ago, when legislatures in several states (Ohio and Florida most prominently) considered an academic bill of rights. Despite the ostensible purpose of the measure—ensuring that extraneous ideological concerns didn’t infect classroom instruction—debate in both states got bogged down by the troubling efforts of Christian conservatives to challenge how science professors were teaching evolution. The legislators, in short, were behaving as far-right versions of the “diversity” extremists who dominated the Campus Culture Initiative.

Working within the system, of course, doesn’t mean that the faculty majority exercises total control, freed from all checks and balances. Administrators determined to promote wide-ranging debate on campus can take into consideration the position’s likelihood of promoting pedagogical diversity in awarding new faculty lines, rather than simply authorizing the hiring of yet another race/class/gender specialists. Trustees can and should take seriously their position as final decisionmakers on personnel and major curricular decisions, rather than simply rubber-stamping dubious decisions presented to them by the faculty. (For a good example of trustees looking the other way, to the detriment of their university, see the Columbia University decision to tenure the notorious and dubiously qualified Joseph Massad.) Alumni can and should carefully target donations to ensure that their moneys do not simply promote the groupthink mentality that too often dominates humanities and (some) social sciences departments.

Faculty members exercise predominant control over curricular matters. Remote indeed, therefore, are the chances of students receiving a pedagogically rich array of offerings from, say, such one-sided Duke departments as African-American Studies (80% of whom were members of the Group of 88) or the Cultural Anthropology (60% of whom were members of the Group of 88).

That said, one positive development in recent years has been the creation of academic programs reflecting the ideal of liberal learning. Such initiatives have included Duke’s Focus and Gerst Programs, which Russell Nieli profiled for the Pope Center in 2007. As Nieli noted, “In the early 1990s, several discerning faculty members and administrators realized that the university had gone badly astray and sought to reinvigorate the university’s undergraduate curriculum.” The results were the Focus Program, which pairs faculty members with students in interdisciplinary offerings; and the Gerst Program in Political, Economic, and Humanistic Studies. The program “aims at fostering an understanding of the central importance of freedom for democratic government, moral responsibility, and economic and cultural life,” by focusing “on the theoretical foundations of freedom and responsibility, the development of liberty in the Western and particularly the American historical context, the role of freedom in political and economic institutions, and the character of morally responsible behavior.”

Faculty participating in the Gerst program come from a variety of pedagogical perspectives. As is appropriate given the aims of the program, the faculty list includes a member with a race/class/gender perspective on the American past (Group of 88'er William Chafe). But, as also is appropriate, a race/class/gender perspective doesn't dominate, as so often is the case throughout Duke's humanities departments. Participating faculty come from a range of perspectives and departments, including Political Science, English, Classics, and Economics.

The Nieli article shows how a motivated donor—Gary Gerst (Duke Class of 1961)—could combine with talented faculty members to produce a first-rate program that ensures students a diverse viewpoint in a campus where (as we all learned in the lacrosse case) politically correct anti-Western fetishes and race/class/gender attitudes are overrepresented. (As Gerst correctly noted, Duke is no worse than most elite institutions in this regard, “but I see no reason why people who don’t agree with what is going on continue to shell out money to their universities” to perpetuate the status quo.) It’s also no surprise that the Gerst Program based its operations in the Political Science Department. Even though it includes Group of 88 extremist Paula McClain, the always excitable Kerry Haynie, and the renegade (non-tenure track) Kim Curtis, Political Science has shown a diversity of ideological and pedagogical approaches lacking in most Duke humanities and social sciences departments.

Even initiatives like the Gerst Program—oases within contemporary academia—operate under constant threat. Consider, for instance, the fate of the University of Texas’ Western Civilization and American Traditions program. Popular with donors and students like, the program was one of several profiled last year in the New York Times. The note in the Times that the Texas program was popular with conservatives, however, stirred the ire of “activist” faculty on campus, who quickly succeeded in bringing about the program director’s dismissal and neutering the program’s key objectives. The new program director indicated his fidelity to campus sensitivities, explaining, “The name ‘Western Civilizations and American [Traditions]’ sounds really right-wing.”

One theme of this blog has been the importance of the parental role in higher education, especially at elite universities. The college experience, obviously, is critical for fostering independence and intellectual growth for all students. But—to a far greater extent than in previous generations—parents also have a responsibility to ensure that their children actually get the education for which the parents have paid.

Many elite universities have programs like the Gerst Program (Brown’s Political Theory Project is another good example of a commendable curricular initiative). Both parents and prospective students need to search out such initiatives, since, unfortunately, they cannot presume quality instruction across the board.


Anonymous said...

The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill faculty were able to fight off curriculum diversity in 2004 after the Pope Foundation had agreed to fund a new program for the study of Western Civilization. One of the bizarre rationalizations for the rebuff was that the term "Western Civilization" was unfamiliar to the professoriate:

"[S]ome faculty who attended the presentation felt the proposal gave too vague a definition of what constitutes 'the West.'

'We weren't given a clear sense of whether this is something spatial or ideological,' says William 'Sandy' Darity Jr., an economics professor and director of the Institute of African American Research ...."

The actions of these ideologues cost their students and their university millions in educational funding. That same year, North Carolina State received $511,500.00 in funding from the Pope Foundation. Although certain NCSU professors attempted to scuttle the funding in 2007, by 2009, State accepted another $700,000.00 from the Foundation.

It appears that the UNC faculty successfully cost their university over a million dollars. That's a lot of education in this economy, but far short of the record (and still counting) set by the Gang of 88 at Duke. MOO! Gregory

No justice, no peace said...

I am disgusted.

Rob Koons was a shining light and his efforts to create the Western Civ. program were monumental. I met Koons when he was in Dallas raising funds. Victor David Hansen came an provided support.

Most disconcerting is how the new Dean will treat those who donated specifically to the Western Civ. program.

I have both graduate and undergraduate degrees from U.T., both of my parents and two siblings are alumni, and two of my children currently attend U.T.

The gap between services provided and value received just grew larger. And this is a state university, the public resource - full of group think.

Anonymous said...

"Such initiatives have included Duke’s Focus and Gerst Programs . . ."

You're unwittingly giving credit where it is not due, because the description is overly broad. Focus is Duke's name for a comprehensive honors program, typically for first-semester freshmen. It includes a number of clusters (typically a set of four courses integrated around a subject and theme), one of which is the Gerst-sponsored "Visions of Freedom." Another such cluster is the "Power of Ideas."

However, a number of the Focus clusters are propaganda vehicles for diversity activists -- so buyer beware.

Duke Prof

Anonymous said...

Kim Curtis is no longer listed as a professor or visiting professor at Duke in either the poli sci department or women's studies program. There are 139 professors or associate professors "attached" to the women's studies program at duke. It must be the cool thing to do there. I guess it could be that they are just protecting their backs?

Debrah said...

Yes, Gregory.

UNC-CH has always had its share of "activist" professors; however, none yet who has gone so far as to use their ideology to try to send innocent students to prison.

But there's still time.

Given Holden Thorp's hands-off approach---UNC-CH's chancellor who holds the distinction of being a Rubik's Cube wiz---people like Sandy Darity can make the rules.

Many faculty players from Duke and UNC-CH are intertwined as can be seen every time a "race and diversity" conference is organized.

And of course, one of the academy's major stars, Timothy Tyson, "teaches" at both schools.

Taxpayers get a double dose of Puffy T this weekend when he appears on UNC-TV.

I never understand why organizations such as the Pope Foundation and the John Locke Foundation aren't more vocal and relentless in fighting for a balance with regard to curricula.

Perhaps because many in those groups are just as conservative as the liberal faculty are radical.

And when you have an over-abundance of radicals it's going to get very messy and even more difficult to prevail.

Debrah said...

How many other states have similar policies ?

Anonymous said...

Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and the sole social conservative in the Department of Politics at my undergraduate alma mater, Princeton, has created an excellent program along the lines of the Gerst Program at Duke, the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions:

George, one of the most important Natural Law theorists in America, was as much beloved by the most liberal students as the most conservative students when I was an undergraduate. I took his Civil Liberties course thirteen years ago and still consider it the best example of Socratic method I've ever seen put in practice. When Vanderbilt tried hiring him away a couple years later, students stood up in the middle of his Constitutional Interpretation class, chanting for him to stay. Why is he so pedagogically successful? Why is he so revered? Because he always listened respectfully to students whether he agreed with their positions or not, engaged everyone equally (and did so at a very high intellectual level), and he was completely fair. Perhaps the greatest testament to his character and professionalism comes from a seemingly unlikely source, his colleague in the Department of Religion, Cornel West. They've co-taught a freshman seminar at Princeton that has become a model for intellectual diversity, rigor, and excitement:

As a grad student in one of the humanties departments at Duke, I think it's extremely depressing that a comparable course at Duke would never fly.

William L. Anderson said...

Actually, Kim Curtis teaches part-time in the M.A. program in "Sustainable Communities" at Northern Arizona University. No doubt, she is as good at propagandizing there as she was at Duke.

Anonymous said...

For MOO! Gregory, Ken of Dallas, Jim Peterson, and Chris Halides: Thank you for your comments to my previous remarks on the use of habeas jurisprudence to judge claims of "actual innocence". I have replied in the earlier comment section:


Debrah said...

For the purpose of this post, mentioning Kim Curtis in association with Duke is the point.

The whole Kyle Dowd affair is an excellent example of why the Gerst Program is so necessary.

Not very much can be found on Kim Curtis at Northern Arizona University.

Perhaps she's just an appendage of her hubby Rom Coles.

They do surface as donors to Earth Friends.

Northern Arizona University looks like a real step down for Coles and Curtis.

Who could live in Arizona, anyway......for a long period of time?

Debrah said...

A welcome FYI.

Looks as though the H-S has finally evolved and upgraded their website.

I didn't have to do the usual signing in on the register page to check out the place.

Hopefully, that means in the future if there's anything to reference, it can be done with a link instead of pasting articles.

Readers won't have to be registered to read the article.


Anonymous said...

RRH, Thanks for the road sign! I forget to check old posts all the time. Even though we may disagree at times, I do enjoy seeing your thoughts on paper!


The Duke Chronicle had a couple of pieces dealing with the university's recent #10 ranking in the U.S. News & World Report. But the article and editorial only lasted a day on the front page of their website. It appears that comments were coming in at about 9 to 1 against the Duke administration. Can't have that! MOO! Gregory

Debrah said...

Looks as though Duke, along with most other universities need to begin accepting donations where they can find them.

The offer was part of Duke's plan -- in response to declines in major gifts and a shrinking endowment -- to trim $125 million from the university's $2 billion operating budget over the next three years.

Anonymous said...

The heavy hand of censorship has hit the Duke Chronicle again. This time it has taken the shape of bannings for either listing the Group of 88 or criticizing Brodhead. Apparently somebody at the Chronicle doesnt think its important to warn freshmen about the 88.

Some here might remember how the Chronicle message board had an open forum to post your own topics and host your own debate. That free speech was completely eliminated when it started to go badly for the 88 professors and the Duke Administration. At the time, the Chronicle claimed that the "open forum" was being temporarily dis-continued due to the lack of supervision while students left for the summer. That was a couple of summers ago.

Since Kristin Butler and a few of her compadres left, the Chronicle hasnt done very well in exposing the hoax or its university participants. Recently any article somewhat related to the case doesnt last long on the front page. Brodhead and the 88 must really be scared. Do you think it relates to Dukes latest rankings?

Anonymous said...

Is Haynie a Communist?

No justice, no peace said...

Speaking of false prosecution...this video test is interesting and brief.

How law enforcement can manipulate a breath test...

Gary Packwood said...

KC said...
One theme of this blog has been the importance of the parental role in higher education, especially at elite universities.
I find it helpful to remind young family members that nobody in the academe gets tenure or a reputation with the fourth estate by approving of someone else's examination of past events or praising the decisions of past leaders as wise.

Caveat Emptor!

Anonymous said...

Concerning the Chronicle, you do realize that it's not run by the University, right? It's run completely by the students.

The idea that the Duke admin would try to censor/affect articles or letters on any of this stuff because they're now "ONLY" ranked #10 in the country is pure comedy.

Chris Halkides said...

To anon. at 8:47 AM,

The commment function for the students' Lombard letter got disabled and the comments no longer appear. However, there was a good deal of obscene language in some of the comments. I am scratching my head wondering who would do a thing like that.


Debrah said...

I knew Bill Chafe would surface somehow given the subject matter.

And, of course, there's nothing wrong with eulogizing someone in an op-ed.

However, it's one more example how Chafe is living a reality that has long past.

His not-so-secret yearning for his own heyday informed his horrific decision to use the Emmett Till murder as a backdrop to describe the Lacrosse Hoax.

But what really illuminated how out-of-the-loop he is....along with his colleague "Puffy T" Tyson, he was a big John Edwards supporter during the election cycle.


Panacea said...

Thanks Debrah for the link on Bill Chafe.

You are right given the subject matter there is no telling who will surface.

We know that "Puffy T" Tyson was a big John Edwards supporter, but where is he now when John needs him? LIS

Anonymous said...

I thinnk what 10:29 is saying is that there are enuf groupthinkers at the chronicle that they dont need input from the professors and administration. Also the ranking at 10 isnt the problem. the steady decline and the 104 ranking from forbes is the problem.

Anonymous said...

I was also banned at the Chronicle, but I just removed power to my server to change the IP address. If you don't have that ability then I don't know what you do. I guess they didnt like what I had to say about the schools rankings.

Locomotive Breath said...

Working within the system, of course, doesn’t mean that the faculty majority exercises total control, freed from all checks and balances.

Except that's an exact description of how things operate. Any self-selecting group will tend toward uniformity once one particular faction has gained a majority. This is true of country clubs, fraternities and university faculties. This is why it is against the law to sell a house constrained by restrictive covenants that the house may not be resold to "people not like us".

No Justice, No Peace said...

"It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution." --Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia Query 19, 1781

This speaks to the heart of the problem with deconstruction. Those is in race, class, and gender fluffy studies willfully desire to be degenerates. All they offer solutions is a collective canker which is worse than the individual ones Jefferson describes.

Anonymous said...

If you think the 104 Forbes ranking is a problem for the University, you're smoking something. It was a ridiculous ranking they came up with, and nobody with half a brain is going to point to that with any degree of seriousness. You might as well admit that you have no idea how these things function.

Anonymous said...

"The Duke Chronicle had a couple of pieces dealing with the university's recent #10 ranking in the U.S. News & World Report. But the article and editorial only lasted a day on the front page of their website."

Presumably because it is a daily paper?

No justice, no peace said...

Yale - "“Opportunistic,” yes; “unprincipled,” you betcha; and let’s not forget “pathetic.”...

Has Yale passed Duke in the race to the bottom?

On the one hand, Yale hasn't tried to throw innocent students into prison for thirty years. On the other hand, they have been actively making up the gap in other ways.

The linked article is another great read written by Roger Kimball.

"...John Donatich and Richard Levin are sorry collaborationists in a movement that is inimical to everything the institutions they lead represent. I suppose that, from one point of view, they should be pitied. But from the point of view of those who cherish political freedom and the free exchange of ideas, they should be replaced."

Isn't it ironic that Richard Brodhead is a common link among Duke, Yale, and loss of academic reputation?

Anonymous said...

Only if you have no understanding of the word "irony", yeah.

Anonymous said...

"The Duke Chronicle had a couple of pieces dealing with the university's recent #10 ranking in the U.S. News & World Report. But the article and editorial only lasted a day on the front page of their website."

Presumably because it is a daily paper?


No because the Chronicle always leaves important articles up for a couple of days. But not articles that bite the administration so hard in the ***. If you are saying that university rankings arent important to duke and dukies, I think I will die laughing. Forbes said "bleech!"

Anonymous said...

By the way, there is no doubt in my mind that Brodhead, Steel and the G88 are the main culprits for the drop in the U.S. News and World Report and Forbes rankings. How long will the trustees put up with that?

Debrah said...

I made a special effort to check out the aforementioned UNC-TV "Carolina People" program tonight with Timothy "Puffy T" Tyson as guest.

A tough job, but someone's got to do it.

I sat through a full thirty minutes of some of the same fare we've come to expect from Tyson; however, a kind of eerie clarity survives.

I cannot easily put into words what it was like listening to Bill Friday---(long revered by everyone, from the late Jesse Helms to the most radical of the academy)---praise Tyson, his little "race book" that's his calling card, and his entire family.

Great effort was made to go back in time and relive the traumatic experiences that turned cherubic chap Timmy into wailing Puffy T.

The product of a long line of Methodist ministers, I suppose Tyson learned early on from his P. Diddy that if you mix religion and race there will always be a chicken in the pot.

Did Friday ask Tyson anything about his role in the Duke Lacrosse Hoax and how exactly the "race" narrative plays out when there are proven white victims like Reade, Collin, and David?

No. Not a word.

Did Friday challenge him on anything in his book that others have found to be exaggeration, fabrication, or falsehood?

No. Not a word.

Given that a fair share of respectable and honorable people treat Tyson as if he's a "significant scholar and author", it's easy to see why the general public have distorted views of such charlatans.

Is he a savior and a racial healer who wins awards and is invited to speak to people who need to see the light ?

Or is this the man who experienced great pleasure whipping up an entire campus and the surrounding town against innocent students where he draws a salary?

The public did learn that the little movie made from his book, "Blood Done Sign My Name" will be coming out in February 2010.

And the public learned that Tyson's next book will be about Emmett Till.

How exactly Tyson plans to wax moralistic about that case after his behavior and his record are so well-known, I'm sure I would not know.

Good thing the man with the white beard is a good buddy.

Together, they will use Emmett Till like the Smithsonian will be using his original casket.

Debrah said...

As an interesting FYI, Zillow zestimates that the preacher/professor warrior for the disenfranchised and the othered among us--Tim Tyson....

.....lives large.

The Duke Gang of 88 and their mascot like to live in those expensive neighborhoods.

This area is located right beside the UNC-CH campus. Most of homes there were built in the first half of the 20th century.

Substantial and large.

The taxes on such a home in Chapel Hill will eat the owner alive.....

......unless, of course, you are one of "G/d's children" who spends your days fighting against "rich white boys".....whose male ancestors used to make black people "roll around in a barrel of flour for coins and bills".

Then, and only then, are you entitled to live large.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the Forbes ranking rattled you so much, Anonymous @ 8:22, that you had to post about it! Half a brain indeed!

Yeah it's not like the #104 ranking is coming from a magazine that anyone has heard of, right? Or, that the Duke Administration would want to impress the people who actually read Forbes Magazine? And, well, you know, like, any press is good press.

Anonymous said...

"Despite the many problems in contemporary academia, working within the system is almost always preferable to seeking solutions imposed by legislators."

A perfect example of "contemporary academia" providing students with a "bill of rights" can be found in Dukes claim that the student handbook isn't binding on Duke.
North of Detroit

The Hounds of TASSers'ville said...

Duke appears to be running numbers in the Chronicle to rewrite history for incoming students unfamiliar with either the Lacrosse Hoax or the Lombard Case:

In particular, our attention was drawn to the fact that Duke's most famous scandal was not mentioned once in the article, but rather expunged statements by Gregory, Wasiolek, and Broderick about "cream of the crop sex offenders," "rape culture," "victim blame" and "inappropriate parties."

Yet even this does not scratch the surface of this dismal article and the policy it describes.

Posted by Hound No. 2
The Hounds of TASSers'ville

Anonymous said...

I love how the Mangum apologists and the Nifong apologists have become Duke Chronicle apologists. They have continued a general trend, though, by being wrong every time they spout off! Here is a Liestopper post documenting the censorship at the Duke Chronicle:

"Just for fun, I wrote the following to Editor Will ay The Chronicle about the 'Rape policy mandates reporting' article:

What is the reason that the comment section is turned off for this article?

Thank you

His reply

Hi Mike,

Thanks for raising this issue.

The comments section is something we choose to make available or
unavailable on a case by [sic]basis. For this particular story, we felt that allowing anonymous online comments would be conducive to the posting of inappropriate material. If you would like to comment on this story, I would strongly encourage you to write a letter to the editor and e-mail it to

Also, we are currently in the process of formulating a new policy for online comments that we will make available when we launch our new Web site. So, if you have any further thoughts on this matter I would love to hear your feedback.



Duke 1965 said...

To Hounds @ 12:28,

The linked article is truly unbelievable. Here's a quote from Women's Center Director Ada Gregory:

"The higher IQ, the more manipulative they are, the more cunning they are... imagine the sex offenders we have here at Duke-cream of the crop,"

Apparently, Ms. Gregory is dissatisfied with the low number of reported sexual assaults at Duke, so she "imagines" a cunning group of high-IQ white male sex offenders who are avoiding detection. Truly insane.

Debrah said...

"Also, we are currently in the process of formulating a new policy for online comments that we will make available when we launch our new Web site. So, if you have any further thoughts on this matter I would love to hear your feedback."

Perhaps that's progress, in its own way.

If the Chronicle makes it mandatory that people who comment have to provide personal contact information it will cut down on the idle freaks who surface using the names of others on their way to expressing themselves behind a mask.

And in such a way they cannot get away with on other fora.

That said, the Chronicle shows very poor judgment by closing comment sections in order to avoid opposing views.

Anonymous said...

Great article you got here. It would be great to read more about this topic. The only thing I would like to see on that blog is a few pictures of any gadgets.
John Watcerson
Cell phone blocker