Sunday, April 25, 2010

Today's New York Post

Has an excellent article on Collin Finnerty, now in his final season at Loyola. Read it here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Karma and Grant Farred

[Three updates below, 6.41pm, 4-12; a fourth update below, 9.02am, 4-13]:

With the possible exceptions of Houston Baker and Wahneema Lubiano, Grant Farred was the most extreme member of the Group of 88. This was, it’s worth recalling, the Duke faculty member who:

  • Claimed that Duke students who registered to vote in Durham exhibited a “secret racism”;
  • Explained away AG Roy Cooper’s innocence declaration by wildly charging—without any offering any evidence to corroborate it—that unnamed lacrosse players had committed “perjury”;
  • Implied—on the Duke campus, no less, and again without offering any evidence—that the lacrosse players (even if they hadn’t committed rape) had engaged in prostitution.

Despite this record, and almost incredibly, in 2007 Cornell hired Farred—with tenure and a promotion to full professor. No one could credibly claim that the Ivy League institution didn’t know what it was getting. As I noted at the time, “even though the most rudimentary search [by Cornell professors] would have revealed Farred’s apparent belief that he is not bound by the terms of the Faculty Handbook in how he deals with students, the Cornell professors appeared either not to care, or to approve of Farred’s actions.” Vice President for University Communications Thomas Bruce had a much different take on the hire, gushing, “We feel that his unique perspectives and talents – he is an athlete as well as a scholar – will add to the range of reasoned intellectual discourse at Cornell.”

Today’s Cornell Sun brings news that holding his own school’s students in contempt is an attitude that Farred apparently brought with him from Duke to Cornell. From the article:

Earlier this year, Prof. Grant Farred, English and Africana studies, invited two of his advisees — both female graduate students who wish to remain anonymous — to attend a Feb. 5 and 6 conference at the University of Rochester entitled “Theorizing Black Studies: Thinking Black Intellectuals.”

The two students arrived late to a conference panel, after which Farred walked over and thanked them for making it out to the conference. According to one of the two students present, Farred then lowered his voice and said, “When you both walked in, I thought, ‘Who are these black bitches?’”

The students eventually reported the incident to the director of the Africana Studies and Research program. Farred was removed as graduate deputy—again, it is remarkable that such a figure ever was placed in such a position—but otherwise the incident appears to have been hushed up.

Farred’s conduct is now the subject of protest on the Cornell campus—including in an open letter (with dozens of signatories) that reads as if it could have come from the Group of 88: “All across the country, alumni of Cornell University are discussing this matter and expressing their horror and outrage about its occurrence and the refusal of the University leadership to respond effectively.

Farred isn’t commenting. Cornell faculty members have no one to blame but themselves for hiring him.

[Update, 6.31pm: Three additional items:

1.) Cornell’s Faculty Handbook contains the following guidelines regarding faculty treatment of students:

  • “The faculty recognizes its obligation to counsel students as individuals.”
  • “The major responsibility of the teachers . . . lies in the academic province: to set and maintain the highest possible educational and scholarly standards and levels of achievement, to embody these values in their teaching and counseling, and to uphold the conditions of free enquiry both for their students and for their colleagues.”
  • “A major task of the university, at this point in Cornell history, is to develop procedures which will promote full and free communication between faculty, students, and administration, and will ensure to students adequate procedures for voicing their considered judgment, both on academic policies and on academic practices.”

It is unclear whether either Cornell as a whole or the Africana Studies program considers a tenured professor referring to two female students as “black bitches” consistent with these qualifications. Obviously, neither Cornell nor the Africana Studies program considered these qualifications important in the hiring of Farred, since otherwise such a hiring would have been inconceivable.

The University’s anti-discrimination policy requires the following:

“Cornell University’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness is grounded in providing an environment that is free from all prohibited discrimination, protected status harassment, and bias activity, in particular when such actions are directed at a member or group of the Cornell community because of that individual’s or group’s actual or perceived age, color, creed, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status, or any combination of these or related factors.”

It is unclear whether either Cornell as a whole or the Africana Studies program considers a tenured professor referring to two female students as “black bitches” consistent with these qualifications. Obviously, neither Cornell nor the Africana Studies program considered these qualifications important in the hiring of Farred, since otherwise such a hiring would have been inconceivable.

2.) It’s worth noting that Farred also carried over from Duke to Cornell a tendency to inappropriately sexualize his institution’s students. At Duke, he at least twice denounced (without supplying any corroborating evidence) the lacrosse players’ alleged tendency toward “arrogant sexual prowess.” At Cornell, of course, he allegedly denounced two of his female students as “black bitches.”

3.) In an editorial, the Cornell Sun—which broke the Farred story—noted that “true bigots and tactless buffoons do exist in our society, and will inevitably articulate offensive thoughts.” (The paper didn’t say into which group Farred falls.) The editorial noted that Cornell administrators, including Farred’s supervisor in the Africana Studies program, responded in a “lackluster” fashion to Farred’s alleged comments, which “offended, insulted and embarrassed women and the African-American community alike.”

The editorial sadly noted that “it is embarrassing for a department that stands for equality and combats bigotry to have to deal with an issue as ugly as this one,” since “Professor Farred’s alleged comment contradicts the department’s mission of using an intimate understanding of social history to disassemble deep-seeded prejudices in our culture. Such a contradiction reflects badly on the center in a very public way.”

But perhaps the editorial board is looking too deeply at this issue, since the issue really is a simple one. If, in the future, Cornell wants to avoid professors who engage in “ugly” activities that tend towards “bigotry,” then the university would be well-served in not hiring and promoting professors who, at their previous institution, had engaged in just such acts.]

[Update Two, 9.02am, 4-13: Inside Higher Ed provides new details on the affair this morning. Farred apologized to the two women after the session, but at least one considered his apology insincere. The professor added a damning comment, telling the two students, "Stay out of any low-income neighborhoods while in Rochester."

As of this morning, Farred remains in a position of authority at Cornell, where he serves as associate chair of the English Department.

And one of the students observed, “Had this happened with a white professor, or in a different department, the response would have been unequivocal in responding to what was said.” That's no surprise to anyone who followed the lacrosse case: in the Animal Farm that is contemporary higher education, some animals are more equal than others.]

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

FIRE Confronts Duke's New Sexual Misconduct Policy

A powerful statement today released by FIRE, regarding Duke's guilt-presuming sexual misconduct procedure. FIRE vice president Robert Shibley put the matter bluntly:

"Duke's new sexual misconduct policy could have been written by Mike Nifong. Members of the men's basketball team could be punished for consensual sexual activity simply because they are 'perceived' as more powerful than other students after winning the national championship. Students who engage in sexual behavior after a few beers could be found guilty of sexual misconduct towards each other. This is not just illogical and impractical, but insane. Given its experience during the lacrosse team rape hoax, Duke, of all schools, should know better than to institute such unjust rules about sexual misconduct."

How will Duke respond? I'd like to think the university would show some sensitivity to due process and the need to avoid false allegations--or, even if not, would want to avoid being publicly shamed as FIRE has done. But on a campus in which the Group of 88 and its allies have, if anything, tightened their vise since the end of the lacrosse case, I can't say that I'm optimistic.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Pressler Lawsuit Settled

Duke has settled its lawsuit with former lacrosse coach Mike Pressler. Having tried (and failed) to get the case thrown out before discovery, the University had little choice--I can't imagine the discovery in this case would have been pleasant.

Here is the statement the University released to accompany the settlement: "Coach Michael Pressler is an excellent coach. He did a great job building the Duke men's lacrosse program, while maintaining a 100 percent graduation rate in his 16 years. Duke University regrets any adverse consequences that the Newsday or AP article had on Coach Pressler or his family. Duke wishes nothing but the best for Coach Pressler in his future endeavors, especially at Bryant University and as he leads Team USA in the World Lacrosse Championships."