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.]


Anonymous said...

another culprit ends up with a great job. Burness is interim president at Franklin & Marshall.

Anonymous said...

Farred (I refuse to refer to him as a professor) was a known quantity when Cornell hired him. Why complain about him now? Betcha some of the same folks who thought he should be crowned king over his remarks about the lacrosse case (the "white" boys), are the same folks who now take exception to his "black bitch" remark. Farred is the epitomy of an equal opportunity racist.

Anonymous said...

Is Grant Farred a radical feminist anti-capitalist who opposes white supremacy and imperialism, with a central commitment to creating a sustainable human presence on the planet?

William L. Anderson said...

All I can say is that the Duke Lacrosse Case and the characters that drove it along really fall into the "You can't make up this stuff" category.

As for Farred, I think this must be the "secret racism" of which he was speaking! His own!

Anonymous said...

So how quickly would the speech-code thought police have descended on, say, a trio of white lacrosse players who made this sort of remark?

Anonymous said...

It is a good thing that politicaly correct zealots are victimized by their own kind following their own doings.
On the other hand: the ladies were late weren'd they? So the professor teaches them how that is perceived. What harm is done?

skwilli said...

I'm just shaking my head. It is astounding that these buffoons continue in any capacity at "institutions of higher learning", let alone at positions of power. And now Burness is in my own backyard! $50,000/year doesn't buy much nowadays, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

The sickness of all of this is in the larger community who tolerate this ass. At some point you have to be ashamed of yourself . . . just ashamed . . . just stand and hold your hat and shuffle around while people who are no more than dogs tell you what is "real."

One Spook said...

Indeed, some “Leading African-American Scholars” are more equal than other scholars. This is why Farred believes he can say with impunity anything that he desires. If he plays his cards right, Farred can possibly parlay this incident into a tenured full professor position at Harvard where he can join Skip Gates and embrace the concept of “You don’t know who you’re messing with” and add that to his repertoire.

Of course, a key learning objective in “Africana Studies” is developing a permanent posture of being “perpetually offended” at a multitude of real or imagined “wrongs.”

Yet there appears to be more to this story than meets the eye. The hyperbolic letter from the fully qualified perpetually-offended Cornell alumni states, “Over the past year, there have been an increasing number of racist and sexist incidents at the Africana Studies and Research Center; actions which, in previous years, would have not only been intolerable, but would have been unthinkable. Yet under the current chair, Professor Salah Hassan, these events have become routine and commonplace. In fact, they have become so notorious that alumni such as ourselves, [sic] who are scattered across the country, have received word of these episodes and now feel compelled to speak out.

Meanwhile, according to the article at Inside Higher Ed that KC linked, Cornell University’s deputy spokesperson Simeon Moss said there is “a confidential investigation that is ongoing and it hasn’t concluded.” He added, “This is just one remark we’re talking about.”[my emphasis]

If we are to believe the perpetually offended Cornell Africana Studies alumni and the Cornell spokesperson, we must conclude that the department of which Farred is a part is a veritable hotbed of intolerable, unthinkable, notorious, routine, commonplace racist and sexist incidents," and furthermore that Farred’s words are merely “one remark” that the confidential investigation is addressing.

And, despite the Alumni’s questioning "whether a faculty member who has created such a hostile and untenable environment for students, faculty and staff should be allowed to remain a professor at Cornell," Farred will never be fired. Everyone knows that even a professor who fakes his ethnicity and his scholarship can barely be fired; See: Ward Churchill.

I doubt that Farred will even suffer the same fate as Don Imus who termed outstanding female black athletes, “Nappy-headed Ho’s” while white. In the world of academia, Farred’s offense of calling black female scholars “black bitches” while black hardly rises to the level of Imus’ egregious comments, which enjoyed widespread publicity.

In Imus’ case, as penance he was made to kneel before the altar of The Reverend Al Sharpton, arbiter of all things racist in America. That won’t happen to Farred.

Farred will be made to again apologize to the offended students in the presence of President Skorton, Hassan, and a chorus other offended humans.

One Spook

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know why they were late to the panel discussion? I am not condoning Farred's words.

Anonymous said...

Is Farred a Communist?

Anonymous said...

This incident (assuming it really happened) reveals the double standard in US higher education--and beyond. After Fared's many outrages, it is only when he allegedly mutters "black bitches" that some people are really scandalized. Prior to that, he had free reign to malign and slander the Duke lacrosse players, almost all of whom are white males.

RighteousThug said...

Connell Daily Sun 4/15/2010:Africana Controversy Prompts Debate

While some students testified that Farred had consistently treated them respectfully, others said he has a reputation for offending and harassing students.

“He does have a history of belittling Africana students, even if this doesn’t happen in the English department,” one graduate student said.

Farred must have really pissed someone off to have this blow up so badly.

Anonymous said...

Burness is interim President at Franklin & Marshall????? What, Basghdad Bob, the Iraqi Minister of Information, had other plans? What is going on in our colleges and universities? Burness, in addition to being a mean spirited dingbat, cost Duke a pretty penny to Coach Pressler because he could not keep his big mouth shut. Any Duke alum would be hard pressed ot think of a single instance when he acted intelligently and honorably at Duke.

Do colleges and universities actively search forhe worst candidates available? The mind boggles.

silent_l said...

Any commentary on the Feb/Mar filings in the McFadyen case?

a Nice NJ Guy said...

to the 10:04 pm (4/14/10):

No need to be "assuming it [Fared calling two students 'black bitches'] really happened.
Fared has APOLOGIZED for the event. Clearly, HE felt that it had happened.

Anonymous said...

Duke Law 72

With the help of DIW and FIRE I just talked a client out of letting his son attend Duke.

Anonymous said...

To the rogues gallery of the more extreme members of the Gang of 88 mentioned in the first paragraph, I would suggest adding the name of Karla Holloway.

Durham Traffic Lawyer said...

Ah durham, what a beautiful place. Why parents continue to pay so much money to go to school there is still beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Looks like this champ is still in the news:

Anonymous said...

How does tokenism work? I congratulate Fareed on the way he works the system.
Also, there is the minstrel show aspect to all of this. The academics get cush jobs, and the institutions(colleges, courts, etc) get to demonstrate their political correctness. Everyone gets a discrete chuckle, except for the victims, who in the Duke wouldn't now be wealthy young men if things had happened a little differently.