Monday, February 28, 2011

Money Badly Spent

At Minding the Campus, I have an essay on a highly dubious federal funding decision: nearly $50,000 to a conference organized by Paula McClain--yes, that Paula McClain--to "offer guidance" to minority political science junior faculty members on how to achieve tenure. Among the apparent items discussed--how to reconcile the tenure bid with engaging in the type of social activism championed by the Group of 88.

In any event, below is the complete workshop program for which taxpayers forked over nearly $50,000. Note that, contrary to most academic conferences, it contains no specific presenters or topics of presentations, only vague seminar session titles. And even this took some effort to receive--it's not posted on the Duke program website, the program's office repeatedly refused to provide it to me, and I only obtained if through the gracious intervention of the NSF program officer.

Enhancing Research: A Workshop for Political Scientists from Underrepresented Groups. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)

Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and

Gender in the Social Sciences (REGSS)

Duke University

February 3 to 5, 2011

Workshop Agenda

Thursday, February 3, 2011

6:30 p.m. Dinner, Spring Hill Suites, Morehead Conference Room, 5310 McFarland Drive, Durham, NC 27707

Friday, February 4, 2011 – Erwin Mill Bldg, Room A103, 2024 W. Main St., Durham, NC

7:30 p.m. Bus to Social Science Research Institute/Center for the Study of Race Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences (REGSS)

8:00 a.m. Continental breakfast

8:30 to 11:00

Panel 1. Norms, Mentoring and Networks

11:00 to 11:30 Break/stretch/walk around

11:30 Lunch served/working lunch

11:45 to 2:15

Panel 2. Balancing Publishing, Teaching and Family/Social life

2:15 to 2:45 Break/Stretch/Walk Around

2:45 to 5:15

Panel 3. Pre-tenure Review, Moving toward the Tenure Review, and Final decisions on tenure.

5:15 to 5:45 Reception and Working Dinner-Erwin Mill Bldg., Room A103, 2024 W. Main
Street, Durham, NC

5:45 to 8:00 p.m.

Panel 4. Tenure Reviewers’ Panel.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

8:00 a.m. Check out of hotel/buses to SSRI

8:30 a.m. Continental Breakfast

9:00 to 11:30 a.m.

Panel 5. What Went Wrong? Candid Conversations

11:30 Lunch and transport to airport

Friday, February 25, 2011

Context & A "Controversial" Newspaper

[Update III, 4.42pm: This story has been now been covered by the Detroit News, the Daily News, the N&O, WRAL, Lax Power, and Deadspin; and yet, to date, no reporter has answered either of the following two questions: (1) Why was a tax lien sent not to the subject but to the offices of a man named David Weiss?; (2) Did David Weiss actually have anything to do with Seligmann's taxes? It would seem to me before rushing to print reporters would get these questions answered.]

[Update II, 3.47pm: And now the Daily News chimes in (as does the Daily Mail in Great Britain). Again, if and when the lien is withdrawn, I wonder how many of these outlets will run the news, featured in as prominent a place. I plan to keep track.]

[Update, 10.11am: The story has now been picked up by WRAL, the N&O, and Deadspin, with the N&O article including this charming quote from Raleigh tax attorney Jack Cummings: "You've got enough zeros there that somebody has bound to have thought about it and decided that they didn't owe any tax." Since the same article features a quote from Jim Cooney saying all taxes were paid, and since Richard Emery previously had stated that the lien was imposed in error, Cummings is essentially accusing Seligmann's attorneys of having lied.* I don't have much of a doubt which of the two is more credible.

If and when the lien is withdrawn, I wonder how many of these outlets will run the news, featured in as prominent a place.]

The Detroit News blared the following headline: “Controversial ex-Duke lacrosse player owes IRS $6.5M; lawyer calls it mistake.” The lede: “Nearly four years after receiving an undisclosed settlement from Duke University, Reade Seligmann, one of three lacrosse players exonerated in a racially charged rape case, owes the IRS almost $6.5 million in taxes, according to public records.”

The story, originally posted on the News’ “Tax Watchdog” blog by Robert Snell, has a few problems.

The first, of course, is its headline. There are a lot of adjectives or adverb-adjective combinations that come to mind in describing Reade Seligmann. “Falsely accused” is the obvious selection. “Widely praised” is another. But “controversial” seems like a highly unusual choice. What exactly is “controversial” about Seligmann?

The controversial headline selection is particularly problematic in that the dubious word choice appeared not in the posting by Snell, whose headline was fair and highlighted the denial by Seligmannn’s attorney. Instead, the controversial selection of the adjective “controversial” appeared in an item (with the same text, and linked above) that appeared on the News’ website. I e-mailed the News’ metro editor and web editor to ask why they chose “controversial” to describe Seligmann; neither replied.

The Snell posting itself suffers from two problematic elements. The first comes in its use of the “reportedly” standard. Snell concludes his article with the following line: “[Seligmann] reportedly is studying law at Emory University in Atlanta.” I did a Google search of “Reade Seligmann Emory” a few hours after the Snell posting appeared; the two items that most prominently appeared were posts from the Liestoppers board and the Free Republic board. Snell considered these items credible enough to use in his article, with a “reportedly” tag. So his article provides an example of the standards for which he uses a “reportedly” standard. (I don’t see any problem with how Snell handled this matter.)

Snell’s post—a he-said, IRS-said item that to any neutral reader would almost certainly leave the impression that the IRS is right—hinges on a quote that he obtains from an expert, “Tax lawyer Jeffrey Freeman of Birmingham, Mich.” According to Freeman, as paraphrased by Snell, “someone would have to make about $20 million in one year to generate a $6.5 million tax bill.”

Yet by the posting’s “reportedly” standard, Snell’s expert would seem to have undercut the lien’s validity. In July 2007, Bernie Reeves of Metro reported, “The settlement paid by Duke University to the three families of the falsely accused lacrosse team members — estimated to be around $18 million — follows on the heels of similar deals.”

The settlement amount, of course, was confidential. But Reeves’ item would seem to be a credible enough source—by a “reportedly” standard, in any case—for use by the News. Passing along the information from Metro would have tilted Snell’s story from its he-said, IRS-said approach to a story that the IRS might well be wrong. (The amount of the lien would have exceeded the amount of Seligmann’s individual settlement by around $500,000, producing a tax rate on the settlement of more than 100 percent.) And if the IRS made a mistake, Snell’s post is a much different story—something to the effect of “Falsely Accused ex-Duke Player Still Getting Unfair Treatment.”

I e-mailed Snell to ask him why he used the “reportedly” standard to include a throw-away item about Seligmann and Emory but declined to use the “reportedly” standard to include an item that would seem quite germane to his story. He said he wasn’t aware of the Raleigh Metro item, nor a vaguer comment by anti-lacrosse extremist (but very well-connected) Tim Tyson that seemed to confirm the Metro report. He was kind enough to respond (twice), and I appreciate his candor, but the problem with the exclusion remains.

Snell’s second problematic element: his post (accurately) reported that the lien notice was sent not to Seligmann but to a New York accountant named David Weiss. Snell paraphrases Seligmann’s civil case attorney, Richard Emery, to the effect that Weiss was someone “with whom the Seligmann family consulted several years ago.”

Why the IRS would send a tax lien notice not to the subject of the lien but to someone with whom the subject’s “family consulted” Snell doesn’t say. I suspect that most fair-minded readers would come away with the impression that Weiss prepared Seligmann’s taxes (I certainly did)—even though the article never actually makes such a claim. And if, in fact, Weiss did no such work, then the story is a much different one—something to the effect of why the IRS would be sending a huge tax lien to an accountant that actually hadn’t been responsible for preparing Seligmann’s taxes.

There’s something “controversial” going on here. But the controversy doesn’t involve Seligmann.

*--modified slightly for clarity, and to point out Richard Emery had already gone on the record, publicly, to deny the validity of the lien before Cummings accused Seligmann or "somebody" representing him of being a tax cheat.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Guidance from Dr. Brodhead [Updated Twice]

[Update, 6.31pm, 23 Feb.: Business Week reports that Duke and AIG have settled their lawsuit, which resulted from AIG's unwillingness to shoulder at least some the defense costs associated with the lawsuits against Duke filed by the falsely accused players and other former Duke lacrosse players.]

Two tangentially related items [with an update at end, added Sunday, 3.34pm]:

First, in one respect, the discovery that Richard Brodhead was selected by the President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,Leslie Berlowitz, to co-chair “a national commission to bolster teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences, fields that are critical to culture, education, and to America's economic competitiveness” is beyond belief. Incredibly, Berlowitz was responding to a request from members of Congress, to ascertain, “What are the top ten actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations, educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship and education, and to achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being; for a stronger, more vibrant civil society; and for the success of cultural diplomacy in the 21st century?”

Upon what could Brodhead offer counsel: how to stand clear of the social sciences and humanities faculty mob on campus? How to issue an apology months after the fact, while repeatedly promoting those among his social sciences and humanities professoriate who misbehaved? How he felt as members of the Durham Chamber of Commerce applauded him in April 2006, when he announced, of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, “Whatever they did [drink beer and attend a party they played no role in planning] was bad enough”?

In another respect, however, the award demonstrates a central theme of the lacrosse case: the almost complete lack of accountability in contemporary higher education for inappropriate conduct that was based on prevailing race/class/gender sentiments on campus. That a figure such as Brodhead wasn’t completely discredited for his mishandling of the lacrosse case isn’t surprising in an academy where Group of 88 members Baker, Farred, and Payne got hired away from Duke for better jobs; or where the Duke faculty elected Group regular Paula McClain as their leader shortly after the AG declared the students to be innocent; or where several members of the Group of 88 have received deanships despite (because of?) their behavior in the lacrosse case.

Second, the Florida International University administration declined to suspend the university’s star baseball player, Garrett Wittels, who was charged with sexual assault in a strange case in the Bahamas.

The specifics of the case, based on press reports: Wittels and two college-age friends went back to a hotel room to hook up with two women who presented themselves as college students but were in fact 17 years old. Both sides agree that sexual intercourse occurred; Wittels’ attorney says it was voluntary, at the prompting of their fathers the next morning, the 17-year-olds said it was not. Before any additional investigation took place, but apparently acting consistently with both Bahamian judicial procedures and more general pressure from the U.S. embassy, Wittels and his friends were arrested.

The FIU decision has generated predictable outcry. Miami Herald columnist Linda Robertson hyperbolically demanded Wittels’ suspension, noting, “No one except the people in a Paradise Island hotel room knows what happened inside it Dec. 20. But something happened.”(Despite Robertson’s insinuation, no one involved in the case denies that “something happened.”) Consistent with longstanding media practices, Robertson had no trouble repeatedly using Wittels’ name, but refused to identify the name of Wittels’ accuser.

Perhaps more disappointingly (given the high standards in the lacrosse case from the Duke Chronicle), the FIU student newspaper, The Beacon, advocated suspending Wittels, arguing, “Even if Wittels is innocent, the situation he has put himself in has tarnished the image of the University and its Athletics department. Furthermore, allowing that distraction in the locker room would be a disservice to the entire baseball team.” If universities around the country followed the policy of suspending athletes for engaging in a “situation” like that of Wittels “even if . . . innocent” (hooking up, in a somewhat boorish fashion, while on vacation), there’d be an awful lot of suspensions, on a lot of different teams, around the country.

I’d like to think that in handling the Wittels matter, the FIU administration learned from Brodhead’s rush to judgment in the lacrosse case, and in particular understood the significance of examining the particular context of the allegations. As both Robertson and The Beacon note, Wittels might, in fact, be guilty. But the preponderance of publicly available evidence doesn’t suggest abandoning the presumption of innocence; and the overall allegation (an alleged 3-on-2 gang rape, in which the accusers voluntarily left the scene of the alleged attack without even attempting to contact law enforcement officials) would be very unusual indeed. Perhaps more important, the FIU administration took into account the different legal procedures in The Bahamas, which appears to have an arrest-first, ask-questions-later approach.

A final point: at least based on what I’ve seen from press reports and from speaking to a friend with contacts at FIU, there has been no equivalent of the Group of 88 on the FIU campus. Perhaps Wahneema Lubiano can be dispatched to South Florida to provide guidance.

[Update: On Sunday morning's Outside the Lines, ESPN profiled San Antonio Spurs player Gary Neal.

Towson--which accepted Neal as a student and a basketball player despite the rape allegations, under the "innocent until proven guilty" mantra, provides another, FIU-like, example of the anti-Brodhead. And Towson acted before the lacrosse case erupted, suggesting an alternative path for Duke.

Two other items from the report. One, the Neal saga confirms a post made some time back on the absurdity of the claim--repeatedly offered during the lacrosse case--that if the lacrosse defendants had been African-American, the media would have treated them much worse. The allegations against the LaSalle basketball players (African-American defendants, race of accuser unclear) received fairly minor national coverage (the New York Times, for instance, ran 12 articles on the LaSalle case, five of which were on the acquittal or the attempts of the accused players or their coaches to move on from the scandal).

Second, the ESPN report is sympathetic to Neal. It allows him to discuss the "stigma" of the charges, notes that the charges cost him a scholarship and any chance of playing in the NBA immediately after college, and shows how even unproven charges can have horrific effects on the wrongly accused. Yet even this sympathetic account, and even after a trial that resulted in an acquittal, cannot bring itself to remove the mask of anonymity from Neal's accuser.]

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Wonderful World of Nicole Kubon

Every so often, a post or comment comes along that even I find extraordinary. Such was the case with a recent post by Nicole Kubon, a self-describedmodern day feminist, struggling between the desire for social change and bitterness towards the depraved decadence of our backward culture."

Kubon, who claims to possess a Masters’ Degree in social work from the University of Michigan, posted an item stating, “If you like the Duke Lacrosse Team because they are really good at running around, throwing balls to each other in little nets, and getting high after games, it might be hard to hear that they allgot inordinately drunk and sexually assaulted a stripper they hired for their drunkfest.” [emphasis added]

Not even the false accuser Crystal Mangum ever claimed that she was sexually assaulted by all the people at the party (though she did seem to make one assertion, which she quickly retracted, that 20 people had raped her). And, more generally, I was curious as to what evidence Kubon possessed to substantiate her assertion, and in particular whether she had read the official reports of the North Carolina State Bar and the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office.

In reply to an e-mail from me, Kubon asserted that in making her claims, she relied on this March 26, 2006 posting from Brendan Nyhan. Yet this particular Nyhan post was far from his last word on the matter--it certainly didn't reflect his overall views on the lacrosse case--and all the post did was to (correctly) suggest that the story was likely to get a lot of attention and to alert readers to the (error-riddled) Khanna N&O “interview” with Mangum.* In this respect, Kubon is sort of an extreme version of the Group of 88, someone who rushed to judgment about the case and then simply closed her mind to any and all inconvenient data points that emerged thereafter. Even most of the Group of 88, however, are not so fantastically closed-minded. (Houston Baker, Grant Farred, and perhaps Wahneema Lubiano would fall into Kubon territory.) In a follow-up e-mail, Kubon then retracted her claim that she had relied on the March 2006 blog post for her own writings, but refused to supply any additional material on which she based her assertions. She also declined to state whether or not she had read the AG’s report.

Quite oddly, Kubon further informed me that her original post hadn’t proclaimed that all (or even any) of the lacrosse players were guilty. I’m not sure how else anyone would interpret the following line: “They all got inordinately drunk and sexually assaulted a stripper they hired for their drunkfest.” [emphasis added]

Kubon also appeared to be quite angry that commenters had criticized her . . . cavalier . . . use of facts. She promised that, since she “believe[s] that something happened that night,” she will not issue a correction of her post, and that she has no obligation to actually substantiate her claims with facts or evidence.

It is, to put it mildly, rather difficult to come up with a response, other than utter contempt, to a figure who all but gloats about her closed-mindedness while making heinous accusations against people.

*--modified for clarity, and to stress that, given his position as a Duke-based blogger as of 3-26-06, there was nothing, in any way, improper about Nyhan's post.