Saturday, September 15, 2012

Farred, Chafe, and Presumers of Guilt

One of the more intriguing admissions about the Group of 88 came in 2007, from a prominent member of the Group, history professor (and former Duke administrator) William Chafe.  Most of us,” he told the Chronicle, never presumed guilt.”

In one respect, the remark was preposterous, given that the statement Chafe and the other 87 signed stated without equivocation that they believed something “happened” to false accuser Crystal Mangum. But the remark was nonetheless revealing, given that it came at a time when some Duke apologists were falsely claiming that the statement had nothing to do with the lacrosse case. (It might have been, Charlie Piot mused, a response to Hurricane Katrina’s(!) aftermath.)

Chafe never said which member of the Group even he was willing to concede “presumed guilt.” A few months after Chafe’s remarks, it became clear that one Group member to whom the history professor possibly referred was Grant Farred, who (falsely) told a Williams College audience that unnamed lacrosse players had committed perjury. Farred soon departed Duke for Cornell, which offered him a position as tenured full professor. The reckless hiring, however, backfired on the school after Farred attracted fierce criticism for referring to two students as “black bitches.”

I recently came across a post from one of the few people to speak up on Farred’s behalf, a Cornell colleague of his named Riché Richardson. Richardson—a Duke Ph.D. who specializes in (of course) race and gender, and whose most recent tweet praised a "brilliant talk" by the Group member and "thugniggaintellectual," Mark Anthony Neal—is perhaps the only professor I ever have encountered to have praised herself for her . . . course syllabi, which she claims “can take a long time to research and days to write” and “and are valued by students on their own terms as research and learning tools.

In the event, long after the Farred controversy, Richardson posted a tribute to Farred on her blog, in which she expressed concern about “a climate on campus that creates an intimidating or hostile environment for Professor Farred.” She would not, huffed Richardson, “appreciate having my own credentials or attitudes misrepresented in the way that his have been in some instances, which is also unsettling given my concerns about protecting academic freedom, collegiality and all the things that reflect the basic values of academia.

Richardson’s post is most interesting for her comments about Farred and the lacrosse case. The man who called two African-American students “black bitches,” she argued, shouldn’t be deemed “somehow dismissive of black women.” Why not? Because “in the situation regarding the black woman stripper who alleged rape in 2006 by members of the Duke Lacrosse team, he spoke up in her defense by writing a letter clarifying some of the implications of the situation [link to at ]. Many of the faculty who had the courage to speak out about this situation, which made national headlines, were threatened, harassed, criticized publicly and were victimized by a very calculated smear campaign. Some eventually moved on, including Professor Farred. I respect the very principled and courageous statement that Professor Farred chose to make in Durham on this case involving the black woman stripper, and do not take the sacrifices that he made in the wake of it lightly. The truth is that Professor Farred put everything on the line at a very prestigious job that he valued to support and help defend a black woman who he at the time believed had been the victim of rape and racist epithets.”

The most significant item, of course, from Richardson’s statement is her last line—even a defender of Farred has publicly conceded that the Group member presumed guilt: he “believed” Mangum was raped. Richardson’s claim of Group victimization is as unsurprising as it is unsubstantiated. But I was struck by her claim that “Professor Farred put everything on the line at a very prestigious job that he valued.” As far as I know, Farred put nothing “on the line” related to his job (other than, I suppose, his reputation). Richardson’s insinuation that there was some sort of connection between Farred having “moved on” and his having put anything job-related “on the line” prompted me to ask if she had any evidence about Farred and Duke.

Richardson declined a direct reply to my question. Instead, she wrote, “The consequences at Duke did not necessarily relate to jobs, but there were definitely reprisals (i.e. hate mail and other negative reactions) for faculty who spoke out about that case at the time, some of whom I know. And even if I indeed defended his comments, would that be any worse than defending perceived rapists and racists, as your scholarship suggests?”

“Negative reactions” constitute reprisals! By Richardson’s standards, Mitt Romney has experienced more “reprisals” than any American alive in the past week, given the “negative reactions” (whether deserved or not) to his comments about the attack on the embassy in Libya. Somehow, though, I doubt that Richardson would apply her “negative reactions” standard to figures with whom she disagrees.

I admit that I had never previously heard the lacrosse players described as “perceived rapists.” For Professor Richardson, it seems, no amount of evidence can overcome a false initial perception.

But to answer the professor’s question: yes, I would say that defending a professor who made materially false statements (that unnamed students at his own university had committed perjury) and in the process likely violated the terms of his school’s Faculty Handbook is worse that defending people who were falsely accused of a serious crime.


Anonymous said...

Let the beatification of St. Grant the non-Racist begin! Shout it from the hills: At a time when the mob came howling down to exact justice, hysterical cries for blood aplenty, brave, brave St. Grant joined that mob somewhere bravely near the middle-rear. Letters to Brodhead 4:19-21.

By the way, if I accused three innocent students of rape based merely on gossip and hate, the minimum I'd expect would be "negative reactions." MOO! Gregory

Anonymous said...

Just stunning that this "march of ass-clowns" still adds members.

skwilli said...

Is Riche Richardson a "perceived" communist? Or just another in a long line of incoherent Race and Gender "intellectuals"? (Is it just me, or is more and more incoherence emerging from Academia today?)

glenn said...

“Most of us,” he told the Chronicle, “never presumed guilt.”

It's called lying. Lot of that going around higher ed right now.

Anonymous said...

Is Richardson a Communist?

Anonymous said...

KC, I feel as if you are chronicling the decay and death of our culture. I see no end to this insanity in sight, though I'd be gleeful to be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Lordy, the professor has a pair, doesn't she! Farred made so many more statements of condemnation and guilt assurance that were off-the-record.
KC, can I have a new name? Can I be "workingstiffcrackercitizen?" Or how about "gainfullyemployedhonkytaxpaya?"

Anonymous said...

Riche (my keyboard doesn't give me the ability to place the appropriate accent over the 'e').

This is a youtube video of her giving a 1 hr 20 min talk on the offensivness and unapologetic racism in Gone With the Wind (book and movie). She repeatedly refers to the author simply as 'Mitchell' as if she's the primary author of some scandalous Southern research from the 1930's published by Mitchell, et. al. Brings to mind Lubiano's PhD dissertation which was apparently composed entirely of several book reports.

She doesn't begin speaking until
3m 30s into the video after a gushing introduction which she acknowleged was 'great'.

Give me strength. I confess I did not watch the whole thing.

RL '75

Anonymous said...

I wonder what event or action would cause this lady to agree that a stern condemnation was in order? The apologists are quite often unintentionally funny.

Chris Halkides said...

Some Duke faculty/staff went to President Broadhead to ask that Steve Baldwin, a professor of chemistry who defended the students, be fired for the letter he wrote. Because of tenure, I would say that he did not exactly have his job on the line, but Farred cannot claim even as much, or I am mistaken.