Monday, January 27, 2014

UNC News

Two UNC-related items in the news.

First, over at Minding the Campus, I have a piece on the continuing controversies at UNC, where the Afro-American Studies Department hosted a variety of no-show classes for student-athletes (and some non-athletes).

And today’s Chronicle brings news that the book penned by anti-lacrosse extremist Tim Tyson—who, among other things, suggested that it might have been “illegal” for the lacrosse players to have insisted on having attorneys before they spoke to Durham Police officers—was chosen as the required pre-orientation reading by the University of North Carolina (and, for good measure, by the Duke Divinity School). A reminder that in the academy, extremism of a certain type never causes a loss of credibility.

Tyson also revealed that he’s working on a new project, focused on the murder of Emmett Till. Unlike his colleague in the anti-lacrosse crusade, William Chafe, who infamously used the Till case to contextualize the lacrosse case, at least Tyson got the year of Till’s murder correct.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Duke Professor on the Group of 88

This morning’s Duke Chronicle features a highly unusual faculty op-ed, penned by English professor Victor Strandberg, criticizing the Group of 88. Yet the op-ed’s odd framing distracts from the criticism.

Strandberg’s basic thesis: since the money Duke spent on settlements with the falsely accused lacrosse players would have been better spent on virtually any matter relating to the university’s academic mission, and since the Group of 88’s record played a key role in convincing Duke that it had to settle, the extremist faculty’s conduct had a real cost for Duke students.

Strandberg recalls events of spring 2006, when “a boiling tsunami of faculty rage” culminated in the Group of 88’s ad; he now deems it “a mistake to launch this ad into so supercharged an atmosphere.” Strandberg partially excuses the Group of 88 on grounds that they were relying on Mike Nifong’s good faith. But that rationalization, he notes, can’t apply to the “clarifying” statement—when, after Nifong’s case had imploded, almost all of the Group chose to “republish their earlier statement, as though no second thoughts were necessary.” The “clarifying” statement, in fact, not only reaffirmed the Group of 88 ad. It also maintained that in spring 2006, they had wanted to thank protesters whose stated motivations were fighting “discrimination and violence,” motivations that the “potbanger” protesters with their “castrate” banner had claimed, and affirmed that the signatories would never apologize for their actions, as, indeed, they have not.

Strandberg concludes in the following manner: “Someone else paid for that exercise of free speech, namely the phantom students who might have become real Dukies with the help of that hundred million dollars. I believe in free speech as much as anyone, but I do hope we will all consider who pays for it if and when some similar situation again arises.”

This is a welcome, if belated, criticism of the Group’s extremism and its effects. It’s hard to know how much covering for the faculty—as opposed to covering for former SANE nurse-in-training Tara Levicy or ensuring that Richard Brodhead, Larry Moneta, and other senior administrators would never be cross-examined—accounted for Duke’s decision to settle. But given that the settlement explicitly shielded the faculty from individual lawsuits, it’s clear that protecting extremists in the ranks played some role in Duke’s legal strategy.

Other sections of Strandberg’s op-ed, however, are a little odd. Strandberg incorrectly suggests that payments to the falsely accused lacrosse players were $20 million each. (Bernie Reeves of Raleigh Metro, who Strandberg doesn’t cite, long ago reported the total settlement was in the neighborhood of $18 million, a figure I have no reason to dispute.) Strandberg argues that even half the actual amount, however, would have been too high, since “innocent men who have spent 15 to 20 or more years actually in prison have received less than a million.” Is Strandberg suggesting that Duke administrators or faculty or employees behaved maliciously in helping to send other “innocent men” to prison for 15 years? If not, the comparison makes little sense. Payments in such cases revolve not merely around the actual innocence of the accused, but around the misconduct of the state or other parties.

Was any settlement necessary? According to Strandberg, no. The university should have “quietly let the legal system do its work.” Why didn’t Duke take this course? As he notes a couple of sentences later, “there was too much talk from faculty and administrators of an inflammatory and legally liable nature.” In other words: Duke faculty and administrators were legally liable, and the university elected to pay rather than fight. That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable calculation.

A final oddity from Strandberg: he goes out of his way to say that he doesn’t “blame our President.” His grounds for such an evaluation? He recalls Brodhead “saying on television as the media were going hysterical, ‘The three captains tell me they are innocent.’” (Strandberg evidently doesn’t recall Brodhead saying about Seligmann and Finnerty that whatever they did was bad enough, or the President’s guilt-presuming letter to the Duke community in April 2006.) That said, Strandberg correctly recalls that no faculty publicly stood up for the presumption of innocence in spring 2006, though women’s lacrosse coach Kirsten Kimel did so.

All that said, and despite Strandberg’s very strange accounting of the nature of the legal harms faced by the three falsely accused players, it’s good to see someone point out that the Group of 88’s conduct had consequences.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Diversity, Inclusiveness, and Karla Holloway

A major theme of the blog has been the lack of academic accountability. Dozens of Duke professors rushed to judgment in the most public way possible, ignoring the academy’s traditional commitment to due process, as well as, simply, fundamental principles of fairness. Several of these professors, over the duration of the case, appeared to violate Duke policies. Yet there never was any indication that Duke disciplined, in any way, even one of its rogue professors. (Contrast their fate with that of Mike Pressler.) And, as the subsequent careers of Group of 88’ers Houston Baker (hired by Vanderbilt) and Grant Farred (hired and promoted by Cornell) demonstrated, it wasn’t simply Duke that had no interest in accountability.

In government or the corporate world, a scandal such as the faculty’s response to the lacrosse case almost certainly would have triggered some sort of inquiry. Such an inquiry would have addressed, among other matters, hiring policies. In the context of Duke, the question is obvious: did the obsession with “diversity,” a characteristic of Group of 88’er William Chafe’s tenure as provost (which ended in 2004) result in the hiring of an increasingly groupthink-oriented faculty, whose rush to judgment on the lacrosse case illustrated a broader closed-mindedness on issues of race, class, and gender? And did the faculty’s record in the lacrosse case suggest that Duke should think twice about its personnel priorities?

These were, of course, questions that Duke didn’t want to address, since doing so would have alienated powerful constituencies on campus. (Recall the fate of Larry Summers at Harvard.) Instead, the university has doubled down on its hiring patterns: if the lacrosse case occurred today, the Group of 88 would probably be the Group of 100. (Such a hypothetical statement probably would also contain a throwaway line about due process, to deflect criticism.)

The latest indication of hiring trends is an announcement from Duke that the Faculty Council that its meeting this week will be devoted to what a Duke press release terms a “discussion” about “diversity” in faculty hiring. Needless to say, neither intellectual nor pedagogical diversity appear to be on the agenda.

Four faculty members have been invited to “make short opening remarks to start the conversation,” under the heading of “diversity andinclusiveness” at Duke. The first professor listed? Group of 88 extremist Karla Holloway (who was back in the news this week defending her extremism on another front, championing the ASA’s anti-Israel boycott). Holloway will be followed by Kerry Haynie, who close followers of the case might recall as the professor who illustrated his conception of “inclusiveness” by sending a wildly intemperate, threatening e-mail to Steve Baldwin, the first Duke professor to speak up about the lacrosse players’ treatment by their university.

By this stage, no one should be surprised that the Group of 88 and their allies continue to be influential voices on personnel policy a Duke. Accountability, it seems, will never arrive in Durham. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Harris-Perry, Race, & the Group's Legacy

In one respect, the lacrosse case was extraordinarily unusual: actions of campus extremists don’t often get much attention outside of campus walls. The national media doesn’t cover higher-ed ideological or pedagogical issues all that much; and when it does (as in the recent controversy over Title IX and sexual assault policies), it often covers the issue poorly. The behavior of the Duke faculty in the lacrosse case attracted so much attention largely for accidental reasons: the case itself was a media firestorm, and then the Group of 88’s inability or unwillingness to apologize for what they did seemed unjust.

Yet on the rare occasions when the world of higher-ed ideas does seep into the public consciousness, the result is an almost stupefied horror. The best recent example (about which I’ve written over at Minding theCampus) came when the American Studies Association formally endorsed a boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education—a flagrant violation of academic freedom that the ASA justified, in Orwellian language, as the protection of academic freedom. (The other rationale: according to the ASA president, describing the organization’s penchant for boycotts that allegedly promote human rights, “one has to start somewhere.”) 

The ASA move earned widespread rebuke from editorial boards, politicians, and more than 100 college presidents—the people at universities whose jobs depend on dealing with the public, and therefore are particularly sensitive about their schools looking like hotbeds of out-of-touch extremism.

The Group of 88 statement, and the ASA anti-Israel resolution, exemplify the pernicious effects of groupthink—the phenomenon best described by Mark Bauerlein in which the position regarding commonly-held beliefs shifts toward the most extreme perspective, because of a lack of dissenting viewpoints on campus.

Since academics of the anti-Israel or race/class/gender types have little influence outside campus (they have, of course, enormous influence on campus), their actions get noticed only by their colleagues or their school’s administrators. And since tenured and tenure-track jobs are so precious in today’s academy, very few groupthink-type academics leave the academy to take non-academic positions. Their ideas, it seems, are hermetically sealed on campus.

One of the very few exceptions to this pattern, however, is Melissa Harris-Perry, the MSNBC host who has been much in the news lately. Harris-Perry holds a Ph.D., from Duke, where she studied under William Chafe and Wahneema Lubiano, and is listed as a full-time faculty member in Tulane’s Political Science Department. As I’ve noted previously, Harris-Perry has a very close relationship with several members of the Group of 88 (Karla Holloway actually appeared on her MSNBC broadcast), and offered a full-throated (and almost comically misleading) defense of the Group of 88 in a 2011 book. The book, indeed, faithfully reflects the extreme views on issues of race, class, and gender prevalent on campus but largely absent anyplace else.

But not on Harris-Perry’s TV program. The host recently did a segment on the Romneys, in which she, and two guests, mocked a Romney family photo that contained the entire Romney family, including a child of color adopted by one of the Romney sons and his wife.

It’s possible to imagine a segment on Romney and family values that would comport to the public policy focus that ostensibly characterizes Harris-Perry’s program. (For instance: Romney values the importance of marriage and family personally, but campaigned on a platform to annul, via constitutional amendment, around 100,000 marriages nationally, and leave kids in those families without married parents.) But Harris-Perry wasn’t interested in content.

The segment triggered widespread condemnation—as much for its sneering tone as for its content. (National Review claimed, in a report denied by MSNBC, that the network had instituted new editorial checks on Harris-Perry’s scripts.) Harris-Perry subsequently apologized via twitter, accompanied oddly by a hashtag, followed by a tearful apology on her program. But she demonstrated no problem at all with the content during the broadcast itself. The apology, therefore, seemed more than a little forced.

The backlash against the Harris-Perry segment reflects the media’s (and the public’s) predictable horror at getting a first-hand taste how issues of race are too often viewed behind campus walls.

As for one of Harris-Perry’s mentors on the issue of race in America? Here’s Wahneema Lubiano, offering her insights while speaking a few months back at Duke's "National Dialogue on Race Day":

If you can work your way through the jargon, the basic Lubiano argument is that racism is inherent in the capitalist system, and that referencing black-on-black crime is racist.

While Harris-Perry remains a moderate by comparison, the Harris-Perry/Romney vignette, like the far more substantial Group of 88 statement and ASA resolution, should provide a tip-off to journalists that they might want to pay a little more attention to just how extreme campus discourse in some quarters has become.