Monday, July 07, 2014
Checking in with the Group of 88
As I wind down the blog after the resolution of the Evans and Carrington lawsuits (I’ll have a closing post next Monday), I thought it might be useful to check in on some members of the Group of 88. An utter lack of accountability within the academy for those faculty members who abandoned due process (and, in some cases, appeared to violate Duke regulations) was apparent almost from the start in the case, and remains so today.
No fewer than nine Group members were hired away from Duke, often for more prestigious positions, despite (because of?) their activism in the Group. Cathy Davidson—author of the Group apologia that invented a spring 2006 that never existed—was the latest, having just joined the faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center. She joins Grant Farred (Cornell, which got a taste of the contempt for students he had demonstrated at Duke); Houston Baker (Vanderbilt); Charles Payne (University of Chicago); and Rom Coles (Northern Arizona, endowed chair) in moving onto greener pastures. Meanwhile, three signatories who were members of the University Writing Program received full-time, tenure-track positions—Jason Mahn at Augustana, Matthew Brim at the College of Staten Island, and Christine Beaule at the University of Hawai’i—while a fourth (Caroline Light) was appointed to an administrative-teaching position at Harvard’s women’s studies program.
Several other Group signatories advanced at Duke. Srinivas Aravamudan currently serves as Duke’s dean of the humanities. Lee Baker is dean of academic affairs at Trinity College. And Paula McClain is dean of the graduate school, and vice provost for graduate education. Clearly the role of their behavior in causing a multi-million dollar settlement was no barrier in the Group members’ standing at Duke.
Imagine if the lacrosse case had featured a race-baiting DA, on behalf of a white false accuser, going after African-American students to advance his political career. Does anyone believe that professors who abandoned due process to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the DA, affirming that something “happened” to the false accuser, would not have faced professional repercussions in the contemporary academy?
And then there’s the principal author of the Group statement, Wahneema Lubiano. Those waiting for her perpetually “forthcoming” books (Like Being Mugged by a Metaphor: “Deep Cover” and Other “Black” Fictions; and Messing with the Machine: Politics, Form, and African-American Fiction) continue to wait; 15 years after Lubiano advertised their coming appearances, the books remain nowhere to be found.
Lubiano, befitting someone who believes that she participates in what she calls “public intellectualism,” has sporadically shared her insights via twitter. In February, for instance, she revealed that she has spent her “entire adult life addressing the US public’s murderous imagination when it comes to the lives of black Americans.” As always, temperate analysis from the tenured professor.
Lubiano hasn’t tweeted in a few months. She doesn’t appear to be academically active, either. According to her departmental CV at Duke, the Group of 88 leader has a grand total of . . . one . . . academic publication in the past six years, an article entitled, “Affect and Rearticulating the Racial ‘Un-sayables.’” The four-page essay appeared in the journal
In the event, Lubiano’s recent publication builds off her work in teaching a first-year seminar at Duke, “Prison, the U.S., and the Citizen.” The course, according to the Group leader, explores “the inability of general public discussion—what my students are aware of in abundance but which they understand as ‘natural’—to accommodate elaborated and unelaborated discourses for cathected critical engagement, e.g., white supremacy and its connection to prison.” Lubiano lamented that, in the class, she often ran “up against the difﬁculty of moving our students from that hegemonic subjectivity to something more speciﬁcally critical.”
The Duke professor expressed her concern that “what I have in the classroom” could “best be described as a ﬁerce (albeit inarticulate) obedient state subject who resists a critique of the state and of prison, a resistance that might be described as white supremacist common sense.” [emphasis added] Lubiano further contended that “because of [her students’] resistance to the basics of empathy with regard to mass incarceration, they’ve taken up the position of aestheticized white supremacist subject instead.” In other words: parents can spend $50,000 a year to have Duke faculty suggest that their son or daughter exhibits “white supremacist common sense.” You’d almost think that Lubiano is a fiction, invented by David Horowitz or another right-wing critic of the academy to discredit the entire higher-ed enterprise.
As a reminder: Lubiano was hired by Duke on the basis of two “forthcoming” books that, to date, have never appeared.