Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Nifong Targets FODU!

Nifong's filing today also included a copy of his initial response to the bar's DNA allegations--a response, critically, that he prepared before hiring an attorney. Here's one of the concluding paragraphs:

A well-connected and well-financed (but not, I would suggest, well-intentioned) group of individuals--most of whom are neither in nor from North Carolina--have taken it upon themselves to ensure that this case never reaches trial. (And if this seems like paranoid delusion to you, perhaps you should check out websites such as former Duke Law School graduate and current Maryland attorney Jason Trumpbour's www.friendsofdukeuniversity.blogspot.com/, which has not only called for me to be investigated, removed from this case, and disbarred, but has also provided instructions on how to request such actions and to whom those requests should be sent.)

A couple of observations:

To the best of my knowledge, Trumpbour still is a Duke Law School graduate.

And yes, that allegation does seem like paranoid delusion to me.

Cliff's Notes of Nifong Response

The full Nifong response is posted at the N&O.

The basics:

(1) Dr. Meehan, Sgt. Gottlieb, Inv. Himan, and Inv. Soucie are to blame for either providing him with inaccurate information, or for inaccurately memorializing conversations with him. All statements that he made were accurate representations of the information he had received. Despite the statements in Gottlieb’s notes and the insinuations in Soucie’s, he never directed the police investigation.

(2) In the American justice system, the state is not compelled to turn over reports of tests that it conducts. It simply has to turn over the underlying data. If defendants can afford top-rate attorneys to interpret the data, that’s fine. If they can’t, they’re out of luck. This, it’s worth reiterating, is the man the state NAACP has propped up for 10 months.

(3) Nifong has no memory of the April 10 meeting between himself, Meehan, Gottlieb, and Himan—referenced in the police notes and by Meehan in his December 15 testimony. Therefore, according top his best recollection, he sought indictments against Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty without knowing the results of any of Meehan’s tests.

(4) None of his public statements violated the bar’s ethics codes because either (a) he had not sought indictments, though his office had publicly identified 46 suspects, the same 46 suspects he was talking about in his public statements; (b) he was entitled to speak out under comment (7) of Rule 3.6, which states, “Finally, extrajudicial statements that might otherwise raise a question under this Rule may be permissible when they are made in response to statements made publicly by another party, another party's lawyer, or third persons, where a reasonable lawyer would believe a public response is required in order to avoid prejudice to the lawyer’s client.” Nifong’s response did not mention the identity of his “client.”

(5) Though the March 23 non-testimonial order said that DNA would exonerate the innocent, he is not bound by that order, since someone else from his office wrote it.

(6) Nifong has now provided the fourth different explanation of why he did not turn over the exculpatory DNA material to the defense. First, he stated in court that he had not heard of the issue until Dec. 13, when the defense filed a motion on the question. Second, he stated in a press conference on Dec. 15 that he had not turned the information over for privacy reasons. Third, he stated in a NYT article that he had not turned the information over because of his excessive workload. Now, he says he didn't turn the information over because he didn't have to.

(7) Despite claims by several defense attorneys, Nifong denies ever having refused to meet with defense attorneys to consider exculpatory evidence.

(8) Since a trial date had not yet been set, Nifong was under no obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence.

(9) In an example of unmitigated gall, Nifong demands that the state bar* pay his legal bills.

(10) Nifong offers a novel explanation as to why he didn't have to turn over notes of his conversations with Meehan: the defense asked for these notes, but Judges Stephens and Smith denied the requests. Left unmentioned by Nifong: Stephens and Smith denied the requests because Nifong misled them in court. This is the perfect defense: attorneys can lie to judges to get favorable rulings, and then cite those favorable rulings as justification for their misconduct.

(11) An excellent point, from a commenter at 4.40pm: "
To add one more point, Nifong's 'corroboration' argument reveals a profound misunderstanding of his role in the case: as a prosecutor, he wasn't supposed to be looking for evidence of guilt and turning a blind eye to evidence of innocence; to the contrary, he was always supposed to be looking at all of the evidence. In other words, he's literally pleading one ethical failure (failing to examine all of the evidence) as a defense to an allegation that he's unethical. It's amazing that his attorneys forgot his ethical duty was to search for justice, not just evidence of guilt."

(12) This response substantially increases the likelihood of disbarment. The Bar's job is to protect the public. Nifong's response effectively says he would behave the exact same way in the future. The Bar cannot allow a rogue DA to remain in office.

*--correction

WRAL: Expect Nifong Defiance

WRAL is reporting that Mike Nifong's response to the Bar's ethics allegations--due later today--will have a defiant tone that would make the Group of 88 proud.

The major item: Nifong will demand the Bar dismiss charges that he conspired to withhold exculpatory DNA evidence.

The chances of his succeeding in that quest, it seems to me, are remote at best.

More when the response becomes available.

More on the CCI

Having gone through the full report of the Campus Culture Initiative, it’s easy to see why it received such a tepid reception from President Brodhead. The report combines a series of unobjectionable, even laudable, recommendations with persistent references to “last spring’s lacrosse event” that act as if time stopped on March 31st, when the potbangers, Group of 88, and Mike Nifong were still riding high.

The theme of the lacrosse case has been flawed procedures beget flawed results. The CCI’s record conforms to the pattern. With three of the committee’s four subgroups chaired or co-chaired by among the campus’ most extreme critics of the lacrosse team, is it any wonder that the CCI produced a report that validated the worldview of . . . the campus’ most extreme critics of the lacrosse team?

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The two workable recommendations:

(1) create more physical space for student social activity around campus;

(2) streamline the faculty administrative structure to increase faculty-student interaction.

It’s hard to see how anyone could object to either of these goals, and Brodhead should allow these two and only these two items to form the legacy of the CCI.

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Three minor items give a sense of the report’s quality and biases:

(1) The report’s first line: “Duke University is a university of the 21st century, emboldened and challenged by the dynamics of a changing world.” Is there any university in the country to which this statement would not apply?

(2) The 25-page report—a product of months-long inquiry by prestigious academics—cited a grand total of two (2) publications. The chosen duo? William Bowen’s screed against Division I athletics; and Janet Reitman’s widely disparaged Rolling Stone article—which, perhaps because it places the Duke student body in the worst possible light, is assigned reading in Anne Allison's spring semester class. Apparently, CCI members decided not even to try to conceal the membership’s biases.

(3) The report listed four and only four campus groups and offices with which CCI members “connected”: the Women’s Center; the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Life; the Council on Civic Engagement; and the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. Some might suggest that this quartet would provide a rather one-sided view of campus culture.

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The Alcohol subgroup was the only subgroup not chaired by an extreme critic of the lacrosse program. The recommendations of the CCI’s alcohol subgroup recognize the difficulty of alcohol on contemporary college campuses, but do not single out athletes as any worse (or better) than all Duke students on this question. This section, no doubt, will pose problems for the latter-day neo-prohibitionists among the Group of 88.

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Other items in the report are unintentionally revealing.

(1) “There are often pressures for conformity which work against our institutional vision as an inclusive academic community.” (p. i) “The Committee came to better understand problems that exist—ranging from simple acts of uncivil speech and intolerance to what some have called a ‘culture of excess.’” (p. 4) “Last spring’s events revealed that Duke must do better in learning how to engage difference constructively.” (p. 8)

Some might think that these statements describe the potbangers or the Group of 88. In fact, the report’s implication is that those who opposed the potbangers or the Group of 88 were guilty of exercising “pressures for conformity” or engaging in “uncivil speech and intolerance” or of failing “to engage difference constructively.”

(2) “Last spring’s lacrosse event and its ensuing controversies evoked strong emotions and discussions about issues of race and gender, class and privilege, difference and respect, athletics and academics, and town and gown.” (p. 1)

It appears as if CCI members suffered from a form of Durham Rip van Winkle disease, having gone to sleep on or about April 6 and missed “strong emotions and discussions” about issues of faculty groupthink, prosecutorial misconduct, a rush-to-judgment mentality, or professors who fail to respect all their students, regardless of race, gender, or athletic status.

Those “ensuing controversies” the CCI members were bound and determined to ignore. I wonder why?

(3) “In their first year at Duke, about 15% of Black students reported that Duke instructors treated them badly because of their race/ethnicity,” as opposed to much smaller percentages for other groups. (p. 6)

This claim is a shocking one: the CCI has suggested, without any hard investigation, that a considerable portion of Duke faculty members engage in racist behavior.

(4) [update, 1.12am]: A commenter notes, “I was astonished to read in the CCI report that the Duke Class of 2010 includes 41 percent students of color. Yet, the next paragraph calls for additional consideration for admissions from 'under-represented groups.' What groups could remain under-represented?”

A good question, to which the CCI offered no answer.

(5) “Analyses conducted over the last four years indicate that this decision has increased the number of students who are not adequately prepared to benefit from, or contribute to, the work of the academic community, event with enhanced academic support services. This places Duke’s admirable graduation rates at risk, reinforces negative stereotypes, and does not serve the best interests of these students themselves, their peers, or their faculty.” (p. 22)

Reread the statement above. Some might think it came from an ultra-conservative critic of “diversity” college admissions policies.

But it came from the CCI. For those who guessed that it refers not to African-American students with poor SAT scores and pre-Duke academic preparation, but instead refers to a class of Duke students consistently targeted by the Group of 88 and figures such as Peter Wood and Orin Starn, a free guest pass to the next “Shut Up and Teach” event is yours for the taking.

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In the end, there never was any doubt about what the CCI would produce, with Peter Wood and Group of 88 members Karla Holloway and Anne Allison chairing or co-chairing three of its four subgroups. As a Chronicle editorial noted a few weeks back, “The composition of the CCI’s steering committee has hurt its credibility . . . Stacking the CCI with critics of ‘white male privilege’ suggests that the initiative was created to pacify countercultural professors, rather than to shape a new and improved campus culture.”

The most chilling provision of the CCI report is the Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative, with the Group seeking to use the lacrosse case to force all Duke students to take their classes. The report urges a requirement that all Duke students take a class that engages “the reality of difference in American society and culture. The vast majority of these offerings are taught by . . . the Group of 88.

Over the past 10 months, most Group of 88 members have made clear their belief that the Faculty Handbook provisions requiring Duke professors to treat all students with respect do not apply to them. The idea that all Duke students should be forced to take a class from a Group of 88 professor or a handful of the Group’s ideological allies in the name of “improving campus culture” is Orwellian.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

CCI: DOA?

The full report of the Campus Culture Initiative is now out. President Brodhead’s reaction was, to put it mildly, less than enthusiastic.

The highlights of Brodhead’s letter announcing the report:

1.) Brodhead will not tolerate faculty overreach into athletics.

Under the principles of shared governance, the administration and the Trustees, not Peter Wood, William Chafe, or their faculty colleagues, “have final oversight of athletics policy.”

Brodhead says he would welcome “knowledgeable faculty advice to the administration and Trustees”—a qualifier that would seem to exclude virtually anything said by Wood, the chair of the CCI’s athletics subgroup. In any case, he expects this issue to be handled through a new procedure: “A major revision of the Athletic Council that has been vetted by ECAC and approved by the Trustees will make its deliberations more substantive.”

2.) The curricular recommendations will move forward, but mainstream Duke faculty have a chance to stop them.


One of the most controversial of the CCI’s recommendations—the Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative, which would effectively require all Duke students to take a course from a Group (or “clarifying” faculty) member, can be referred to another committee. Brodhead notes, “Processes already exist to deliberate and act on the Report’s recommendations.”


3.) The non-ideological aspects of the space housing recommendations make sense; the ideological aspects need “far more detailed study.”


Brodhead’s discussion of the non-ideological space recommendations uses the most enthusiastic language of his missive, but his comments about the CCI’s attacks on the current housing policy are tepid. While “there is nothing magic about the status quo system of housing assignment,” Brodhead notes, “at the same time, Duke’s selective housing system is quite varied, with a complex array of benefits and challenges.”


4) The CCI was not inclusive enough in its considerations.


In an implicit bow to critics of the CCI’s composition—led by the Duke Chronicle, which editorialized, “Stacking the CCI with critics of ‘white male privilege’ suggests that the initiative was created to pacify countercultural professors, rather than to shape a new and improved campus culture”—the report will be considered by a new, and presumably more broad-based, committee.


Indeed, this broadening was demanded by the Trustees. Brodhead writes, “At its meeting last weekend, the Board of Trustees discussed the Report and supported this approach to broadening the conversation, involving more students, as we resolve these issues.”


The chair of the new committee is Provost Peter Lange, a figure untainted by the CCI process. Lange is also the only member of the Duke administration to, at any point, condemn last spring’s rush-to-judgment attitude among some quarters of the arts and sciences faculty. (He did so in response to Houston Baker’s racially inflammatory open letter.)


The timetable for Lange’s report? The middle of fall term 2007.

Those who want to find more about the CCI could go to its website, but they would discover a message that says that the site is “experiencing problems.” The same could be said for the CCI as a whole.

Latest Bombshell Motion

The N&O, NBC-17 and WTVD-11 are reporting that the latest in what seems like a never-ending stream of bombshell defense motions was filed today in Durham. The issue? DNA.

After his disastrous performance at the December 15 hearing—when he admitted that he and Mike Nifong had entered into an agreement to intentionally withhold exculpatory DNA evidence—Dr. Brian Meehan filed an amended report, which purported to be the complete results of his findings. That report did little more than confirm what he admitted under oath in questioning from Brad Bannon: that DNA from multiple, unidentified, males was found in the accuser’s rape kit.

Defense attorneys have continued to scrutinize Meehan’s data, however, and today’s motion reveals that they have uncovered even more DNA—from additional unidentified males—that Meehan’s amended report failed to include. According to the motion,

DNA Security discovered the DNA of at least two males in the accuser’s rectum that did not match the Defendants, their lacrosse teammates, or anyone else who provided a reference DNA sample.

Mike Nifong obtained the indictments of three people on a charge of rape, in which the accuser’s then-present version (her April 6 statement) claimed that the crime had included anal rape. Even if North Carolina did not possess an Open Discovery law (which required turning over of all material to the defense), and even if North Carolina law did not require turning over of all test results obtained from a non-testimonial order to the defense, how would it not be exculpatory to have “discovered the DNA of at least two males in the accuser’s rectum that did not match the Defendants, their lacrosse teammates, or anyone else who provided a reference DNA sample”?

After all, this is the same Mike Nifong who in a 2000 case dismissed an indictment on rape because “results of DNA testing exclude the defendant as the perpetrator of this crime.”

Today’s defense motion also provides a statistical summary of the Meehan test results:

A collective review of all materials provided to the Defendants and information obtained by the Defendants about DNA Security’s work shows that at least 12 of the 22 rape kit DNA extractions—in other words, over half of them—contained male DNA that did not match the Defendants. [emphasis in original]

How is it possible that this case is still ongoing, and that a criminal investigation of Nifong has not been opened in its stead?

A copy of the motion is here, while JinC poses three unanswerable questions.

The Group of 88's Imagined Reality

In their increasingly desperate attempt to redeem their reputations, the Group of 88 has succeeded only in digging themselves a bigger hole. The latest example came in an article published yesterday in Diverse, in which Group members rationalized their actions in a way that appeared detached from reality.

Reporter Christina Asquith’s scrupulously fair article featured quotes from four Group members (Wahneema Lubiano, Karla Holloway, Mark Anthony Neal, and William Chafe) but did not cover up the arts and sciences faculty’s performance from last spring. She noted, for instance, that “even as DNA tests came back in the players’ favor and evidence surfaced of prosecutorial misconduct, at least a dozen Duke professors weighed in via op-eds and essays presuming the guilt of the players as a symbol of more widespread problems on campus.” Asquith also spoke to several of the Group’s critics—including Steve Baldwin, FODU’s Jason Trumpbour, and me.

Some of the Group’s more peculiar claims:

Chafe

Chafe complained to Asquith that his March 31 Chronicle op-ed has been misinterpreted, since it “didn’t have any reference toward the guilt or innocence of anyone.” He suggested that, as a history professor, he was duty bound to provide a historical context to help the campus consider the lacrosse case.

Of course, Chafe could have chosen any number of historical contexts to frame the discussion. He could have, for instance, chosen the Tawana Brawley case—the classic example, before events in Durham, of a high-profile false rape allegation. Or he could have chosen the Scottsboro Boys case—the classic example of racially driven prosecutorial misconduct.

But Chafe made another selection. He suggested that the whites who lynched Emmett Till represented the appropriate context through which to interpret the actions of the lacrosse players.

Can Chafe possibly suggest that contextualizing the players’ behavior by citing the perpetrators of one of the worst cases of lynching in American history did not imply “any reference toward the guilt or innocence of anyone”? I’m not sure which option is more frightening: that a tenured Duke professor would intentionally mislead a reporter; or that a tenured Duke professor would make a statement that appears to have no basis in reality.

Lubiano

Wahneema Lubiano, principal author of the Group of 88’s statement, explained the statement’s origins in the following manner:

Black students were being told, “There isn’t any racism or sexism, and if you talk about that, you’re attacking the lacrosse players.” Every time we raised it, people told us to shut up.

Intensive media coverage began on March 24. The statement appeared on April 6. What evidence exists that black students, or any other critics of the lacrosse team, were being told to “shut up” during this two-week period? To take some examples:

  • March 27: As these photos make clear, African-American students were well represented at anti-lacrosse campus protests. Black students certainly weren’t told they had to “shut up” here.
  • March 28: Lacrosse player Bo Carrington was surrounded by an angry group of African-American students as he walked across campus. Black students certainly weren’t told they had to “shut up” here.
  • March 29: The AAAS forum that allegedly produced eight of the eleven anonymous student quotes in the Group of 88’s ad took place. Black students certainly weren’t told they had to “shut up” here.
  • March 30: Lubiano and African-American professor Houston Baker (joined by another extreme critic of the lacrosse player, Peter Wood) dominated a faculty meeting devoted to attacking the team. Lubiano, Baker, and other lacrosse critics certainly weren’t told they had to “shut up” here.

Can Lubiano seriously contend that in the two weeks before the ad’s appearance, black students were told to “shut up,” or that the most extreme critics of the team among African-American faculty members did not dominate campus discourse? I’m not sure which option is more frightening: that a tenured Duke professor would intentionally mislead a reporter; or that a tenured Duke professor would make a statement that appears to have no basis in reality.

Neal

Asquith writes that “some professors, like AAAS professor Mark Anthony Neal, say they were careful not to jump to conclusions about the players’ guilt. Neal, specifically, posted a blog article that took Blacks to task for dismissing crimes against Black women. But it hasn’t insulated him or other professors from criticism.”

Yet here is Neal, in his own words, from April 13:

Regardless of what happened inside of 610 N. Buchanan Blvd, the young men were hoping to consume something that they felt that a black woman uniquely possessed. If these young men did in fact rape, sodomize, rob, and beat this young women [sic], it wasn’t simply because she was a women [sic], but because she was a black woman.

At the time, of course, Mike Nifong was portraying the “crime” as not only a sexual assault but as an assault motivated by race. In his statement, Neal asserted that the players wanted “to consume something that they felt that a black woman uniquely possessed.” (The players, in fact, had not requested black dancers, and had been told the agency would send one white and one Hispanic dancer.) And Neal appears to have accepted wholeheartedly Nifong’s suggestion of a racial motive.

Does Neal really maintain that his accepting Nifong’s suggestion that race played a role in the players’ hiring of the accuser did not constitute rushing to judgment? I’m not sure which option more frightening: that a tenured Duke professor would intentionally mislead a reporter, or that a tenured Duke professor would make a statement that appears to have no basis in reality.

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Chafe added, by the way, that critics of the Group of 88 are part of “a whole industry out there seizing on the opportunity to pillory a group of faculty members as leftist, racist, elitist, avant-garde Marxist people.”

If, in fact, such an “industry” existed, one wonders if Bill Chafe is actually serving as a covert operative in its service. His comments to Diverse portray him, yet again, as a caricature of an elitist willing to advance his personal agenda on the backs of his own institution’s students.

Monday, February 26, 2007

More from Stephen Miller

Today's Chronicle features the latest first-rate column from Stephen Miller, who today explores the wildly disparate reactions between the lacrosse case and the 2007 off-campus rape report.

The history:
[In 2006,] Protesters swarmed our campus and the city streets, they screamed vulgar condemnations, they tarred the whole team as complicit in a stonewall cover-up, they put up wanted posters, banged pots and pans. They cried out for justice and vengeance, demanded suspensions, expulsions and incarcerations. Worst of all, as they feverishly disregarded due process, they helped create an atmosphere of hysteria and madness which could only serve to embolden an unhinged district attorney who had the power to breathe life into the fantasies of the growing mob.

But when a black man was recently accused of raping a white Duke student at a party hosted by members of a black Duke fraternity, suddenly these great defenders of virtue fell silent.

There have been no protesters, no signs, no one chanting and screaming in front of the house where at least one member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. live demanding they "come forward" with what they know. No one is demanding President Brodhead take action or that we cure a sexist and racist campus culture in response to these accusations. No professors are running ads that convey guilt or claiming, as they did before, to know the alleged crime was racially motivated. (To quote professor Mark Anthony Neal's repulsive statement: "regardless of what happened inside of 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., the young men were hoping to consume something that they felt that a black woman uniquely possessed.")
Read the entire piece here.

Chafe's Embarrassment

Just when it appears the Group of 88 and their allies among the arts and sciences faculty cannot embarrass themselves further, another episode appears. The latest? A Friday article in the Chronicle, calling for Duke to “move forward”—but with two important caveats: (1) The institution should act as if that the facts involving the lacrosse team’s behavior are unchanged from March 31; and (2) How the arts and sciences faculty responded to the lacrosse case should, at all costs, remain unexamined.

Six professors penned the article. The sextet included:

  • Group of 88 stalwart and civil rights historian William Chafe, who wrote on March 31 that the whites who lynched Emmett Till (even as he misidentified the year of the lynching) provided an appropriate context through which to interpret the actions of the lacrosse players;
  • Clarifying professor Kerry Haynie, whose own record of responding to faculty critics of the Group of 88 is, to put it mildly, less than pristine;
  • Biology professor Fred Nijhout, co-author of a sophomoric spoof of Paul Haagen’s common-sense proposal for a faculty athletics associates program.

With that sort of record, no wonder the Chafe sextet is so determined to “move forward” and prevent any critical inquiry into the faculty’s past actions.

The article’s apparent purpose: to pave the way for adoption of the Campus Culture Initiative’s proposals, most especially the requirement that Duke students take a required class that engages “the reality of difference in American society and culture.” It’s just a coincidence, of course, that the vast majority of these offerings are taught by . . . the Group of 88. The CCI, in effect, is a glorified Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative, with the Group seeking to use the lacrosse case to force all Duke students to take their classes.

Chafe, et al.—mimicking the “Listening to Lubiano” approach of the Group of 88’s statement—choose the all-too-familiar pattern of Duke professors using anonymous quotes from alleged Duke students to make their points. They write,

The comments of one Duke student illustrate the larger problem. “I went to a fraternity party on campus last fall,” a first-year woman disclosed, “and was shocked to see a stripper there, and hear insulting remarks made about her.” After listening to numerous such comments, it is clear that the hiring of such dancers for organized parties is no anomaly at Duke.

“We are all guilty,” another woman student declared, “because we have never called to account those people who have engaged in date rape or sexual assault.”

Who are these students? Were they potbangers? When and under what circumstances did they make their revelations? To what extent are they representative of campus opinion? What evidence exists that Duke as a campus has “never called to account those people who have engaged in date rape or sexual assault”? In what way do their comments, which appear to describe actual events, relate to the lacrosse case, which most people now consider a fraud? Chafe, et al., don’t say: such inconvenient facts would weaken their arguments.

The Chafe group likewise takes an unusual approach to the lacrosse affair, highlighting only three issues, all of which, they falsely claim, are undisputed. It is undisputed, these neo-prohibitionists proclaim, that underage drinking was “encouraged.” Encouraged by whom? Encouraged how? The Chafe group doesn’t say. They also deem it undisputed that “racial epithets” were used by lacrosse players—but while it is undisputed that one lacrosse player used a racial epithet as part of a racially charged argument initiated by Kim Roberts, only Mike Nifong, the accuser, and, apparently, the Chafe group consider anything else undisputed.

In a poignant yet determined critique, Michael Gustafson correctly noted, "I have no choice but to believe that moving forward, to these six faculty members, means take the story DA Nifong chose to tell and then fast-forward to now as if nothing else had happened. I have no choice but to believe that these faculty members, in seeing that the reality of the situation in no way plays into the assumptions of white, male, athlete privilege that our (blessedly former) colleague Houston Baker championed want us to base our thoughts and actions on the narrative created in the first two weeks rather than the realities discovered over the past eleven months."

Some of the Chafe group’s proposals seem in conflict with the public positions and actions of many members of the Group of 88 and clarifying faculty.

Chafe, et al.:We need to demand accountability from every member of our community to maintain respect for each other, especially across racial, ethnic, sexual and gender lines. No use of racial epithets should be tolerated. Any denigration based on gender or sexuality should be equally unacceptable.”

On March 29, Houston Baker issued a public letter denouncing the lacrosse team. In the letter, he mentioned the players’ race and gender—in a denigrating fashion—no fewer than ten times.

No evidence exists that Chafe or his colleagues objected, then or now, to Baker’s remarks.

Chafe, et al.:Duke students who experience abusive or irresponsible behavior should feel confident that they can speak out and know that their concerns will be heard and acted upon.”

Kyle Dowd certainly experienced irresponsible behavior from Kim Curtis, and no evidence exists that Duke ever “heard,” much less “acted upon,” his concerns. And, as Physics Professor Emeritus Lawrence Evans noted last week. “One hears stories, many with the ring of truth, about classroom discussions and even instructor’s lectures on the subject that clearly assumed the worst and suggested retribution against the players.” Students subjected to such in-class harangues never had their concerns “heard and acted upon.”

No evidence exists that Chafe or his colleagues objected, then or now, to Curtis’ actions, nor privately rebuked colleagues who abused their classroom authority this past spring.

Chafe, et al.: “We should have no double standards in academics or admissions and should insist on full integration of academic life and athletic life.”

Who could object to such a statement? Certainly not the lacrosse players, more than half of whom made the ACC Academic Honor Roll even last year, amidst all the controversy associated with Nifong’s actions. Are Chafe and his colleagues suggesting that the lacrosse players somehow benefited from “double standards in academics or admissions” at Duke? If so, upon what evidence do they base their claims?

Moreover, if Duke is to have “no double standards in academics or admissions,” racial preferences in admissions presumably would need to be eliminated as well. Yet in Chafe’s “farewell” address as dean of faculty (2004), he enthusiastically celebrated using “diversity” as a factor in admissions. It appears that the article of Chafe, et al., needed a rewrite: “We should have quantifiable double standards that advance our political agenda in academics or admissions, but avoid alleged double standards that we find politically or ideologically unappealing.”

Chafe, et al.: “Students and faculty alike should pledge to uphold a code of mutual respect and of caring about each other.”

Over the summer, History professor Peter Wood went out of his way to appear to slander Duke students. In October, Literature professor Grant Farred penned an op-ed accusing Duke students who registered to vote in Durham of “secret racism.” In January, Karla Holloway resigned from her CCI subgroup chairmanship through a mass e-mail that passed along fifth-hand, unsubstantiated gossip about Duke students.

No evidence exists that Chafe or his colleagues objected, then or now, to the remarks of Wood, Farred, or Holloway.

On the Chronicle message board, one Duke alum lamented,

This is truly the saddest article I have read on this subject. To think that these professors still think that they can pontificate in this unsubstantiated way and be taken seriously is very depressing. Either the university is employing individuals entirely out of touch with reality or the campus environment has degraded to the point that this sort of behavior is normal. Either possibility is depressing beyond my worst previous fears of the situation.

Viewed as the third step in the Group of 88’s Rehab Tour, the Chafe, et al., article is as unimpressive as the “clarifying” statement or the “shut up and teach” forum. “Moving forward,” the ostensible demand of Chafe, et. al., will be possible only when those professors whose behavior violated tenets of professional integrity acknowledge their misconduct.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

CCI Commentary

The Chronicle messageboard posts a comment from someone who claims to be a Duke student who has read portions of the Campus Culture Initiative report. As the report has not been widely circulated, it is possible that the poster is actually one of the student members of the CCI.

I reproduce the comment in its entirety, with grammatical and spelling errors unchanged, since it provides a revealing glimpse into the mindset of CCI supporters:
i cannot believe some of these comments, they are ridiculous. THe committee was half made up of students and alumni and the other half were professors/administration. This isnt an attack on life at duke. In case people are totally oblivous, half the student at duke come here for the academic climate, and half for the partying/athletic climate. You are all forgetting that the primary purpose of an academic instituion is to promote intellectual growth, and yes, this can happen through athletics and fraternities/sororities. BUt it hasnt happened through fraternities/sororities. The originial purpose of these groups is to build a community centered on service, brother/sisterhood and intellectuality. BUt most of them (not all) have become a place of jsut partying, getting drunk off your ass, interacting with people only like yourself, not interacting with different people. and our residential system cannot be more sexist/racist. more than 80% of the living groups on campus are white male. where are the black frats/sorors? where are the sororities? CCI's point is that social life at duke centers on fraternities and their parties. They are the ones that have the space to throw parties, so they contorl the scene. This is unfair for all the other groups (non-whites, women, other sexual orientations) that dont have spaces. SO do you really think freshman come here and just all want to fit into this culture dominated by fraternities? no, they are forced to accept it because there are no alternatives. The fact is that half the student here are not happy. And that isnt good. CCI is jsut trying to make a more inclusive environment, wehere everyone, not jsut the half that parties and are in frats feel comfortable. I cant believe the comment made by a parent. They are deriding the CCI for makding a class about race/sex/gender mandatory for students. How racist and sexist is that parent? So you want your kid to jsut take classes about people like him and not take classes with pple of other races/sexes. So you want him to live in a bubble. Thats great, dont interact with other people. Dont try to understand other pple. Then he will turn out like you, a racist and sexist. and you all are deriding the professors. Just because professors deride the culture centered on drinking, you get angry at them. But you ignore the professor that emails fraternities and asks them to take his class becuase he likes frat guys. He gives them better grades (im not the one making this up, members of fraternities said this). HOw hypocritical are y'all? Its ok for him to do that? but its not ok to bring up the blant bad parts of our society centered on drinking. You all talk as if we all came here for this supposed atmosphere of atheltics and fraternities. BUT that is totally wrong. Duke woudlnt be "ranked" as high if it werent for the other half ot the student who actually care about intellecual pursuites (and yes, we do drink and party, but we do it responsibly, and dont ostracize people of difference). OK, why not separate duke in half. If the half with athletic teams and fraternities were "ranked", it woudlnet even make the top 50. You people make me sick becuase all we want is for everyone to get along. All you are doing is driving wedges between people. The cci just wants everyone to feel inclusive. And you make your comments before it even comes out. You make it off of a chronicl article. And yes, im making my momments now because i know some of the information in the report.

Common Hypocrisy

A discerning reader notes that Common’s own repertoire appears to contradict his denunciation of the lacrosse players. The video for “Testify” is available at Common’s official site. The song is about a woman who accuses her husband of committing a crime that she actually committed—charges that fool the media, the prosecutor, and ultimately the jury.

The final stanza goes as follows:

The court awaited as the foreman got the verdict from the bailiff
Emotional outbursts tears and smeared makeup
He stated, he was guilty on all charges
She's shaking like she took it the hardest
A spin artist, she brought her face up laughing
That’s when the prosecutor realized what happened
All that speaking her mind, testifying, and crying
When this bitch did the crime—the queenpin...

The double standards evident in the lacrosse case never cease to amaze.

Sunday Wrap-up

Writing in Roll Call, Stuart Rothenberg, one of the nation’s most astute political commentators, urged politicians not to “lower the bar for candidates’ campaign bloggers.”

The occasion for his column? Amanda Marcotte’s apologia, in which she claimed that her departure from the campaign was a blow for those hoping to allow “everyday citizens to engage in politics in the language and manner that is comfortable for us, if not for the establishment.” If Marcotte’s comment is any indication, Rothenberg correctly observes, she and her ilk “believe that all ‘everyday, common people’ eschew civility and reason. Sorry, but that’s not the case. Not by a long shot.”

Marcotte and other populist bomb-throwers can write whatever they want—this is one of the nice things about a blog. But that freedom, Rothenberg argues, “doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held responsible for their comments or that mainstream reporters should pay much attention to them”—as Marcotte demanded when she attacked those who had criticized her writings on the lacrosse case. Indeed, “since campaign bloggers are no less campaign staffers than press secretaries, a campaign ought to take responsibility for hiring those people, including any embarrassing past behavior.”

Rothenberg concludes that Marcotte and her blogger colleague, Melissa McEwen, “would have been “fired immediately by Edwards if they had been in a traditional staff position.” Why should candidates apply a different standard to bloggers?

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As if to prove Rothenberg’s point, Marcotte, having resigned in disgrace from the Edwards campaign, is again offering her theories on the lacrosse case. Her remarks came in comments from her following post: “I just want to remind you that having sex with someone too drunk to resist is against the law and you can be found guilty of rape if you do it.” Since there’s not a scintilla of evidence of any “sex” in the Duke case, much less a contention that the accuser was unable to resist because she was too drunk to resist (Nifong, as it’s worth remembering, once demonstrated to a national TV audience how aggressively the accuser “resisted”), it would seem that Marcotte’s post would have nothing to do with the Duke case.

But such a view, of course, would not allow for entering the mind of Amanda Marcotte. In her comment, she began by claiming that Ryan McFadyen “would defend a rapist who was caught in the act on videotape.” (The statement is demonstrably untrue, but facts aren’t exactly Marcotte’s friend.) Moreover, as another commenter told Marcotte:

As a blogger who claimed that your posts were satire, ironic and utilised literary techniques to make a point, surely you can recognise it when others use it to make their own point. So which is it Amanda? What you wrote was satire and didn’t divulge any hatred or bigotry of Catholics?

Then the above quote is also satire, as the writer claimed it was. It clearly uses hyperbole to make an ironic point. i.e.: That they would not behave in such a manner ever, even though many are prejudiced and bigoted to believe that they do. That to believe so is absurd . . .

Or are you implying that you get to be held to one standard and those you disagree with are held to another?

Marcotte, obviously, believes that she gets to be held to one standard, and her critics another. She then addressed anyone who has contended that no rape occurred. “No one talks to you,” Marcotte fumed, “because you are rape-loving scum . . . That you defend [the players] makes you such lowly, sleazy scum that it’s no wonder no one talks to you. They’re afraid by acknowledging you, they will catch the evil. Know this. Absorb it. Hope you enjoy sleeping at night, you sick, hateful bastards.”

This is the person that John Edwards wanted as his campaign blogger.

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Even sympathetic commenters have had enough of Marcotte. Another wrote,

As someone with whom I agree in so many respects, I do not know why you are so dumb about the Duke lacrosse case, and why you continue to perpetuate the myths about it. This is a case over which the left wing should be outraged, it is a classic case of railroading innocent men, but just because the accused are white men and the accuser a black woman, you must pretend to believe her and join in railroading . . .

Feminists and the left in general are totally mad to support the Duke lacrosse prosecution, because it is a travesty of justice, and it will be used against feminists and more importantly genuine rape victims will have to fight it before they are able to fight their own, for years to come.

I urge you to reconsider your approach on this one, because, you are damaging those you claim to support.

Don’t count on a change from Marcotte anytime soon.

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My colleague, Stuart Taylor, spoke about the case Friday in Memphis. The summary of his remarks, entitled “The Duke Lacrosse Case and What It Says About Our Criminal Justice Process, Academics, and News Media”:

What it says, he suggested, is mostly bad: Durham N.C. prosecutor Mike Nifong made an "outrageous rush to judgment," most of the media botched the story because of their political correctness and general shadiness, and Duke professors and administrators were spineless and all too eager to join Nifong’s side.

Two prosecutors served on the panel with him; both provided what could charitably be termed unimpressive commentary. Federal prosecutor Tim DiScenza said that while Nifong might have “violated every prohibition we have about disclosure of evidence,” in the federal system, North Carolina rules might be different. (Actually, they’re not more lenient, and in any case, the Constitution does apply in North Carolina.) He also chastised Taylor for criticizing the media’s coverage of the case, and for suggesting that grand juries are rubber stamps of prosecutors.

DiScenza’s remarks continue what has been an unusual pattern in this case: the prosecutors who try to find excuses for Nifong. The most egregious figure to behave in this fashion has been former Denver district attorney Norm Early.

Here’s Early, on CNN, on December 26:

I don't know whether [Nifong] has done a great job, an average job, a medium job of handling this case, because I don’t know all the evidence. But what I do know is that the defense has done a very good job of trying to smear the victim and smear Mr. Nifong.

He did not possess enough information on December 26 to evaluate Nifong's performance?! Early—as customary in his comments about the case—refused to supply any evidence to substantiate his allegation.

Just like the Trustees’ refusal to condemn the Duke faculty who misbehaved has created a false impression that extremists among the Group of 88 are characteristic of all Duke professors, so too do comments such as Early’s create a false impression that somehow Nifong’s behavior is the norm among prosecutors nationwide.

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Those who want to return to events of last spring can sample this youtube video of one of the potbangers’ protests—in this case, their march on Provost Peter Lange’s house.

That people made snap judgments was unsurprising. What is striking, however, is the moral certainty of the potbangers. Based solely on an unsubstantiated allegation, they had no hesitation in taking absolute actions, and using the case to make broad statements about society.

And, of course, the potbangers, like 87 members of the Group of 88 (the exception is Math professor Arlie Petters), have not only refused to apologize but continue to defend the propriety of their actions.

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The Chronicle has a new, and well-done blog, which contains a link to the Common performance containing one of the rapper’s two insults of the lacrosse players.

I am puzzled that this issue persists. As far as I understand (and if I’m wrong, I hope Duke students will correct me), the Last Day of Classes event is intended as a celebration for students. We have, in this case, a performer who insulted Duke students in a public, and vulgar, fashion. How can there be any doubt but that his invitation to perform should be rescinded?

Three arguments in favor of moving forward with the performance have been advanced: (1) the contract cancellation fee would take a bite out of the Student Activities budget; (2) there might not be enough time to book another act of comparable quality; (3) lots of other people, not just Common, rushed to judgment last spring.

Addressing (1), it would seem, provides a perfect opportunity for the Brodhead administration to encourage healing on campus, by volunteering to cover the cost of the cancellation fee out of University funds. Objections (2) and (3) are hard to take seriously.

A performer invited to campus has insulted students using a vulgar epithet as he grabbed his crotch. And yet the “campus culture” activists are quiet; from the Duke professors who have spent the last several months behaving as if they were latter-day cultural Puritans, we hear nothing. Why is this selective silence not surprising?

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[Update, 10.57am]: A rare useful article in today's Herald-Sun notes that Mike Nifong is becoming legendary in federal circuit courts. Nifong's actions have made it into two opinions, one in the 5th Circuit and the other in the 6th Circuit, as emblematic of prosecutorial misconduct.

Bill Thomas on the development: "I am not aware of any other case from the circuit courts that single out a prosecutor by name to exemplify prosecutorial misconduct. It is an extremely unusual circumstance. I have never seen it done before in my career of more than 25 years."

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In the Wonderland that is Durham, public information officers seem to practice disinformation instead. A case in point is DPD spokesperson Kammie Michael. She reached her high point in the lacrosse case on March 28, when she definitively stated, in writing, that Kim Roberts was not the first 911 caller. In fact, Roberts told the responding officers on March 14 that she had made the call, and she reiterated the point in her March 22 statement.

So, two options exist: (a) Michael was lying; (b) Michael is incompetent, and gave the press wrong information because she didn’t know how to find accurate material.

It appears Michael’s performance in the lacrosse case was not a one-shot deal, and the matter has now come to concern Mayor Bill Bell. A week ago Saturday, a Durham police officer Charles Callemyn, was killed in a traffic accident. Michael told both reporters and a list-serv that Callemyn “had not been involved in any prior traffic accidents while he was a Durham officer” and “had a clean driving record” with the department. Both statements were wrong.

Bell was blunt in his response: “We need to check our facts before we put information out to the public. If that wasn’t done, we need to understand why.”

The episode came on top off inaccurate information recently supplied to the City Council by Police Chief Steve Chalmers. Meanwhile, the information officer appears to have gone out of business: “As per Deputy Chief Ron Hodge, I am under a directive not to respond to any further questions from The Herald-Sun at this time. Please have Bob Ashley contact Deputy Chief Hodge if you need any further clarification.”

If she’s not supplying information, for what is she being paid?

One final item: despite addressing the theme of Michael providing inaccurate information to the press, the Herald-Sun article ignored the deception practiced by Michael in the lacrosse case, even though it involved a H-S reporter (Brianne Dopart). Apparently, Editor Ashley's loyalty to Nifong's prosecution transcends even solidarity with a fellow reporter on staff.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lacrosse Wins First Game Back

Laxpower reports that Duke has won its first game of the season, defeating Dartmouth 17-11. Zach Greer had six goals, Bo Carrington had at least two assists, and 70 journalists requested credentials for the game.

Admissions and the Trustees' Dilemma

A few days ago in the Q+A post, I included a couple of questions from people suggesting that the case would negatively affect admissions. In response, I noted that the Trustees should have become more involved in ensuring a fair education environment for all students.

A correspondent, properly, took me to ask, noting that I also should have stated that this year’s application figures for Duke were strong. For 2007, Duke had 18,495 applicants, down about 4 percent compared from 2006, but up 10.4 percent from 2004.

It’s unclear from these statistics whether any internal demographic shifts occurred within this pool—i.e., did applications from Northeastern whites, especially white males, decline? Was the average SAT score of the applicant pool higher, lower, or about the same as in previous years? But despite such uncertainties, it is clear that the lacrosse case did not cause a significant drop in admissions applications for 2007. (Applications for early admission did drop sharply, for reasons that are uncertain.)

If, then, overall application figures are fairly healthy, why should Trustees concern themselves with this issue at all?

For most of last year, it seemed (appropriately) that Duke officials worried that the negative images from the scandal itself and from students’ behavior more generally could affect the application pool—items such as the Rolling Stone article, or the caricatured image of the lacrosse players in the national press, or the fact that Duke could have a campus culture that might tolerate or even encourage the kind of horrific act that the accuser alleged.

Yet by the fall, these concerns no longer seemed warranted. The lacrosse program was restored and has received generally good publicity; most people seem (correctly) to believe that the Rolling Stone article was more an example of bad journalism than an accurate portrayal of campus life; and it appears about the only people who continue to accept the “campus culture tolerates rape” argument are a (dwindling?) faction of the Group of 88 and their allies on the Campus Culture Initiative.

Moreover, in the weeks before the 2007 application deadline, President Brodhead forcefully demanded due process for Duke students by advocating Mike Nifong’s recusal, and by lifting the suspensions of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty. Such actions, no doubt, left the impression to parents of potential applicants that Duke, as a whole, had approached the case in a fair-minded fashion.

For many who have followed the University’s response (and especially the response of the arts and sciences faculty) to the case more closely, however, a different attitude exists. For instance, some segment of the alumni community is clearly distressed with the University’s conduct. To take one example, earlier this week, Howard Mora (Engineering ’92) wrote to the Alumni Admissions Advisory Committee to say that he no longer could conduct alumni interviews of applicants. He wrote as someone “proud to be a representative of Duke,” someone who could “speak with pride when describing how the Duke faculty and administration support their students.”

Based on the rush to judgment by many in the arts and sciences, however, and their subsequently refusal to acknowledge their actions, Mora stated that he could “no longer look prospective students in the face and tell them that Duke is a place of opportunity and fairness. However, I do not wish to tell them that Duke may be a place where they will meet prejudice based on the color of their skin or their family’s economic status.”

In the end, as Mora’s letter suggested, no elite university, including Duke, can prosper if impressions develop that its faculty dislikes a sizable portion of the school’s student body. Three types of faculty misconduct appear to have occurred last spring.

The first and most blatant (but also rarest) was outright grade retaliation—the sort of issue that has appeared in the Kim Curtis scandal.

The second was a belief among some arts and sciences faculty—figures such as Karla Holloway, Anne Allison, Grant Farred, Peter Wood, Houston Baker, Wahneema Lubiano, and Alex Rosenberg, for example—that while all other Duke professors were required to adhere to the Faculty Handbook’s requirement that faculty treat Duke students with respect, the Handbook’s provisions did not apply to them.

The third was an issue raised by Physics Professor Emeritus Lawrence Evans in a letter to the Chronicle earlier this week. He wrote,

The real Duke issue is not being addressed, at least not publicly. It is not the ad from the Gang of 88, which mainly represents a missed opportunity to keep one's mouth shut-hardly unusual for academics. What matters is what went on in the classrooms during the weeks after the story broke.

I know for a fact that some faculty immediately wanted the whole lacrosse team expelled; if that opinion was kept privately it did little harm. However one hears stories, many with the ring of truth, about classroom discussions and even instructor’s lectures on the subject that clearly assumed the worst and suggested retribution against the players. There is even a case in which retribution may have been taken in terms of grades. It is these things that ought to be brought into the open and discussed, because if true they outweigh in importance to Duke anything that seems to have happened at the Party From Hell.

To my knowledge, Duke has never investigated this issue.

The question of overall faculty bias has received some national attention, chiefly through the work of David Horowitz. But many of Horowitz’s allegations are overblown, and his proposed solution is unworkable. (I should note I co-sponsored an American Historical Association amendment condemning both Horowitz’s idea and campus speech codes.)

The Duke faculty’s response to this incident, however, is much different than the sort of complaints that Horowitz has offered. The issue at Duke centers on attitudes and behavior toward the students, flowing from a “groupthink” atmosphere but focused very much on the campus, not broader political questions. This question, obviously, has received a good deal of attention in the blog. But until the group of articles that appeared after the ‘clarifying’ letter (Abrams, Podhoretz, Allen, Laney) it hadn’t really seeped into the mainstream. And all those articles came after the application deadline.

The administration’s response appears to be to ignore this issue and hope it goes away. I think most college administrations probably would respond in this fashion—now that the immediate crisis is passed, attempting to discipline professors who misbehaved risks a faculty revolt. This policy, however, is risky, because it assumes the issue of faculty misconduct won’t get much subsequent attention. The administration could very well be correct on this point—but if a public image subsequently emerges surfaces that the administration did nothing to address the problem, this almost certainly will have an impact on admissions.

It seems to me this is where the Trustees should have stepped in. With institutional leverage that Brodhead does not possess, they could have made clear that all who engaged in misconduct will be held accountable—even if only through a letter in the file or some form of professional wrist-slapping—to a standard that Duke, as an institution, will not tolerate faculty who disrespect the school's own students.

By not acting, the Trustees have essentially allowed a long-term problem to fester, and are gambling that it’s not going to come to light. Their gamble might pay off. But if it doesn’t, the result could be very costly.

[Slight delay in posting today; internet problems.]

Friday, February 23, 2007

No Surprises from the CCI

In perhaps the least surprising development at Duke of the past year, the Campus Culture Initiative, whose leadership was dominated by extremist critics of the lacrosse team, has produced a report recommending the agenda of . . . extremist critics of the lacrosse team. (The Chronicle obtained a copy.)

There never, really, was any doubt about what the CCI would produce, with Peter Wood and Group of 88 members Karla Holloway and Anne Allison chairing or co-chairing three of its four subgroups. As a Chronicle editorial noted a few weeks back, “The composition of the CCI’s steering committee has hurt its credibility . . . Stacking the CCI with critics of ‘white male privilege’ suggests that the initiative was created to pacify countercultural professors, rather than to shape a new and improved campus culture.”

The recommendations include:

1) A mandatory “diversity” course for all Duke students. This proposal could be called the “Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative,” since Group members disproportionately teach such classes.

2) Residential changes to prevent “the practice of assigning housing to selective living groups and social/affinity/interest groups.”

3) Reducing time athletes can spend on travel and practice—a proposal, as one Chronicle commenter observed, effectively demands the withdrawal of Duke from the ACC. The report does not appear to have demanded a reduction of time that non-athletes are allowed to spend on extracurricular activities.

4) Raising the “low end of the admissions standards” to ensure a better-qualified student body—a fine idea in theory, but one that almost certainly seems to be hypocritical, since advocates of “diversity” in admissions almost always advocate broadening the range of admissions standards.

One of the few CCI members not tainted by connection to the school’s response to the lacrosse case was Elliott Wolf, president of Duke Student Government and a member of the CCI committee. His comment? “I think the CCI has come to a premature conclusion on the matter. I also think that anything that is implemented in an academic setting has to be backed with legitimate arguments and data and different alternatives, and that just hasn’t been done.”

As Wahneema Lubiano has written, the crusade will continue “regardless of the ‘truth’” in the lacrosse incident. Will Duke students and—especially—alumni sit idly by?

We're #2! (of 2)

A Herald-Sun article announced, “The Herald-Sun has won seven N.C. Press Association awards for outstanding work in 2006, including coverage of the Duke lacrosse case, sports and photography.” Editor Bob Ashley gushed, "I'm proud to work with some truly outstanding writers, editors and photographers at The Herald-Sun, and to see their work honored by their professional peers -- especially on some of the biggest stories of the past year -- is gratifying.”

Then look at the fine print: “Second place in general news reporting for coverage of the Duke lacrosse case . . . The Herald-Sun competes with the state’s other large newspapers in the over-35,000 circulation category.”

Since the Charlotte Observer generally reprints N&O stories, there have been a grand total of two North Carolina papers that have published more than a handful of non-wire services articles about the case. Perhaps the announcement above, therefore, should be refined: “Second place [of two newspapers] in general news reporting for coverage of the Duke lacrosse case.”

The Piot Principle

Academic freedom rests on a basic principle: professors’ specialized training makes them qualified to have control over academic matters, such as evaluating scholarship, making new hires, setting up curricula. It’s hard for the media, or the general public, to challenge the evaluation of academics about the quality of a professor’s scholarship, or the appropriateness of personnel decisions.

The lacrosse case, however, has shone a light into the thinking of an outspoken minority of the arts and sciences faculty at one of the nation’s finest institutions—on an issue where the media and the public are perfectly capable of evaluating academics’ opinions. And the academics’ performance has not been impressive.

The pattern started early on. Citing the “abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white male privilege loosed amongst us,” Houston Baker’s March 29 public letter demanded the “immediate dismissals” of “the team itself and its players.” Two days later, Bill Chafe, a nationally esteemed civil rights historian, suggested that the whites who lynched Emmett Till provided an appropriate context through which to interpret the actions of the lacrosse players. Chafe’s column, ironically, misidentified the year of Till’s lynching, a critical event in the development of the civil rights movement. (The lynching occurred in 1955, not, as Chafe informed Chronicle readers, 1954.) Last fall, another Group of 88 member, Grant Farred, alleged that Duke students who registered to vote in Durham were projecting their “secret racism” onto the city.

No specialized academic training is necessary to determine the intellectually dubious nature of the arguments presented by Baker, Chafe, or Farred. Are their analyses of academic matters, outside the public spotlight, of equally questionable quality?

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At the so-called “Shut Up and Teach” forum a week ago Monday, AAAS chairman Charles Piot tackled the issue head-on. Then, a few days later, he expanded on his defense in an e-mail to John in Carolina. Celebrating the talents of the Group of 88, Piot asserted:

[Wahneema] Lubiano and others are deeply committed faculty, brilliant teachers, folks who love Duke and love their students (whether left or conservative). They are also complex nuanced thinkers, who don’t just toe an ideological party line.

I take Piot’s words at face value: I have no doubt he truly considers Lubiano a “brilliant” teacher and a “complex nuanced” thinker, someone who treats all students fairly (“whether left or conservative”) and doesn’t “just toe an ideological party line.”

1) “Brilliant” teacher

Commenter Locomotive Breath, who attended the forum, responded to Piot:

If her lecture that night was any indication, Prof. Lubiano is a terrible classroom instructor. She read as fast a she could from a prepared text, barely pausing to take a breath, and never even made eye contact with the audience. Twelve minutes was torture and I cannot imagine a full hour of that. More importantly, she left me with nothing identifiable to take away from her remarks.

Was LB exaggerating? You be the judge. An audio recording of Lubiano’s remarks at the event has surfaced, at this link. Her comments begin at the 7:40 mark. (A continuation is here.)

I encourage those with a few minutes to spare to listen to her presentation. Would you consider either the quality or the style of these remarks characteristic of a “brilliant” teacher?

2) “Complex nuanced” thinker

Lubiano recently sent in a letter to the Chronicle accusing Brendan McGinley of “actual lies”—not disagreeing with her, not misunderstanding her opinions, but lying—about her “perfect offenders” essay.

The Chronicle comment thread featured several perceptive rebuttals, which included the following:

The McGinley article neither misrepresents nor distorts Lubiano’s essay. It does call the Duke students “perfect offenders.” Lubiano’s central point seems to be that ALL acts of racism and sexism—most of which, she says, are “banal and routine”—should nonetheless be treated with the utmost gravity and societal outrage, EVEN IF they (unlike the Duke case) don’t feature “perfect offenders” (i.e. white, male, well-off athletes), or a “perfect victim” (poor but upstanding, black, single mother, honor student, as the accuser was initially represented as being), or a “perfect crime” (an alleged violent gang-rape accompanied by racist abuse.) Lubiano doesn’t criticize the use of the concept of the “perfect offender;” she advocates it. And she emphatically does place the Duke lacrosse players in the category of “perfect offenders.” Her essay did not (as her letter now implies) urge people to stop demonizing the lacrosse team as “perfect offenders” and to stop glorifying the accuser as a “perfect victim.” Far from it. Rather, it urged the reader to find and condemn racism and sexism everywhere—not to wait for golden opportunities such as that presented by the “perfect offenders” on the Duke lacrosse team.

Lubiano’s approach seems to be to write in dense prose that can be interpreted in different ways, and then to accuse those who disagree with her of lying. Those are not the habits of complex or nuanced thinkers.

3) Treats all students fairly (“whether left or conservative”)

Lubiano once deemed it her “privilege” to seamlessly blend her political activism with her teaching. This approach defies the AAUP’s 1915 and 1940 guidelines on academic freedom and tenure, which require professors to keep unrelated political content out of their classrooms. Reflecting her approach to the job, Lubiano’s two spring courses are: “Teaching Race/Teaching Gender” (which explores such issues as, “How do you overcome the reluctance of male undergraduates to avoid anything with “gender” in the title? . . . Within the terms of a heteronormative culture that has made individual aesthetics the bedrock of sexual relations, how do you introduce the idea of the social to questions of relationships?) and “Teaching Critical U.S. Studies.” Not exactly the most inclusive descriptions for students who don’t share her ideology.

In any case—as JinC observed—Piot unintentionally provided a glimpse into how he really feels about those who disagree with the Group. The Group’s academic critics (like me), Piot fumed, should “shut up and teach.” If he responds in this manner to faculty who criticize him, imagine how he treats students who challenge his worldview.

4) Doesn’t “just toe an ideological party line”

In recent years, Lubiano has:

  • opposed the war in Afghanistan, urging instead a “just peace” based on “dismantling the unquestioned commonsense of capitalism, and dismantling the unquestioned commonsense of market religiosity.”
  • advocated reparations for African-Americans, citing “activity of the state in the aid of theft” of free labor from slaves.
  • walked out of class to protest the war in Iraq.
  • participated in DRAGnet (Duke Radical Action Group), which, according to the Chronicle, featured professors “running around campus dressed from head to toe like drag queens” performing political skits.
  • opposed increased campus security measures, lest Duke “produce students as the future gated community citizens of the nation and the world.”
  • demanded that Duke divest from companies doing business in Israel.
  • served as closing speaker at a 2001 conference called “Black Queer Studies in the Millennium.”
  • called for an international tribunal to explore the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
  • petitioned New York University to recognize a graduate student union.
  • deemed the government’s failed response to Hurricane Katrina “cover for other forms of class warfare on the part of the powerful and cover for the work of dismantling, one disaster or crisis at a time if necessary,” the welfare state.
  • spoken at gatherings of the “Triangle Vegetarian Peace Society.”

Piot doesn’t consider that record toeing an ideological party line. How many people outside academia, do you think, would share his judgment?

(At the forum, by the way, Piot fused his anti-lacrosse activism with his academic credentials in one other way. He has, to date, refused to release a transcript of remarks, although some of them can now be heard here. Piot has claimed that they will appear in an (unnamed) academic journal, thereby suggesting that the Group’s anti-lacrosse quest constitutes an “academic” effort in and of itself.)

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The ramifications of this case will continue long after—as seems increasingly likely—charges are dismissed. Events of the past 10 months, including the recent forum, have exposed an unimpressive quality in the insights of some Duke arts and sciences faculty.

If a program chairman like Piot considers Lubiano an example of a “brilliant” teacher who’s open to all ideas, how confident are you in his overall academic judgment?

Hat tip: L.B.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Comments Policy

A recent post at Liestoppers noted,
The comments section of KC's blog has become a zoo. A constant barrage of bell curve comments mixed in with Barack Obama bashing are answered with Ted Haggard and Mark Foley taunts. None of them have any bearing on the case.
I concur, and have activated the moderate comments section of the blogger software. All comments will need to be cleared through me before posting.

I will not restrict comments based on viewpoints, but will restrict any off-topic comments. This policy will result in a delay in the appearance of some comments in the comments section.

Double Standards

Two cases, both involving allegations of rape at a party held in an off-campus house rented by Duke students. The disparities in the responses are striking.

The Police
In the current rape case, the police conducted the investigation, as would be expected under the Durham Police chain of command. When asked last week whether Mike Nifong was directing the investigation, Maj. L.A. Russ of the Durham Police Department replied, “We haven’t made any arrests or anything yet. He would not get involved this early.”

Yet, in the lacrosse case, Nifong did get involved “this early.” Eight days into the investigation, on March 24, Nifong assumed personal command of the case. (The district attorney has no police training, and it is unclear whether he had ever personally directed a police investigation before the lacrosse case.) Neither Russ nor any other DPD spokesperson has ever revealed what authority Nifong invoked to assume personal command of an ongoing police investigation.

Also, the police utilized different procedures in the two cases. According to Inv. A.J. Simmons, two witnesses from the party stated that they saw the suspect leave the bathroom shortly before the accuser did. Simmons wrote, “I created a photo array that contained 8 pictures, one of those pictures being Michael Burch [the suspect]. Investigator Coghill showed the photo array to [the witness] and he positively identified picture number 3 as being Michael Burch.” The second witness did the same.

In the lacrosse case, on the other hand, the photo lineup consisted of suspects only, with no fillers, unlike the seven per suspect used in the 2007 case. Moreover, in the 2007 case, Simmons, properly, had an officer unconnected with the case conduct the lineup. In the lacrosse case, the person handling things on the police side, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb, conducted the array, in violation of Durham city regulations.

Two cases, two wholly different sets of procedures.

The Neighbors
At Right Angles, Jon Ham has a must-read post analyzing the radically different responses of the Trinity Park list-serv to the two cases.

The TP list-serv was a hotbed of radicalism last March, one of the sources from which the potbangers attracted support. Ham unveils a few choice reactions:

March 25:
It will be an unmitigated outrage if all of the students who refused to co-operate with the police (i.e., the wall of silence) are not expelled directly. Whether or not Duke takes a serious attitude about obstruction of an investigation of a crime of this magnitude will say volumes about the quality of Duke leadership.
March 26:
Though the facts on exactly who committed the crime may not yet be known to us, the fact that the crime occured [sic] seems to be pretty irrefutable to me. A woman was brutally assaulted in our neighborhood. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know exactly who is guilty yet, we do know that SOMEBODY (several somebodies) ARE guilty. It’s just a matter of time…
The current case? Writes Ham, “What has been the reaction on the Trinity Park listserv, as of [Tuesday], since the alleged rape at the black fraternity party?
“(sound of crickets)
“That’s right.
“Not. A. Word.
“Not. A. Single. Post.”

The Faculty
In their apologia for the Group of 88, the “clarifying” faculty spoke—without supplying any evidence to support their claim—of an “atmosphere that allows sexism, racism, and sexual violence to be so prevalent on campus.”

To my knowledge, however, not one Duke professor has issued a statement condemning the 2007 fraternity party in which the rape allegedly occurred. No jeremiads about the moral evils of underage drinking, either.
Why the double standard? Orin Starn informs the N&O: “Normally with a rape case, police do the investigation, and charges are filed, and it goes through court. The lacrosse case was something of an anomaly. It became a media event that was covered and dissected and debated, both locally and nationally.”
Starn’s quote represents an example of three sentences that said nothing: we know how cases normally proceed, we know the lacrosse case was an “anomaly,” and we know it became a media event. The question is why, and on this point Starn was silent.

One way to explain Starn’s disparate reactions: since the current house is rented by non-athletes, exploiting this case would not further his crusade to transform Duke into a North Carolina version of Haverford. He proved perfectly willing to advance his personal agenda on the backs of his own school’s students (one of whom, Reade Seligmann, he had taught) in the lacrosse case.

As for the Group of 88: to use Wahneema Lubiano’s phrasing (which she now appears to be denying), in the lacrosse case, the players were “perfect offenders.” For faculty who worship at the altar of the race/class/gender trinity, for what more could they ask than a case in which a black woman was accusing white males who play a sport associated with the upper class?

The current case, on the other hand, is dangerous in terms of academic politics. Ultra-feminists—such as Robyn Weigman—contend that we always should believe women who charge rape. But the woman in this case is white, and might very well come from a more privileged background than the accused. So while “gender” points to one reaction, “race” and “class” point to another. In response, it appears that the Group of 88 will sit this issue out.

The Media
In the lacrosse case, the media almost always reported the race of the accused students. In the current case, local media outlets, chiefly the N&O, have gone out of their way not to report the race of the suspect. The policy, political correctness run amok, basically leaves the reader trying to decipher code words—the suspect, for instance, was described in the N&O as “wearing a black do-rag.”

The explanations offered for this decision were unconvincing.

According to N&O public editor Ted Vaden, managing editor John “Drescher also makes the case that in an increasingly multi-ethnic community, race is less useful as a description . . . How do you distinguish between black, brown, white, dark complexion, light complexion and other? He pointed to photographs of Barack Obama and North Carolina U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield. Not knowing their ethnicity, would a reader describe them as black or white?

“Keith Woods, dean of the Poyner Institute, a development center for journalists in Florida, makes the case that race is ethnic, not descriptive. Ethnicity, he writes, does not tell you what a person looks like. ‘All Irish-Americans don’t look alike. Why then, accept a description that says a suspect was African-American?’”

This line of argument reminds me of Stephen Colbert’s approach to racial issues. Playing a faux blowhard on his Comedy Central show, Colbert regularly says he has moved “beyond race”; when someone points out he is white, he responds with lines such as, “If you say so. I don’t see color.”

The University
Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta has assumed the point position in the current case. In one of his first comments on the case, he appeared—as Liestoppers observed—to shift the blame to the accuser, commenting that the situation was “part of the reality of collegiate life and of experimentation and some of the consequences of students not necessarily always being in the right place at the right time. This happens around the country. Duke is no different in that respect.”

The house rented by the fraternity members had four students; Moneta recently told the N&O that Duke had moved the quartet to temporary campus housing, because “we wanted them to be able to concentrate on their classes.” He added, “Right now, my priority is that the woman and her friends are getting the support they need.”

The administration, obviously, adopted a far less forgiving attitude regarding the lacrosse incident. The counseling angle is particularly interesting. In one of the extraordinary aspects of the University’s response—the general rule of thumb on contemporary college campuses is that the Student Life apparatus almost always overreacts—Moneta and his office provided no special counseling services for the lacrosse players, or for friends of the players who were harassed on campus. Members of the Athletic Department were left to do what they could on an ad hoc basis; their handling of this oversight is one example of Duke employees’ unsung heroism in the case.

In short, it would seem the responses between the two cases differ radically, across the board. I’d like to think that’s because some people have learned a lesson from how they responded to the lacrosse case, but I fear that would be a na├»ve contention.