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Whatever Happened to the Group of 88?

A few years ago, Cornell University spokesperson Thomas W. Bruce rejoiced that the Ivy League school had brought to Ithaca a man whose “distinguished background in contemporary global cultural studies,” and whose “unique perspectives and talents” would “add to the range of reasoned intellectual discourse at Cornell.”
The professor about whom Bruce gushed was Grant Farred, whose latest contribution to “intellectual discourse at Cornell” came when he labeled two graduate students “black bitches.” One of the most extreme members of the Group of 88 (the Duke faculty members who issued a guilt-presuming public statement two weeks into the lacrosse case), Farred had denounced as “racist” those Duke students who registered to vote in Durham; and had wildly charged that unnamed lacrosse players had committed perjury. Duke’s settlement with the three falsely accused players shielded him from civil liability for the latter remarks. Cornell knew this record of contempt for the students he taught when it not only awarded Farred a tenured position, but promoted him to full professor, with a median salary of $154,300.
Farred’s experience typifies the Group of 88’s rebounding from their rush to judgment in the lacrosse case. Indeed, at least three Group members moved on from Duke to endowed chairs at other institutions. Charles Payne, who violated Duke rules by authorizing departmental funds to pay for the Group of 88’s ad, is now Frank Hixon Professor at the University of Chicago. He has moved on from presuming the guilt of his own school’s students to receiving fellowships to fund his work on urban schools. Payne’s most recent book, Teach Freedom: Education for Liberation in the African-American Tradition, is an edited volume published by Columbia Teachers’ College Press; it features contributions from self-described “educator-activists” on how principles of African-American “liberation” education remain relevant today.
Rom Coles, who denounced an early 2007 from Duke economics professors that affirmed that the economics professors would welcome all Duke students, even student-athletes, into their classes, is now McAllister Chair in Community, Culture & Environment at Northern Arizona University. He’s involved himself in a host of pedagogically predictable causes, ranging from learning communities to “sustainability” initiatives.

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The Group Of 88 In The News

One reason the academic side of the lacrosse case was so important is that the Group of 88—the Duke arts and sciences faculty members who, two weeks into the case, declared that something had “happened” to false accuser Crystal Mangum and thanked protesters who had carried ‘CASTRATE’ signs for “not waiting and for making yourselves heard”—includes some of the more prominent humanities and social sciences professors at Duke. In that respect, the lacrosse case provided a unique window into the mindset of contemporary academia.
Take Cathy Davidson, a high-profile former dean and English professor at Duke who recently was the subject of a glowing review in the Chronicle of Higher Education for her pedagogical innovation. (Davidson no longer does her own grading, having ceded that basic professional responsibility to the students in her class.) Davidson also is the professor who bizarrely asserted that the Group of 88’s ad was justified because in the first two weeks of the case—when virtually everyone in the media was presuming guilt—“rampant” racist insults were “swirling around in the media” from the reporters and commentators who defended the lacrosse players. Just who these media members were Davidson never revealed.
Last week, Mark Bauerlein revealed that Prof. Davidson, in a letter that Bauerlein uncovered in the Fish Papers, was well aware of late 1980s discussions at Duke to bar members of the NAS from serving on personnel committees. Yet this same Cathy Davidson had asserted in 2004 that “either as a department member or a member of the APT [appointments, promotions, and tenure] committee, I’ve not encountered any Duke faculty member being harassed or discriminated against because he or she is conservative.”

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