Duke Lacrosse And The Professions of Diversity

[Robert “K.C.” Johnson is the indefatigable chronicler of the Duke non-rape case, turning out a thousand words of brilliant reportage and analysis a day for more than a year on his Durham-in-Wonderland site. On the Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren writes” “If bloggers were eligible for Pulitizer Prize… I would nominate Brooklyn Professor K.C. Johnson… No self-respecting journalist would think of writing anything long and evaluative on the Duke case without first checking “the blog of record,” Durham-in-Wonderland.”]

On April 6, 2006, 88 members of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty endorsed a full-page ad published in the campus newspaper, the Chronicle. The professors suggested that men’s lacrosse players had triggered a “social disaster” by holding a spring-break party. The faculty members unequivocally asserted that something “happened to this young woman,” accuser Crystal Mangum. And, in the aftermath of anti-lacrosse rallies featuring banners reading “Castrate” and “Time to Confess,” the Group of 88 said “thank you” to the protesters “for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.”

In the Duke case’s Pauline Kael moment, the author of the ad, African-American Studies professor Wahneema Lubiano, reflected, “In the moment when the ad came out, I did not hear from one colleague that there was something wrong with the ad.” Yet Duke students noticed something was wrong almost immediately. The Chronicle criticized it in editorials and op-eds, while members of the lacrosse team, recalled lacrosse player Bo Carrington, all “kind of checked over our teachers to make sure they weren’t on that list.”

It would be comforting to dismiss the Duke faculty’s reaction to the now-dismissed lacrosse case as an anomaly. Unfortunately, it seems a logical, if unintended, consequence of policies followed throughout the academy. The last 25 years have witnessed the ascendance of a quasi-religious worship of “diversity” in higher education. The movement began with calls for adding new academic programs to study underrepresented groups, as well as implementing new policies, such as speech codes, designed to purge from incoming students’ minds the supposedly racist and sexist attitudes of American society. In recent years, however, diversity advocates have expanded their agenda into recommendations for across-the-board curricular and hiring changes. In this respect, the diversity agenda amounts to a plan to change not the color or gender of college professors but what and how all college faculty teach.

For more than a decade, Duke has aggressively implemented a diversity hiring policy, seeking to bring in more faculty members who will explore the issues of race, class, and gender that diversity advocates deem central to intellectual life. This strategy, however, has had the unforeseen effect of widening the gap between professors and the students they teach.

To professors like Wahneema Lubiano, who are convinced that American society is deeply oppressive on grounds of race, class, and gender, students such as Bo Carrington and the other members of the lacrosse team were at worst ideological enemies and at best naive undergraduates who needed to be reeducated. When confronted with the opportunity to advance their diversity agenda at the expense of their own school’s students, Lubiano and her allies did not think twice. And as faculty hired under the new “diversity” criteria become more entrenched at more institutions, we can fully expect to see similar episodes of professors treating the students they teach as the ideological enemies.
Most readers, I suspect, are familiar with the broad outlines of what was highest-profile example of prosecutorial misconduct in modern American history. Facing a primary electorate almost evenly divided between white and black voters, an appointed D.A. named Mike Nifong responded to Mangum’s allegations with a barrage of race-baiting public appearances. But it quickly became clear that no evidence existed of a crime, let alone a racially motivated gang rape. So Nifong constructed a case on a tissue of procedural violations.
The district attorney ignored ethics rules prohibiting prosecutors from pre-trial public comments that heightened condemnation of the accused. He refused to meet with defense attorneys to consider exculpatory evidence. After Mangum failed to identify any of her “attackers” in six lineups that used filler photos, Nifong ordered the police to violate their own procedures and create a new lineup, confined to suspects. And he entered into an agreement with a private lab director to withhold exculpatory DNA evidence.

Eventually, the state bar filed ethics charges, forcing the district attorney from the case; he will face an ethics hearing on June 12.
The academy prizes itself for its commitment to due process and the dispassionate evaluation of evidence. And imagine the likely professorial reaction had a demagogue prosecutor behaved as Nifong did, but instead appealed to white voters by targeting African-American college students. In this case, however, dozens of Duke professors acted to facilitate the prosecutor’s efforts.

The faculty’s response represented the culmination of developments two decades in the making. While Duke’s student body has tended to take mainstream positions on most issues, its faculty has not. In the 1980s, the school heavily recruited big-name humanities professors, most of whom, noted former Duke professor Stuart Rojstaczer, “were very much on the political left. Duke had never had this level of leftist slant before.”

Hard figures demonstrating the imbalance appeared in 2004, when a Duke Conservative Union 2004 study showed that Duke’s humanities departments contained 142 registered Democrats and 8 registered Republicans. Philosophy Department chairman Robert Brandon spoke for the campus establishment in dismissing the findings, since “if, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.”

By the time of the DCU study, the leftward slant of Duke’s humanities and social sciences faculty had accelerated, after then-President Nannerl Overholser Keohane named History professor William Chafe as her new dean of faculty, in 1995. As he explained in a subsequent “State of Arts and Sciences Address,” Chafe focused on using new faculty hires to eliminate the “tendency to think of Duke as a place of wealth, whiteness and privilege.” Diversity, rather than traditional conceptions of academic excellence, would be the prime criterion in choosing new professors for Duke.

Chafe was hardly alone in embracing such a policy. Largely outside of public view, America’s colleges and universities-elite, private, and public-have dramatically changed in the last quarter century. Scholars previously active in the civil rights, feminist, antipoverty, environmental, and peace movements established programs in new fields such as black studies, women’s studies, and ethnic studies or transformed some traditional liberal arts disciplines-such as sociology, history, English, literature, and anthropology-to stress issues of race, class, and gender. Fields such as such as political or military history, meanwhile, which are perceived as devoted to studying “dead white men,” have been marginalized or eliminated altogether.

These “diversity” advocates justify their agenda by describing a world that no objective observer would recognize. Wagner College President Richard Guarasci, for instance, claimed that students arrived at Wagner “fearing encounters with ‘the stranger” (this in New York City, the most diverse city in the world) and in “deep denial about the contours of inequality.” Undergraduates who harbored such inappropriate beliefs could only learn “the arts of democracy” through a reoriented curriculum based on “intercultural and diversity education” that would promote “the objectives of pluralist or multicentric democracy.”

More sensible administrators and professors have been reluctant to challenge the ideologues within their midst. As New York Times reporter Richard Bernstein observed in his 1995 book, Dictatorship of Virtue, “In the era of political correctness and craven university administrations, the charge of racism, unsubstantiated but accompanied by a few demonstrations and angry rhetorical perorations, suffices to paralyze a campus, to destroy a reputation, and to compel an administration into submission.” The fate of former Harvard president Larry Summers-who was forced to resign after politically incorrect comments on gender, policy toward Israel, and the work effort of African-American president Cornel West – looms as a lesson for any administrator inclined to ask hard questions about how the “diversity” agenda is being implemented.
That said, before the lacrosse case erupted, some voices of reason had urged Duke to return to the traditional ideal of a university education: professors committed to free intellectual exchange in pursuit of the truth teaching undergraduates the disciplines of the liberal arts canon, so that college graduates would possess the wide range of knowledge and skills necessary to function as democratic citizens.

In 2002, Economics professor E. Roy Weintraub pointed out that Chafe’s strategy abandoned the “alternative choice seen in the past to be appropriate for the unique institution that is a university,” namely “the development of an ever-more distinguished faculty.” “Have we,” Weintraub wondered, “chosen to settle for using our resources to achieve a more diverse faculty instead of a more intellectually distinguished one? The record of the past decade seems to indicate that the answer is ‘yes.”

Chafe dismissed Weintraub’s concerns. “Diversity,” he mused, “enhances our quality rather than diminishes it,” pointing to the recruitment of women or minority winners of the Pulitzer Prize and Guggenheim Fellowships. But professors with such qualifications already would be attractive, to any school. The issue, as Weintraub recognized, came in the hiring of weakly qualified figures in the name of “diversity.”

Traditional criteria – scholarly accomplishment and demonstrated teaching skills – cannot guarantee a “diverse” hire. So the criteria either need to be made wholly subjective, or new faculty positions need to be designed in such a way to ensure a candidate with the proper ideological credentials is the final choice. Both approaches set the stage for hiring more professors with extremist beliefs and marginal academic accomplishments.

Wahneema Lubiano typifies the kind of professor hired under the new standards. A tenured associate professor, Lubiano has published no scholarly monographs in the two decades since receiving her Ph.D. When she came to Duke in 1997, however, she listed two books as “forthcoming” (completed and under contract with a press) on her public resume. Ten years later, neither book has appeared. When asked why she twice listed as forthcoming manuscripts that apparently had not even been accepted for publication, Lubiano responded, “Do not email me again. I am putting your name and email address in my filter.”

If she has spent little time on the traditional task of scholarship, to what, then, has Lubiano devoted her efforts at Duke? Like many who have embraced a diversity agenda, she views her job as not primarily educating students but instead engaging in “a deliberate attempt on the part of the historically marginalized to reconstitute not simply particular curricula, but the academy itself.” Indeed, she is quite open in her belief about using her job to advance her political agenda. “Whether I’m thinking, teaching, or engaging in politics (including strategizing),” she wrote, “I think that it is part of my privilege, my work, and my pleasure to insist that those three activities are not clearly demarcated.” Before the lacrosse case, Lubiano bounced from one extremist crusade to another – a caricature of what New York’s Kurt Andersen termed the academy’s “loopy left.”

Hostility toward the students they teach helps explain the virulence with which many Duke professors attacked their own undergraduates in the lacrosse case. Take, for instance, Group of 88 member Mark Anthony Neal, a SUNY-Buffalo Ph.D. who came to Duke during Chafe’s deanship. Neal, who labels himself as a “ThugNiggaIntellectual,” has written that he approaches his racist students through an imaginary conservation: “I’m the nigga that gonna intellectually choke the living s- -t out of you.” That his white students might not view him through a racist lens appears not to have occurred to Neal.

Another professor hired during Chafe’s deanship, Grant Farred, has leveled similarly broad, unsubstantiated charges of racism against Duke students. Last fall, when hundreds of Duke undergraduates registered to vote in Durham, hoping to oust Nifong in the November election, Farred wrote that they all harbored a “secret racism.” Late last month, after the attorney general had dismissed all charges, Farred accused the lacrosse players of perjury and called for authorities to investigate them for hate crimes. His evidence? The accused players embodied “the perfect white self.”

Or take yet another figure who arrived during Chafe’s tenure, Houston Baker. On March 29, 2006, the English professor published an open letter demanding that Duke immediately expel the entire lacrosse team, which had been given “license to rape, maraud, deploy hate speech, and feel proud of themselves in the bargain.” Ten times in his letter Baker referred to the race of the lacrosse players in a derogatory fashion.

Two days after Baker’s letter appeared, Chafe himself published an op-ed claiming that the Mississippi whites who kidnapped, beat, and drowned a black boy named Emmett Till provided the appropriate historical context through which to interpret the behavior of the lacrosse players. In an unintentional if revealing commentary on the intellectual seriousness of his effort, Chafe, a civil rights historian, misidentified the year of Till’s murder in his op-ed.

For professors such as Chafe, Lubiano, Farred, Baker, Neal, and their campus allies – people whose careers have been devoted toward imposing a race/class/gender worldview on the academy – the lacrosse case was too tempting not to exploit. White males who played a sport associated with the Eastern elite were accused of raping a poor, black, local woman. If true, the allegations proved everything they had said about “Duke as a place of wealth, whiteness and privilege.”

But when facts emerged undermining the desired narrative, Group members simply ignored the new developments. Lubiano rationalized this approach in a column last May: “Regardless of the ‘truth’ about the incident at the house on North Buchanan Boulevard” – that is, “regardless” of whether anything actually happened – “what people are asking is that something change.” That their actions harmed their own students seemed of little concern to Chafe and his allies. If, after all, professors see students as objects (“the perfect white self”) and not as individuals, the students’ fate is of little consequence.

As Nifong’s case faltered, some Duke professors did speak out. In June 2006, Law professor Jim Coleman critiqued the district attorney’s procedural violations and demanded that he recuse himself. A few months later, Chemistry professor Steven Baldwin lamented that the accused lacrosse players “were abandoned by their university . . . pilloried by their faculty and scorned by the administration.” (The director of Duke’s women’s studies program promptly accused Baldwin of using the “language of racism.”) In January, 17 Economics professors issued a public letter demanding an investigation of Nifong and expressing regret that the actions of the Group of 88 had created an impression that Duke professors did not welcome all Duke students into their classes.

Their colleagues’ remarks had no effect on the Group of 88. In late December, Baker e-mailed the mother of a lacrosse player, describing her son and his teammates as “farm animals.” The next month, Chafe’s former associate dean, Karla Holloway, hinted that a mystery witness would yet come forward who might establish the players’ guilt. At a February, “teach-in” Charles Piot demanded that the Group of 88’s critics “shut up.” Two other Group members cited a “conspiracy” to explain the criticism they had received. Despite the absurd nature of these arguments, Duke’s professors recently elected Group of 88 member Paula McClain as the new chairwoman of the school’s Academic Council. McClain’s position on the lacrosse case was, at least, clear-cut. When asked over the summer whether she would call on Nifong to ensure the due process of the three accused players, she responded with a one-word answer: “No.”
On April 11, 2007, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper proclaimed the accused players the “innocent” victims of a “rogue prosecutor.” Yet the Group of 88 has remained defiant. Of the ad’s original signatories, only one, Math professor Arlie Petters, has publicly apologized. Eighty-seven Duke faculty members, on the other hand, issued another statement categorically rejecting all “public calls to the authors to retract the ad or apologize for it.”

The lacrosse case featured what appears to be a first in American history: in a change-of-venue motion, defense attorneys cited the statements and actions of students’ own professors as one of the principal reasons why the students could not receive a fair trial locally. It is a legacy that should concern anyone interested in the future of American higher education. And absent outside intervention – from alumni, trustees, parents, the media – the academic culture exhibited at institutions like Duke will grow more, not less, extreme.


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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