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.”
While Davidson’s problem is with candor, fellow Group member Ariel Dorfman has a problem with consistency. While he had no problem presuming guilt in the lacrosse case, his views on the dangers of sexual assault appear to depend on whether he admires the accused. How else to explain his signature on a petition to free Roman Polanski—who pled guilty to a sex crime but then fled the United States before sentencing?
And Michael Hardt’s recent work helps animate just how extreme the ideology that animates the Group of 88 (and like-minded colleagues at other elite universities). In a blistering review,City Journal editor Brian Anderson notes that in his latest tome, Hardt and co-author Antonio Negri predicted that “revolution will erupt—and soon. It could be violent, a prospect that does not seem to trouble them: ‘What is the best weapon against the ruling powers—guns, peaceful street demonstrations, exodus, media campaigns, labor strikes, transgressing gender norms, silence, irony, or many others—depends on the situation.’ Pirates, the rioting Muslim banlieusards of Paris and the Black Panthers all are praised in Commonwealth as heroes of disruption.” Anderson’s devastating summary: “Messrs. Hardt and Negri make little effort to build arguments in support of their wild assertions and predictions. They write as if ignorant of the 20th century and of much else, including economics and social science.”
The Group, of course, contained more than its share of mediocrities. But even their recent activities testify to the Group’s influence. Statement author Wahneema Lubiano—she who wrote, without any citation, that “many whites . . . might not ever be persuaded by appeals to reason, to what we ‘know’ and agree to be ‘truth’—that all men/women were created equal, for example”—is busy tending to all Duke undergraduates through her position as a departmental director of undergraduate education. And at Cornell, Grant Farred—who claimed that unnamed lacrosse players were guilty of “perjury” and “arrogant sexual prowess”—is filling the same role for graduate students, at Cornell’s African-American Studies Department.
Whatever else can be said about them, the Group clearly has no shame.