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.
Then there’s Houston Baker. The race-baiter who—after Mike Nifong’s case collapsed—still denounced a lacrosse parent as “mother of a ‘farm animal'” is now Distinguished University Professor at Vanderbilt. His behavior in the lacrosse case seemingly did nothing to lessen Baker’s credibility in academic circles (Vanderbilt featured a conference last year with the “distinguished professor” opining about the 2008 election); or those with similar ideological outlooks, such as NPR, which gave Baker space to attack other black intellectuals for having betrayed their cause.
Some Group members who remain at Duke have enjoyed prestigious sojourns elsewhere. Karla Holloway—an English professor who’s on the Duke Law faculty even though she doesn’t possess a J.D., and who distinguished herself in the lacrosse case for spreading fifth-hand, unsubstantiated gossip via a mass e-mail—was invited to spend a term at Harvard, courtesy of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute. While in Cambridge, the race/class/gender-obsessed Holloway focused on her latest scholarly inquiry, an argument that “race and gender, as noticed within the law, are implicated in some of the most complex issues in bioethics—reproduction, DNA, right-to-die, and clinical trials—even as these embodied complexities are simplified into notions of ‘identity’ and ‘community.'”
Meanwhile, Wahneema Lubiano, who authored the Group of 88 statement, informed correspondents that she spent the spring 2009 semester in Prague. It’s not clear what Lubiano did in the Czech Republic, but scholarship doesn’t appear to have been her focus—having been granted tenure by Duke without a scholarly monograph, Lubiano has spent the last 13 years claiming to possess two “forthcoming” manuscripts.
Nothing in their behavior since the lacrosse case imploded suggests that these or any other Group members have engaged in any critical self-reflection as to why their pedagogical or ideological mindsets caused them to get such a high-profile case so wrong. Indeed, they’ve plowed ahead as if they analyzed the case properly—and there’s no evidence that other institutions have had any problem with this tactic.
Duke also hasn’t featured any noticeable move away from the Group’s increasing dominance of humanities and social sciences departments. Almost incredibly, Duke has promoted three Group members (Sally Deutsch, Lee Baker, and Srinivas Aravamudan) to become deans. Group members continue to occupy high profiles in Duke publications. For instance, a recent issue of Duke Magazine, which is sent to all graduates, featured contributions from three Group members (Holloway, Paula McClain, and Cathy Davidson).
Perhaps most revealing, Duke appears to have done little or nothing to reconsider the hiring patterns that produced such a groupthink-dominated faculty, oriented around common assumptions about issues of race, class, and gender. To chair the African-American Studies Department, the school brought in J. Lorand Matory, best-known as the Harvard sponsor of the resolution of no confidence in Larry Summers. The Cultural Anthropology Department, now chaired by the anti-lacrosse extremist Orin Starn, recently hired Laurie McIntosh, whose work examines “the gendered, racialized, and sexualized character of state initiatives to regulate the social lives of particular groups and persons.” Newer hires in other Group-dominated departments includes such professors as Anna Krylova, whose work on Russian history “engages with cultural, gender, and queer theory” and Francisco-J. Hernandez Adrian, whose research examines 20th Century Latin American Literature through “visual theories” and “queer-gender theories.”
In any other profession, behavior as outrageous as that exhibited in the lacrosse case by the faculty in Duke’s humanities and (some) social sciences departments would have prompted at the least intensive soul-searching and (in the corporate world, at least), dismissal. Principles of academic freedom, appropriately, guard against retaliatory action toward professors who take ill-conceived positions. But with the rights of academic freedom are supposed to come responsibilities as well—including open-mindedness in pursuit of the truth. The Group’s utter lack of accountability—and what it says about the state of the fields that they dominate—reflects the malaise that continues to beset contemporary higher education.