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Monday, January 22, 2007

Huh? Duke University's Provost Draws Profoundly Misguided Lessons from Duke Scandal
Gail Heriot

This is awful.  Provost Peter Lange evidently draws very different lessons from the Duke "rape" case than I do.  To me it's about how three college kids can come within inches of having their lives ruined (and it's not over yet) all on account of wild accusations of rape that should have been (and were) recognized to be incredible from the start.  If you are not yet convinced of this, it's your duty as a citizen to read about the evidence in Stuart Taylor & K.C. Johnson's essay; that' just the tip of the iceberg.

How could such a miscarriage of justice occur?  Just add a little racial resentment, a lot of hysterical political correctness, and a very large dose of political ambition on the part of Durham District Attorney Michael Nifong, and you've quickly got a very ugly brew.  It's frightening.  The only consolation I can draw is that a few people with a keyboard really can make a difference.  K.C. Johnson's Durham-in-Wonderland blog  has been invaluable in getting the word out about this injustice. 

Here's what Lange sees:

"When the events of the spring unfolded we witnessed an unimagined intensity of vituperative language and distasteful and deeply hurtful caricatures of Duke students, our campus and its culture, our Durham community and our relationship to our neighbors in the city. The wave of attacks lasted for weeks in the media, on the emails and in the blogs. It was deeply disturbing, in many ways for our students, faculty and whole community. It inflamed and polarized rhetoric on our campus as well. Over the months and with the unfolding of events, these types of attacks have subsided. 

"Meanwhile, some of our faculty, primarily African-American but not only so, have been under repeated attacks in personal emails and in blogs.  The primarily precipitant--in the sense that the content offended those writing the blogs or sending the emails--was the advertisement signed by 88 of Duke's faculty and printed in the Duke Chronicle.  Subsequently, the connection to the advertisement often has become attenuated and the ad has become rhetorically transformed into and manipulated as a symbol of all that was thought to be extreme and bad about Duke faculty, and in some cases, universities more generally.  At the same time, the emails and blogs attacking what people wrote or said have sometimes been replaced by personal attacks, some of them directed at the faculty member's scholarship or intellectual credentials, some vicously personal, still others openly threatening or racist.

"These attacks through emails and blogs have prompted appeals that the administration, and I, as Provost come to the "defense" of, our faculty. Yet, until today I have said nothing publicly about this. I want today to explain the sources of my concerns, the reasons for my previous reticence to speak out and why I am now doing so. I am under no illusion that this will quiet the distasteful clamor from beyond Duke. I do hope to contribute to a restoration of engaged, sometimes intense, but also mutually respectful dialogue on our campus

Got that?  Duke faculty members are special victims in this story.  According to Lange, bloggers like K.C. Johnson aren't heroes. They're the problem:

"As we all are aware blogs and email have "democratized" communication; anyone with access to a computer can get in the game as writer or spectator. In many ways this is a very good thing, for it reduces the elitism of "publication" and the control of opinion by opinion "sellers". Nonetheless, this "democracy" is also permissive of saying almost anything, about almost anyone or anything, using any language, no matter how distasteful, disrespectful or dismissive. We can spread our ideas faster, and without the mediation of others, but we can also control neither their dispersion nor the nature and distribution of reactions to them. In fact, if those reactions distort the account of what we have said, there is likely no way to correct the record for the large number of people who may have secondarily received those distorted interpretations.

"This is a condition of our era. No one can provide relief and these conditions do not change the basic fact that one must take care to say what one intends and be prepared to be accountable for and to defend the substance of one’s ideas, and correct or incorrect interpretations of them. Free speech must continue to be vigorously defended, but speaking freely has become potentially more consequential."

The statement goes on for pages, but you can read it from beginning to end and not find out that this whole obscene incident is about how some folks were attempting to frame a group of Duke students for a felony that they did not commit. Lange makes it sound like the real victims are the notorious Group of 88 Duke faculty members who issued a statement back in April saying "thank you" to the group of protestors who had branded the students rapists and clamored for their castration. There's not a trace of embarrassment over their behavior.  Instead, Lange argues that the attention the matter has now been getting is not "productive of the best virtues for free speech."  He criticizes the "merciless attention that the emailers and bloggers have been paying" to the Group of 88. 

I guess I have to disagree.  It seems to me that the best virtues of free speech have indeed been served.  These poor kids might be rotting in prison without it.

Read the whole long, tedious and jargon-filled thing.

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Gail Heriot


Let's face it. The vast majority of all faculties in all universities are in the liberal arts. They have little or no real liberal arts education, and most, if not all, would fail a 1900 Harvard freshman examination in literature, political science, or history. A professorship in liberal arts carries about as much weight as a "Nobel Peace Prize" or a "Pulitzer". There are many talented, true liberal arts scholars out there. They had better get off their duff and start the process of excising the cancers growing within their professional ranks.

Posted by: The Cajun | Jan 23, 2007 7:34:18 AM

Let me get this straight:

* heaping scorn, abuse and threats on people for something they did not do - perfectly fine

* reviling those that proudly heaped said scorn, abuse and threats on the innocent persons - beyond the pale

As PJ O'Rourke once quipped, there's just no getting through to the highly perceptive.

Posted by: Jeffersonian | Jan 23, 2007 7:48:02 AM

A discussion that truly concerned itself with ill-considered comments might have picked up from the beginning. Leaving out of consideration the statement by the 88 only confirms the necessity of the comments directed at those faculty. Payback is a bitch for the thin skinned.

Posted by: Menlo Bob | Jan 23, 2007 7:49:07 AM

I would hope that the "distasteful clamor from beyond Duke" will continue and grow in force.

Posted by: GaryK | Jan 23, 2007 7:58:07 AM

Lange should have said, get out of the kitchen if you can't stand the heat.

These mopes are intellectually lazy cowards.

Posted by: TombZ | Jan 23, 2007 8:29:42 AM

As parent of a DU alum, I am appalled at the administration's & faculty's failure to act in loco parentis from the outset. All students were left unprotected. Brodhead & his administration should resign; if they don't, alumni should stop contributions & parents should reconsider desire to send their children to Duke. (I hear apps are down already.) Faculty who turned on students should be disciplined by dismissal, refusal to tenure, or if tenured denial of advancement in position/salary. This is a disgraceful episode that, unfortunately, is not unexpected when an administration & faculty have become left-liberal, a lesson for the much larger isue of defending the country and its citizens.

Posted by: J J Everyman | Jan 23, 2007 8:45:46 AM

"this "democracy" is also permissive of saying almost anything, about almost anyone or anything, using any language, no matter how distasteful, disrespectful or dismissive."

Wow...that's sounds like democracy alright. Imagine that! 231 years after the revolution and our founding fathers ideas still shock some folks. Is it too late to stuff that genie back in the bottle, Mr. Lange? It's absurd that the commoners can address the elite in such a manner....

Posted by: pvt snuffy | Jan 23, 2007 8:55:57 AM

I don't what everyone is complaining about. You obviously lack the refined perspective of our professorial betters, who are able to discern that just as bashing the troops and undermining their mission is the highest form of patriotism, so too wrongly accusing someone of rape and heaping abuse on them is the highest form of free speech and upholding victims' rights. Questioning either of these common-sense propositions makes you a fascist, or worse yet a Republican.

Posted by: TallDave | Jan 23, 2007 8:56:45 AM

So, let me understand this. What's wrong with the interet is that it permits free speech. Tenure protects the professoriat at Duke so that they can speak freely, so long as their speech is ok with their administration and a self-appointed group of poobahs. Duke students, however, are not entitled to the same free speech rights as their faculty.

When the historical liberal movement grew during the enlightenment, it was founded upon the concept that open and unrestrained debate, unfettered by institutional control, by the church and the king at the time, would discover the truth.

So now we're supposed to accept whatever ideas our betters on the Duke Faculty choose to enlighten us with. That's the new enlightenment? It sounds more like the dictatorship of the prolitariat. But, unfortunately, the self-appointed representatives of the people have an agenda, mainly for group vs. individual rights.

Will you recall what was revealed the day the music died?

Posted by: William Graves | Jan 23, 2007 8:57:34 AM

The episode has overtones of Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities."

Posted by: KennethBennight | Jan 23, 2007 9:39:54 AM