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  At the same time, the emails and blogs attacking what people wrote or said have sometimes been replaced by personal attacks, some of them directed at the faculty member's scholarship or intellectual credentials, some vicously personal, still others openly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

Lange wrote:

The wave of attacks lasted for weeks in the media, on the emails and in the blogs.

"On the e-mails"? Is that like "the Internets"?


Posted by: John | Jan 23, 2007 9:43:48 AM

These thin-skinned professorial worthies have a very feeble foundation for their complaints about their incoming emails. Most reasonably intelligent folks with computers can recognize a personal attack in such an email, and delete it with one keystroke after reading the first few words. No harm done, the world is full of kooks who call people names.

But our dear Professors are far beyond the position of reasonably intelligent folks, whether or not they use computers. They are SO intelligent, SO concerned and SO sensitive that their reaction to PRIVATE criticism (that's what such emails are) is practically unbearable. Therefore they claim the sympathy due to 'victims', and go as Mr. Lange did to their official publications to print PUBLICLY their oh-so-righteous complaints.

But that ain't the half of it. The same group of 88 'Professors' went as PUBLIC as they could with their notorious 'listening statement', encouraging potbanging mobs and anonymous complainants whose mere assertions - no evidence required - screamed racism, sexism and worse, and whose PUBLIC recommendations and statements called for castration and homicide ('dead men walking', in a court of law yet). In their excitement, said 'Professors' somehow omitted the concept that guilt must be proven by evidence, and that the accused must be defended as innocent until such proof is adjuticated.

Proof of the sensivity of these 'Professors' lies in the skulking removal of their PUBLIC 'listening statement' from the Duke website, after they finally caught on to the fact that some folks were rightfully criticising their encouragement of lynch-mob behavior. Maybe those critical emails did some good after all, hey?

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive | Jan 23, 2007 10:54:58 AM

Duke aspires to be the Harvard of the South. The Harvard of the North ran President Summers out on a rail for speaking truth to the faculty. At least part of the Duke faculty seem to have a problem with facts as well.

I'd say they are equally bad.

Posted by: MarkD | Jan 23, 2007 1:01:29 PM

When I left for William & Mary in 1971, I was told it was the "Harvard of the South." At the time, it was a compliment.

The equation is simple. Many people on the Duke faculty believe there is racial and class injustice in "their community" and the world. That's fine. They thought this incident was a good example of it and cried wolf. When someone called them on it, because their accusations were untrue, they were resentful. They regrouped and elaborately rationalized their behavior. They will never admit it, because the facts of this incident were never the issue to them. Their beliefs about the larger issues are more important to them than the facts.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot | Jan 23, 2007 1:25:37 PM

Lange is out of touch - defending the folks who turned out to be wrong, without conceding they erred. If he had said they erred, but let's move on, I could understand. Pretending they did not err, and asking the critics to move on, treats the harms to the students and their families too lightly. If Brodhead/Duke needs a sacrificial lamb, it will be Lange, I suspect. Unless and until the 88 who were wrong can and do "own" their errors, they should be gradually "out placed," with due respect for the fact that people make mistakes. What is not tolerable in a top-flight academic environment is unwillingness to concede mistakes and learn from them.

Posted by: cfw | Jan 23, 2007 2:06:03 PM

The real issue for these people, the reason they are completely flummoxed by blogs, is not the freedom of speech. It's the persistence of speech. See, back in the day you could say something outrageous, or print something outrageous, and your point was made, but the evidence of your speech was quickly lost in the back issues department of the library. It was 'old news,' and if it turned out later that your charges had no basis in fact, no one called you on it, because no one remembered. But the internet keeps speech alive, and easily accessible, for years. They don't mind us disagreeing with what they said yesterday, as long as we don't bring up what they said last year and make them look like fools.

Posted by: Publius | Jan 23, 2007 2:13:15 PM

This reads more as a memo for internal consumption. The Provosts is telling the group of 88 that they have his support but there is very little he can do to stop the harassment.

Posted by: james | Jan 23, 2007 2:19:59 PM

I have always thought Freedom of Speech too bogus to consider. That is because without access to the means of communication free speech was impossible. Now with this filthy internet there actually is freedom of speech, and wouldn't you just know it, the pious lefties who were teaching us in school are the ones who want to shut it down.

Now Duke: these faculty around the country are all the same. Cocooned in a hot house away from any clime of evaluation and debate, their ideas have not grown, they have instead festered. Nobody disagrees with them. Not in class and not in any faculty meetings. They are Gods. Their courses don't permit dissent, books that might contradict whatever ideology the teacher holds, or any student who disagrees (well actually they just flunk).

This entire blow up is a case of a bunch of hot house orchids who never had an idea challenged suddenly caving when a real challenge by really smart people showed up. They cannot make things up as they go along---check the Women' Studies site ( for made up courses, given without exams, yet---and couses explained in the most haughty jargon loaded language possible. This bunch cannot just tell people to be quiet; they have to sit and be quiet themselves or risk being exposed as fakes.

Posted by: Duke432 | Jan 23, 2007 2:39:34 PM

Thanks goodness for the distasteful clamor of the pajama-clad.

Posted by: Clamorer | Jan 23, 2007 2:42:48 PM

Lange and his faculty Gauleiters are craven frauds, without a grain of disinterested integrity-- "scholars" in no sense, racist vigilantes that give Robert Byrd's Grand Kleagles a bad name.

The absolute worst are your classic feministicators, manic depressives clinging to faculty (sic) entitlements for lack of yellow aprons at Home Depot. To read any --literally, any-- of their "papers" available online is to risk death by gag-reflex: Functionally illiterate (ungrammatical, vocabularies of 1980s sixth graders), immune to content, rife with profanities and obscenities. For this, Duke students pay $40K per year?

Of course, Duke is not alone. A recent study of Ivy League institutions flagged Harvard and Yale especially as venues whose Senior Classes reported feeling less competent after four years than when they graduated High School.

Maybe somebody will "March on Duke" waving "Castrate the Dean, Clitorectomize Our fat-faced Feminists". Dear, dear... just because they raped and sodomized paying students' minds? Shouldn't we all exercise a little PCBS on their behalf?

Posted by: John Blake | Jan 23, 2007 2:51:39 PM

Geez, it seems that Lange may have had a point. John Blake for example is calling these folks "racist" and intellectual "frauds". In my book, these insults are very, very mean--"fighting words" in most respects. Being called a racist, even if it absolutely isn't true, can end a career.

Lange is saying that he ain't gonna do much of anything regarding the content of speech, except to encourage more thoughtful discourse on the merits of arguments. He is discouraging grand generalizations and unsupported accusations. The last paragraph quoted by Professor Heriot above seems exactly right--if yer gonna publish a full page ad in the newspaper, don't look to me to protect your sensitivities if someone criticizes you.

But that is not to say that Lange was generally right. Lange should have taken the faculty to task for its 88 advertisement (repulsive on so many levels) and attitude toward the students in this case. Duke has failed in so many respects here.

(And by the way Mr. Blake, what in the world are you talking about? Feministicators? Duke's faculty is "functionally illiterate"? Their publications are rife with profanities and obscenities? I think your paint brush might be a little too broad...)

Posted by: David | Jan 23, 2007 8:53:35 PM

"The vast majority of all faculties in all universities are in the liberal arts. "

This isn't true, unless you define liberal arts to include stuff like economics.

Posted by: Knemon | Jan 23, 2007 11:43:30 PM

The Dean seems to view any criticism of the Duke faculty as racist but had no problems with said faculty stringing up the members of the KKK, I mean lacrosse team because the accuser was black. I always wonder why liberals spend so much time looking for racism when all they have to do is look in the mirror.

Posted by: Bandit | Jan 24, 2007 5:27:38 AM

Lange misses the point completely. What particularly irks me is Lange's need to protect faculty from criticism.
Either academicians are competent to defend themselves (and their public statements), or they shouldn’t carry academic credentials. I think that Lange recognizes that this group of 88 faculty are incapable of defending their position, so he is attempting a rescue. This perpetuates another long-standing hoax, the hoax of academic qualifications for those lacking the intellectual capacity to defend themselves.

Posted by: North Shore Hawaii | Jan 28, 2007 11:29:20 PM

As the older brother of a high school senior whose chances of attending Duke have risen as applications have fallen drastically, I can only say keep the drama coming!

Posted by: USD Law Student | Jan 29, 2007 2:34:20 AM