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Sense and nonsense from the legal department

In the last couple of days I came across this odd juxtaposition of legal perspectives that speak to KC Johnson’s treatment of the lacrosse case.

The sense is a blog entry by University of Texas law professor Brian Leiter taking KC Johnson to task for his lacrosse-case coverage. In Leiter’s opinion “KC Johnson doesn’t read too well, and like most misreaders with an agenda, he misreads with a vengeance.” The two key texts for which Leiter disputes Johnson’s readings are the “listening” ad—Leiter has the chutzpah to argue that the ad’s endorsers actually know their own minds when they claim that the ad does not judge the lacrosse players guilty—and Wahneema Lubiano’s email soliciting signatures, in which, he argues, her mention that the ad is “about the lacrosse team incident” can’t be read as a statement of purpose that overrides what’s said in the ad itself.

I particularly appreciate his concluding paragraph:

Neither lawyers nor one expects historians would ordinarily credit such tortured interpretive practices as those Professor Johnson brings to bear in order to smear a “group” of faculty. That he overreached in this regard is all the more regrettable since it is clear that there were some individual faculty who made comments (that have no resonance with the ad) that were, at best, intemperate and, at worst, grossly irresponsible.

The “Group of 88” is not a help but a hindrance to anyone who wants to understand what went wrong at Duke in spring 2006.

The nonsense is an article by Azhar Majeed entitled “More Shameful Behavior at Duke University” in the webzine of an organization called the FIRE (“Foundation for Individual Rights in Education”). The only thing that might pass as news in Majeed’s article is that someone quoted FIRE co-founder Harvey Silverglate in another article about a well known flare-up in the lacrosse controversy—the column written by Duke professor Steven Baldwin for the Duke Chronicle in late October 06. According to KC Johnson, with this column Baldwin became “the first member of the arts and sciences faculty to publicly criticize the ‘despicable’ rush-to-judgment denunciations of his colleagues.” I’m happy to grant that it was past time for faculty members to speak publicly and critically about the treatment of the lacrosse players on campus and by Nifong. I’m hard pressed to think of a way of making the point that’s more obnoxious and less constructive than Baldwin’s, though.

Majeed follows Johnson closely, describing Baldwin as “a rare voice of reason among the school’s faculty” who “courageously wrote [the] op-ed.” Based on his second paragraph, Majeed might do well writing for The Onion:

Tellingly, yet another shameful episode came out of Professor Baldwin’s efforts. Towards the end of his op-ed, he had written that the aforementioned faculty members deserved to be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. Somehow, this created a controversy.

What Baldwin actually said is that “[t]hey should be tarred and feathered, ridden out of town on a rail and removed from the academy. Their comments were despicable.”

Amazing that would create a controversy, isn’t it? Robin Weigman, Director of Women’s Studies at Duke, wrote a short, well-modulated letter to the paper in response. In it she does say that “[b]eing tarred and feathered is the language of lynching,” and that’s the line that got the bulk of the attention. In the usual blot-out-the-forest-with-a-tree response, The Johnsville News pointed out that it’s not really the language of lynching, but so what? It’s still the language of intolerance and vigilantism, directed indiscriminately at an unspecified group of colleagues who didn’t live up to the paternalistic standard Baldwin set for himself and the university.

Baldwin ended up issuing an apology, about which Harvey Silverglate says

it is unbearably sad that Professor Baldwin, having used a perfectly apt metaphor for how the unapologetic faculty members should be treated, then saw fit to kneel down at the altar of political correctness and issue the ritual apology.

“Tarred and feathered” and “ridden out of town on a rail” are common enough metaphors, but strung together with “removed from the academy” they become the hyperbolic flourish on a very concrete suggestion. In a tit-for-tat that strikes me as unwarranted, some of the faculty targeted wrote to Brodhead asking that Baldwin be fired. I’m sure there were barbs flying back and forth that aren’t in the public record, and some may have smacked of reflexive political correctness. But considering the tone of the statement she was responding to, I don’t see how Weigman’s letter can be dismissed in those terms.

I don’t know what to make of FIRE, which has on its board of advisers people like Nat Hentoff and Wendy Kaminer, and claims what should be a non-partisan mission: “to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities… [including] freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience.” To say they’ve uncritically accepted Johnson and Taylor’s version of the lacrosse case is an understatement—in their review of Until Proven Innocent they say that “Duke President Richard Brodhead and his goons made a habit of pandering to hostile faculty members and demonizing the accused students….”

Goons? Perfectly apt metaphor? Unbearably sad? FIRE may be serious about free speech, but with respect to the lacrosse case they seem to feel no obligation to either hear or respect the perspective of a substantial part of the Duke community.

Until now I hadn’t registered Johnson’s description of Baldwin as “the first of the nearly 500 members of Duke’s arts and sciences faculty to stand up publicly and testify to my profession’s best qualities.” This may shed some light on what Johnson meant when he claimed in DIW to be defending the ideals of his profession. As far as I know Baldwin is a fine teacher who gets excellent results by “[regarding his] students in much the same way [he regards his] children.” I’m confident that I can fulfill my professional obligations by treating my students as young adults in search of an education, responsible to themselves and not to me for their behavior. And however much the lacrosse team deserved support, I don’t believe that Baldwin’s hectoring and paternalistic op-ed represented anything like his profession’s best qualities.

~   ~   ~

Tenured Radical (aka Professor Claire Potter) has been kicking the hornets nest again with two posts about Johnson. In the first, she takes issue with his spin on a recent faculty job search in History at the University of Iowa. The second is her exemplary response to the suggestion her colleague Ralph Luker registered in the comment thread that she was baiting Johnson, and a subsequent comment that was dismissive of Luker in rather personal terms. I continue to be impressed by the reflective quality of her blog, not to mention the intelligence and sense of humor. What follows is an edited version of the comment I left on the second post (I see there’s a third on the same theme today, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet).

I appreciate not only Potter’s clear description of the context of Duke’s “perfect storm” but also her frank acknowledgment of the human element—friendship, loyalty, and identification—in the reactions to such controversies. One of the worst aspects of Johnson’s scorched-earth criticism of Duke is his lack of interest in or sensitivity to the human element unless it can be reduced to something useful—sinister on one side, sympathetic on the other. The point has been brought home to me when I’ve heard from people who were on the scene. Even those who disagree with my harsh criticism of DIW have done a better job than Johnson at putting the over-the-top vehemence of some of the reactions at Duke into a human context.

It’s easy to point out Johnson’s flaws but harder to come up with a constructive reaction that goes beyond that. Watching the direction of the comment thread on the first post, I was tempted to chime in and reinforce an important point Potter made in passing, contrasting Johnson’s “manic resentment” with “the focused, constructive critique our profession undoubtedly deserves and should encourage.” In the same vein her post today suggests that “if, in the instance of the lacrosse case, the response was inappropriate to the actual circumstances, if students were unfairly stigmatized in classrooms, that should have been the object of civilized critique as well.” It’s too easy to just circle the wagons in the face of Johnson’s relentless attacks, and as I’ve been picking over the bones of the Duke scandal I’ve ended up with the impression that too many real issues were reactively and defensively ceded to his side. Where were the voices of constructive, civilized critique when we needed them?

[I’ve now read Potter’s third post and it’s the best yet—highly recommended.]

{ 16 } Comments

  1. KC Johnson | December 20, 2007 at 13:55 | Permalink

    It’s good to hear from Prof. Zimmerman again.

    He quotes Prof. Leiter, who notes, “Leiter has the chutzpah to argue that the ad’s endorsers actually know their own minds when they claim that the ad does not judge the lacrosse players guilty–and Wahneema Lubiano’s email soliciting signatures, in which, he argues, her mention that the ad is “about the lacrosse team incident” can’t be read as a statement of purpose that overrides what’s said in the ad itself.”

    Of course, the problem with Prof. Leiter’s argument is that Lubiano’s e-mail solicitation does not override what’s said in the ad itself: it confirms what the ad says. I am unaware of any contemporaneous statement of the ad’s intent other than the Lubiano e-mail soliciting signatures. Perhaps Prof. Zimmerman has access to such documents, but, to date, he has failed to supply them.

    Given Prof. Zimmerman’s interest in this matter, I invite him to join me in urging that all e-mails relating to the solicitation of signatures for the ad be made public. I also hope that he’ll join me in urging all pre-April 6, 2006 drafts of the ad be made public. Since he seems to believe that Lubiano’s words soliciting signatures for the ad do not, in fact, explain the purpose of the ad, publication of such Group of 88 e-mails presumably would only confirm his position.

    Prof. Zimmerman asks, “Where were the voices of constructive, civilized critique when we needed them?”

    They were, like the Claire Potter he so strongly praises, asserting on April 10, 2007, “The dancers were, it is clear, physically if perhaps not sexually assaulted.” And, as far as I know, Prof. Zimmerman himself was on campus in spring 2006. I don’t recall him publicly demanding due process for all Duke students at the time.

    ~   ~   ~

    I don’t have access to any secret documents, but I’m confident that I can read an email like Lubiano’s in context. Anyone who feels that confidence is misplaced is welcome to dismiss my opinions about it.

    And naturally I myself am implicated by my rhetorical question about “voices of constructive, civilized critique.”

  2. D in Washington | December 21, 2007 at 05:57 | Permalink

    Professor Zimmerman:

    You have stated that you are under no obligation to be neither “fair” nor “balanced” in your treatment of content or argument within “my own blog”, and even more so with the treatment of comments by others. As time goes on, you are increasingly proving that you are intent on demonstrating this approach with vigor.

    I agree that this is your blog and you are free to do with it as you will, including writing opinion pieces, given certain legal limits on free speech of course.

    I certainly would have hoped that you would have chosen to take a more objective and academic/intellectual approach, for while I found your first three posts interesting and a start towards an honest investigation of both sides of the issue, to me, at least, your more recent posts and comments make it clear that while there are a number of words well strung together, for the most part, the tendency is to be long on conclusions and interpretations and short on facts that support that would convince a general reader such as myself those conclusions have merit or that they are substantial. A guess my perception is that most of your arguments and opinions in written form have lots of words but are devoid of meaningful and convincing substance — empty arguments.

    A large part of your writing goes towards attacking style and form at the expense of substance, particularly fundamental underlying facts that have not been proven to be demonstrably false, nor for implications for which the antecedent has been proven to be false. You discard these as being irrelevant because they’ve “been hashed over and over again in other blogs”, yet clearly they are relevant.

    I strongly disagree that these properties of form and style (e.g. prosecutorial) override the substance of the underlying fundamental arguments of the events that unfolded. As a result, you unfortunately attempt to promote what I find rather trivial minor points and judgments over what is already generally accepted as substantive fact.

    For example, I just cannot agree with your statement concerning Professor Baldwin’s public defense of the Lacrosse players when you wrote, “I’m hard pressed to think of a way of making the point that’s more obnoxious and less constructive than Baldwin’s, though.” When considering the context of the total and unwarranted condemnation of the Lacrosse players by a large segment of the community, and by this point, across the nation, a Professor standing up against the mob mentality is very admirable and quite courageous from my point of view. He deserves very high praise indeed, given what we know now. In the grand scheme of things, the outspoken faculties clear tendency to condemn these same Lacrosse players and never take accountability for their actions, deeds, and words, even to explain or defend them in a reasonable way, is much more of an egregious issue.

    Most readers understand the metaphors Baldwin used and do not connote some historical bias or racism from such terms. To criticize Baldwin in the way you do is akin to criticizing anyone who stands up on principle using strong language, as many heroes over history have done in the face of injustice at the hands of the mob. I suppose there is some [english upper class sniff] proper and civilized method that would have been more appropriate and just as effective, but you don’t tell us what it is, and moreover, you certainly did not demonstrate any principled [yet more appropriate] actions yourself.

    You have written that you want those “who connect” with your content to comment. I certainly hope you get your wish, but I think many will not connect. Strawman arguments do not convince or inspire. Your tendency to propose counter-intuitive and counter-logical/academic argumentative style has become your major detractor. Perhaps others will find substance in your words…all the more power to them. I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I must say I’m sorely disappointed.

    Sincerely,

    D in Washington

    ~   ~   ~

    I believe what I wrote—certainly what I meant to write—was that I wanted comments to connect to my post, not that I only want those who connect to the post to comment. For those who feel like DIW has presented an accurate picture of the lacrosse case as it played out on Duke’s campus, I will indeed be rejecting, and perhaps without explanation, things “already generally accepted as substantive fact.” I have many links to DIW and give Johnson all the space he wants for rebuttal. Anything else that’s accepted as substantive fact will undoubtedly have been layed out and discussed elsewhere, and I’m happy to add links to those discussions. That’s the point of the web.

    There is clearly more to the Baldwin story than I was able to say in my post, partly because I don’t have access to it and partly because the main target of my criticism is FIRE, not Baldwin. From what I can see, with respect to Baldwin’s op-ed, the issue of racism is a red herring. The fact that he felt the need to apologize for racial connotations and not for the suggestion that some of his colleagues be summarily humiliated and ejected from the academy strikes me as a fine example of how disfunctional the debate was, and in a way that both sides contributed to. To criticize Baldwin’s op-ed is not to excuse anyone else.

    You read Baldwin’s letter as “standing up against the mob mentality.” I see Baldwin’s letter as suggesting that the behavior of the rest of the faculty should be judged by a standard that he’s set for himself—treating his students as his children and members of his family—and then denouncing in the harshest terms an unspecified group of colleagues for falling short of that standard. My point is certainly not that Baldwin wasn’t polite and proper enough. I agree that some members of the faculty, like many others on campus, were too quick to judge, dismiss, or condemn the lacrosse players and far too uncritical of Nifong and of groups like the potbangers, but it didn’t amount to a “mob mentality.” Certainly Wiegman’s published response suggests no such thing.

    I have an email from a faculty member describing the intolerance he met with when he tried to bridge the divide on campus, acting as an advocate for the lacrosse players. That will come up in a future post—this one was not the place for it.

  3. Debrah | December 21, 2007 at 22:54 | Permalink

    Professor Zimmerman—

    I must agree with poster “D” from Washington. Your posts are descending into a very unclever place.

    “I appreciate not only Potter’s clear description of the context of Duke’s ‘perfect storm’ but also her frank acknowledgment of the human element–friendship, loyalty, and identification–in the reactions to such controversies.”

    Such comments and concerns are grotesque.

    Self-centered Kabuki theatre…….

    ……..in the midst of the possibility that three innocent young men were being railroaded into a possible 30-year prison sentence.

    ~   ~   ~

    These are the highlights of two of Debrah’s comments. The full text can be found here, mixed in with the rest of the color commentary on DIW.

  4. AMac | December 22, 2007 at 12:37 | Permalink

    “Re:harmonized” is an encouraging development, in that the author is apparently trying to make a good-faith effort to offer a reasoned left-wing view of the involvement of some of Duke’s leftist faculty in the Rape Hoax/Frame. He joins Timothy Burke (“Easily Distracted”) and Scott Kaufman (“Acephalous”) in this undertaking. Some of Claire Potter’s efforts at “Tenured Radical” might be included, in light of her implied recent undertaking to allow well-argued and civil dissenting comments to remain, undeleted at her blog. However, Potter has a habit of misrepresenting key points of the Rape Hoax/Frame to suit her ideological preconceptions—a trait shared by many, it seems. Readers can draw their own conclusions after following links provided at this blog, reading Johnson’s rebuttals, and looking at high-ranking search results on their favorite search engines.

    The Brian Leiter essay linked in the body of this post combines an arrogant tone with a pastiche of misleading statements about the Hoax/Frame. The guy seems justifiably well-known for his poison-pen style of commentery. Good on you, Prof. Zimmerman, for labeling it “sense” and for “particularly appreciating” its concluding paragraph. No charges of hidden bias will be forthcoming from my corner.

    I can appreciate that you want to see your activist left-wing Duke faculty colleages as having acted reasonably, responsibly, honestly, and in good faith at the onset of the Hoax/Frame, and during its unfolding. And there are definitions of “reasonableness,” “responsibility,” “honesty,” and “good faith” that do, indeed, apply to their conduct.

    The questions then become what these definitions are, and whether the ones adopted by the signers of the Listening Statement (for example) are similar to the ones aspired to by those of us who are not academics by profession and not gender-race-class leftists by persuasion.

    For a discussion about the Listening Statement, the starting place ought to be:

    * What was known about the Rape Hoax/Frame at the time the Statement was drafted and signed?

    * What does the Statement itself say?

    * What were the circumstances surrounding the Statement’s publication?

    Unfortunately, most (perhaps all) of the defenses of the Statement, its drafter, and its signatories elide or misrepresent the answers to these questions.

    I have a grudging respect for the radicals who have proclaimed, “I signed it, I was right in doing so, I have nothing to apologize for, and if I had the chance to relive those days, I’d sign it again.” These are the culture warriors who openly share the vision of Antonio Gramsci and other illiberal philosophers.

    Not much respect for the Davidsons and Piots who seek to rewrite history and rearrange the sequence of events to justify their deeds post hoc. People who are too proud or too political to apologize, and too wily to admit that they’ve turned their backs on the traditional academic virtues.

    Some Re:harmonized readers might like to read a spirited debate on what the Listening Statement actually said/meant/was meant to say. I’d refer them to this Acephalous post from October 2007, and in particular to the back-and-forth in the Comments, starting with my comment on Tuesday, 16 October 2007 at 08:08 AM.

    ~   ~   ~

    The starting point I’d choose for any discussion of the “listening” statement is this: Is it, or was it ever, worth discussing ad nauseum? In my opinion the answer is no, but we’re stuck with the damned thing, blown out of proportion and endlessly flogged. A spirited, open-minded debate about it on campus at the time it was published could have been a great thing. At this point I see very little value in analyzing or debating it as an abstract text or within the ridiculously simplified and polarized frame of Wonderland in order to determine the degree of guilt of those who endorsed it. I agree that anyone interested in that kind of thing should read the post and comments on Acephalous that AMac links to. I said about as much as I want to say about the ad a few entries ago in order to point out what I think are revealing connections between it and Prof. Lubiano’s “Spectacularity” article.

    As far as I can tell, my “activist left-wing Duke faculty colleages” acted in all sorts of ways as the case unfolded. I’m not going to waste my time arguing with or against the broad-brush caricatures of them that circulate on the net and I feel no need to explain or apologize if I ignore those caricatures when I write about them. My interest is in freeing discussions about lacrosse case from the self-serving moralistic tunnel-vision of DIW, not in changing anyone’s mind about my colleagues.

  5. Tortmaster | December 23, 2007 at 02:52 | Permalink

    Professor Zimmerman:

    I would dismiss your interpretation of the weather if we were both standing in it. This is why: The “Listening ad” is what it is, no matter how many times you say it isn’t or how hard you wish it wasn’t.

    I would again suggest that your readers review the brilliant analysis found at this link:

    http://z9.invisionfree.com/LieStoppers_Board/index.php?showtopic=5201

    At that location, there is not the haphazard or limited analysis offered by Professor Zimmerman or the Austin professor.

    In the actual words of the “Listening ad” you will find:

    16 explicit or implied references to the fake rape;

    1 outright classist slur (”upscale”);

    3 outright prejudgments of a rape; and

    1 applauding of the protestors.

    Then, add to that Lubiano’s own words that the ad was about the Hoax, and, you have a smoking gun.

    Please note, Professor Zimmerman, I understand this post is redundant, but you keep bringing up the same subject, and your readers deserve to see a complete analysis of the “Listening ad.” These are my opinions. Tortmaster

    ~   ~   ~

    Thank you for the splendid example of how the “listening” ad has been blown out of proportion and endlessly flogged.

    A detailed analysis of the “listening” statement with the helpful addition of ALL CAPS to highlight the words and phrases that can mean ONE AND ONLY ONE THING has been moved to extra comments.

  6. Tortmaster | December 24, 2007 at 00:01 | Permalink

    Didn’t you, Professor Zimmerman, complain about people who used the word “lynch” while commentating about the case at D-i-W? In fact, didn’t you write on this very blog: “… which doesn’t mean I have any truck with the knee-jerk geniuses who imagine the potbanging crowd as some kind of lynch mob–it’s like saying a headache is the same as a brain tumor.” I’m guessing you wrote that gem of a statement before you read Weigman’s letter. I would have felt dirty calling Weigman’s “lynching” a “well-modulated” response while calling other people names for their use of the “lynching” analogy.

    ~   ~   ~

    This is an excerpt from a longer comment. Here is the full text.

    I didn’t object to any and every use of the word “lynch.” I objected to knee-jerk descriptions of the potbangers as a lynch mob that trivialize the difference between a mob shouting slogans and a mob carrying a noose. Weigman was doing no such thing. In the second paragraph of my answer to D in Washington’s comment I said that the fact Baldwin felt he had to apologize for racial connotations seemed like “a fine example of how disfunctional the debate was.” This definition of lynch is typical of all the dictionaries I’ve consulted: “to put to death, esp. by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.” It’s not inherently a race crime, though African Americans were disproportionately the victims of it.

    Thanks for the spelling correction, though.

  7. John Smith | December 24, 2007 at 13:28 | Permalink

    Is rather ironic that an obscure band teacher would attempt to label KC Johnson as an “obscure history professor.”

    ~   ~   ~

    I never called Johnson an “obscure history professor,” and I’m not a band teacher.

  8. Debrah | December 24, 2007 at 16:59 | Permalink

    Deleted.

  9. Drivah | December 25, 2007 at 14:29 | Permalink

    Perhaps people are discussing the “listening ad” ad naseum because the 88 feel its easier to defend than the grade retaliation(s) or openly hectoring their own students in front of other students.

  10. kelly keating | December 26, 2007 at 08:16 | Permalink

    General complaints about the 88 moved to extra comments.

  11. MarkRougemont | December 26, 2007 at 18:17 | Permalink

    I enjoyed this series of posts. It is good to see a different point of view for a change. I don’t entirely agree with that review you quoted calling KC’s characterization of the Group of 88 “fiction”. It does make for a good story however. My opinion is perhaps only a few of the endorers of that ad actually had any malicious intent toward the accused but were primarily concerned with the issues of sexual assault and racism on campus. Despite the just causes, they picked the wrong case to promote them. I also feel that KC has a personal issue with people he views as having similar agendas within faculties everywhere and it is one of his pet issues and he uses the Duke Lacrosse case to further his arguments.

    The above is just my opinion and again thank you for giving us yours.

    ~   ~   ~

    Thanks. I’m not quite done but moving slowly.

  12. FIRE fan | December 27, 2007 at 14:59 | Permalink

    Did the listening statement include an expiration date? What is the statute of limitations on discussing an ad taken out in the campus newspaper and signed by 88 faculty members and endorsed by 5 academic departments? Any signatory who wished to be heard as an individual could have submitted a letter to the editor of the Chronicle instead of fixing his/her name to the statement. Your treatment of the statement follows a pattern you have established here of being as dismissive of other points of view as you claim others have been - “it’s not really the language of lynching, but so what.” The purpose of your posts now seems to be a vilification of KC and a defense of anyone he mentions on his blog as contributing to the mess that is Duke University. I find this insidiously polarizing. You insult the intelligence of your readers when you argue that the listening statement did not presume guilt and that those who signed both letters were not endorsing this position. Cancel my subscription.

    ~   ~   ~

    I edited out one sentence of this comment because it made a blatantly false assertion about me. You’re welcome to criticize as strongly as you want but please don’t make things up.

  13. kelly keating | December 28, 2007 at 06:47 | Permalink

    Why will you not discuss the effect having 88 of one’s professors sign that ad… at that time… had on the boys and their families? You continue to de-humanize these students in your need to be “collegial.”

    ~   ~   ~

    Several of the team members talk about the effect of the ad in an article in the Duke Chronicle I’ve linked to several times. The three indicted players were interviewed on 60 Minutes. There are videos, interviews, statements, and articles all over the web that represent them sympathetically. I’m glad that they can be seen for who they are and not as stereotypes or criminals. I would be delighted to discuss the effects of the “listening” ad with any of the “boys,” their families, or anyone else who was on the scene and personally effected affected.

    If you honestly think that my criticism of KC Johnson’s take on the “listening” statement and the Duke faculty is so dehumanizing, then try to think of something more useful to do about it than reiterating complaints and rants that have been made hundreds of times on dozens of web sites. Go humanize them! Write something original and that takes more than 30 seconds of thought!

  14. Michael in NH | December 29, 2007 at 21:59 | Permalink

    Personally effected?

    ~   ~   ~

    As opposed to vicariously effected affected. I remembered a better Chronicle article about the experience of the lacrosse team, though: “Living a Nightmare.”

  15. wumhenry | January 2, 2008 at 12:21 | Permalink

    Speaking of FIRE, according to a message posted in Liestoppers a couple days ago it intervened to good effect in another culture-war skirmish at Duke back in 2001. Liestoppers points up what seems to be a glaring inconsistency in the Duke administration’s reactions to Hull’s message versus the “Listening Statement.” Was the Hull incident on your radar screen?

    excerpt:
    “In October, 2001 Duke shut down Duke Professor Gary Hull’s webpage after he posted an article calling for a strong military response to the terrorist attacks.

    “FIRE … took the case to the media. Shamed by widespread pubilicity, Duke reinstated Hull’s webpage but required that he add a disclaimer stating that the article did not represent the views of Duke.

    “Contrast this to Duke’s reaction to the 88’s Listening Statement.”

    ~   ~   ~

    Beyond reading the post on Liestoppers I haven’t looked into it, but the earlier incident seems like a case of FIRE doing what, according to its mission statement, it’s supposed to do. Quite likely the different reactions are indicative of Duke’s liberal leanings, but as it stands its a lazy and sloppy comparison between Hull and the lacrosse case. “Duke” and “Duke’s administration” don’t react—the people in Duke’s large administrative bureaucracy react. Between 2001 and 2006 a new president came and I expect that many other jobs changed hands, too.

  16. wumhenry | January 9, 2008 at 12:56 | Permalink

    Points taken. Perhaps the much-maligned Richard Brodhead is more tolerant than his predecessor.

    ~   ~   ~

    My point was that it’s sloppy and self-serving to imagine the “Duke administration” as some kind of hive-mind that was the same and so reacted the same in 2001 and 2006. What most obviously changed between one and the other is the president. I didn’t say or imply that either administration was more or less tolerant.

    If Liestoppers or anyone else wants to get more out of it than some cheap and easy satire, they’ll have to do some research. What Duke official decided to shut down Hull’s web site? Where in the hierarchy did they sit? Who made the decision to put it back up with a disclaimer? How was it justified? What were the relevant policies or regulations, and were they the same in 2001 and 2006? Has other controversial material from a faculty member been banned from Duke’s web site, or had a disclaimer slapped on it? If so, did it all reflect a conservative viewpoint?