The Duke Lacrosse Rape Case is in the midst of a turnaround in media-sponsored public perception. At first roundly vilified for their brutal gang rape of a black dancer, the three indicted Duke University lacrosse players are now being viewed as underdogs suffering from ill-treatment at the hands of a rogue District Attorney. Last Night's 60 Minutes segment emphasized this point.
When the scandal broke in March and April 2006, there was no shortage of Duke faculty willing to take a stand. Well over eighty-eight of them contributed to an atmosphere of outrage, as if to seek a pre-trial conviction in the court of public opinion. One of the dogs that hasn't barked has been the voices of professors cautioning against a rush to judgement. Until the case was turned on its head by December 15th's bombshell admission of the head of a DNA testing lab that he conspired with the D.A. to hide exculpatory evidence, only five of Duke's faculty had come out publically in support of the Due Process Rights of the accused ( Coleman Baldwin Kimel Gustafson Munger ). And only a subset of the five had ventured so far as to proclaim that the felony charges lodged against the lacrosse team were in all likelihood concocted by a false accuser in league with a corrupt prosecuter.
Does the imbalance of public pronouncements in favor of a politically-correct fairy tale reflect the numerical dominance of the Hard Left on campus? Is it a consequence of the implied threat of dogmatists at the levers of power to the social standing or career prospects of open-minded academicians? Or do the pressing professional demands of most of the professoriate mitigate against them taking the time to state in public what they privately believe? Given the importance of Bad Philosophy to the future of our society, it's a question worth asking.
In the Extended Entry, I present the anonymous opinion of one Duke faculty member from the Reasonable Center.
In mid-September, Winds covered the shoddy work of the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun. By far the most insightful and complete coverage of the Hoax has been provided on a daily basis by Brooklyn College Professor of History K.C. Johnson, at his web-log Durham-in-Wonderland. Johnson has been unparalled in keeping the spotlight on the maneuverings of many participants in the affair, as they attempt to toss their contributions to Injustice down the 'Memory Hole.' Recently, the author of an extensive writeup of the case aptly characterized Johnson as the Emile Zola of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Hoax.
I heard in early January that Professor John Doe (a pseudonym) of Duke University believed:
* that D.A. Mike Nifong was acting unscrupulously,
* that virtually all of his faculty colleages recognize that the events of the spring amounted to a rush to judgement, and
* that there is a widespread desire to set things right with the two suspended students.
Date: January 5, 2007
I wanted to share a few observations you might find helpful...
- [The bloggers and blog commenters who assume that there is] some kind of university-wide strategy to come out in favor of the LAX players to avoid liability are just wrong. Universities are very decentralized organizations (largely as a result of tenure). I have taught at [numerous prestigious universities] and never seen or heard of a central administration telling faculty what they can or can't say on matters of public importance. I am not aware of any direction by the Duke administration on what we should or shouldn't say about the matter.
It definitely is not the case that the hard left has intimidated anyone. The main issue behind the lack of a "counter petition" [to the 'Group of 88's' Listening Statement' ], I suspect, is two-fold.
- First, most of the faculty, like most people in America, are not political activists. We don't draft and circulate petitions in our private or in our professional lives. There was a petition circulated a few months ago, right before the general election, that properly decried the lack of due process protections, but it also denounced a number of other tangentially related issues that, in my view and likely in many others, were too over-the-top to sign.
In terms of public statements by the faculty once questions started to be raised about Nifong's conduct, all I can say from my own view is that [Duke Law School professor] Jim Coleman is a national expert on criminal procedure and has done a great job speaking out on the issue. This struck me as entirely appropriate. I make public statements on issues I know a lot about, that Jim is publicly silent about. Now that the econ department has distributed [ their early January letter ] in support of the return of the accused students, it will be interesting to see if other departments do so, as well.
- Second, [there has been intense focus by bloggers on the above-mentioned "Listening Statement."] I certainly didn't view it as a defining event nor, I suspect (though I can't be sure) have many others on campus. Indeed, I had never even heard the term "Group of 88" until [recently reading blogs on the case]. I was aware that a group of faculty had published a critical open letter early on, but then heard no more about it. I assumed at the time (and still do) that this was a diverse group -- some signed because the event satisfied their ideological bent (the hard left you refer to), some because of a preexisting concern over the role of athletics within the university, and many because they were genuinely outraged by what [District Attorney] Nifong said had occurred. While you may find this view surprising, you need to understand that it was published at a time of frenzied media coverage. This story went from a local item to international news in a matter of days. The main parking lot was literally overflowing with news media trucks and the story was being debated every night by talking heads such as [CNN host] Nancy Grace and others. The open letter was simply one more blur along with protests of banging pots and pans (mainly by local residents angry about off-campus parties, not students or faculty as some of the posts seem to assume), denunciations by many media figures, release of the inflammatory email by the student about skinning the strippers (not known until later to be a paraphrase from a book [sic-actually, a parody of American Psycho, studied in class-AMac]), etc. People on campus do talk about the small number of faculty who publicly condemned the players in a rush to judgment, but they are definitely not viewed as a monolithic group.
In an ideal world, where professors from across the political spectrum undertook to speak as "public intellectuals" about matters of concern to the Academy and the Citizenry, this post would be superfluous. While Duke's Hard Left has often been inane, sometimes vicious, and all-too-often disingenuous ( revisionism / critique ), nobody can doubt their willingness to proclaim their beliefs. During the criticial first nine months of the Hoax, it's was the Decent Left, the Center, and the Right that were largely missing from the the fray. Perhaps the Economics Department's welcome-back to the falsely accused students will be the harbinger of a change, as this travesty approaches its paper anniversary.