Friday, January 19, 2007

Gustafson is concerned too

If you haven't yet had the pleasure, please visit Duke University Professor Michael Gustafson's blog. I've been a frequent visitor to his blog over the past few months and always leave his place a little better off than I was when I arrived. I'm hopeful you will too.

His latest entry is a must read response to the recent open letter from the remants of the Group of 88.

"The opening paragraph contains the phrases "we heard" and "we were told." These
are not good ways to begin a document signed by people whose jobs include research. I heard a faculty member gave someone a lower-than-deserved grade. I'm neither planning to take out an ad in the Chronicle (or elsewhere) nor am I planning to write a letter saying it was OK for me or someone else to do it, because I heard something. I heard, "there's gold in them thar' hills," but I am not going to go prospecting and I am certainly not going to sign something attesting to the existence of aurum in the interstices of the substantive materials comprising vertically-advantaged geographic groupings in the distance. Also, I might add, the "media frenzy" was certainly aided by an advertisement, "printed in the most easily seen venue on campus." For what it's worth, I absolutely agree with the last line - "For us at Duke, the issues raised by the incident, and by our community's responses to it, are not [winding down].

"Paragraph 2: "It has been broadly, and often intentionally, misread." I believe that. However, I believe it was intentionally written in a way that leads to many interpretations, too. I am about to discuss particular signatories of the ad and letter; I do so because I have particular disagreements with their statements.

"Dr. Alex Rosenberg, for instance, apparently misread the ad. He signed it, according the New York Sun, because "...he was concerned with the prevalence of alcohol on campus and bothered by 'affluent kids violating the law to get exploited women to take their clothes off when they could get as much hookup as they wanted from rich and attractive Duke coeds.' " The ad does not speak to drinking, nor to Dr. Rosenberg's apparent opinion of the sexual availability of Duke women. Dr. Rosenberg's statement does speak to Dr. Rosenberg, however.

"Dr. Wahneema Lubiano could not possibly have misread it - indeed, as reported in ESPNU, "Lubiano knew some would see the ad as a stake through the collective heart of the lacrosse team. But if the black faculty couldn't speak for black students now, could it ever?" Adding heat and no light to the atmosphere of campus does not help students, black or white. The damnable part about the original ad is how important the issues are that are raised, and how tragic it is that 88 people - 88 people who by training and experience should have known better - took a teachable moment and played into the hands of those things that divide us by jumping in early with rhetoric blazing. For some now, the existence of "sexism, racism, and sexual violence" are tied, through the ad and its offspring, to the merits of the case."

If time allows, please read the balance of "I'm Concerned Too."


JackWebb said...


You're absolutely on target here, as usual, and the snark about the ad's format is justified. The Intro-to-HTML formatting was one reason I thought it was a fake when I first saw it, and then when it disappeared for a few hours and I was pretty sure someone was having us on. No, though, as it turns out it was real, though it displays a stunning disconnect with reality that has fed the flames of the us-versus-them conflict that is now carrying on in the absence of any new facts in the case.

After months of bombshell after bombshell from the defense and scurrilous fabrication after brazen lie from Nifong's office and the Durham PD, we've all been whipped up into a fever pitch. Emotions are high and people are lashing out even though there's not anything new to consider and won't be until at least the Feb 5th hearing. That in this charged atmosphere the signatories to the first and second letters have received all sorts of awful, disgusting threats doesn't surprise me at all, though I wish it did. No one deserves to be threatened and savaged in anonymous blog postings. Cowards who do so do no one any good, least of all the accused. Still, to a large degree, the witch hunt that began in March and April was encouraged by the irresponsibly vague wording of the first letter and subsequent faculty statements to the press, and the angry backlash now at the members of the "Group of 88" is in part a consequence of their own actions. Not that this excuses the uncivil attacks on G88 faculty, but amidst the spew of angry venom there are some legitimate questions to be asked of them, though I feel many are more comfortable citing the attacks made on them than addressing those issues. Here is what I want to ask them: What sort of teachers are you if you are condemning your own students -- worst of all, students you teach personally -- and throwing them to the wolves on the basis of no evidence whatsoever? What sort of people are you?

I teach and I can't imagine doing that EVER. I've had a student convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 6 years in prison. He was troubled, but I did my best to work with him and we always had a good relationship. I have to say I wasn't entirely surprised by how things ended, though; he was not really mature enough to think through the consequences of his actions, and it came back to bite him hard. I was saddened by the pointless waste of a young life. Let's say, though, that I thought his robbery just one incident in an unacknowledged epidemic of student crime. I might well try to get people to realize that campus crime was an issue by raising awareness, perhaps by finding a group to work with or writing a letter to the paper. I could try to work with students in crime-prevention activities or talk to campus police. What I would NEVER do is publicly attack my student, particularly with the issue of guilt still in doubt. What I would NEVER do is go to ESPN or Ruth Sheehan with all sorts of vague and third-hand hearsay allegations I may have heard about his out-of-class behavior or rumors that he'd done this sort of thing before. I would NEVER write a letter thanking a bunch of right-wing tough-on-crime yahoos who had mobbed his residence, screaming slogans, banging pots, and threatening to castrate him. I would NEVER stand silently by as, say, a heavily armed group of John Birchers showed up threatening to enter his dorm room and "get his confession." Even if I was pretty sure he was guilty. If it turned out he was clearly innocent of the crime charged, I would NEVER then go on to tell media outlets that my sister heard from her barber who heard from someone in the local PD that someone told a fireman that my student or another of a group of fifty or so men at the scene used the n-word right before the alleged robbery as a means to justify continuing the criminal case against him. Not even if I was really, really, really concerned about the crime problem. Not even if I though this student's case was a good way to draw attention to an important issue. It would be a betrayal of the worst sort. I would never even get into contemplating the pros and cons of such actions. It would never get that far. It simply would never even occur to me to act that way. I can't believe it would occur to any ethical human being, educator or no.

Outraged disbelief at this behavior by educators toward their own students is what got KC Johnson on this in the first place, after all. I'm with him all the way on this. I know you've read the Duke section of the change-of-venue motion as well as I have, and that such a compelling case can be made that Duke's professors have so poisoned Durham's jury pool is appalling, not to speak of the allegations of punitive grade-changing and other unethical and unprofessional behavior, a number of which sound considerably more convincing than the most recent "magic towel" explanation for the DNA found and the DNA not found on the victim.

In closing I can't help but think Bill Chafe was right about the Emmett Till parallel with this case. He just got the sides mixed up, and this time he was one of the ones holding the rope. And that's a damned shame.


PS I posted this first on your page but it got a lot more involved than I'd first planned, so I think I'll also post it at Liestoppers, where I use the JackWebb nic. Hope it'll bring some more folks over to your page.

Howard said...

Thanx for the link to Goodman, good piece. But I get the feeling that he is alone on a raft in the middle of a flood. He's going to have to wait til it plays out.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I was going to comment on Gustafson. But wow, you go JackWebb. Just the facts man, just the facts.

bill anderson said...

That boy is good!! Sign him up!

We need to keep the heat on until all charges are dropped. And, do not worry about the defense. This is as good a team as I ever have seen, and that includes OJ, who had a sympathetic jury to bail him out. These guys took out Nifong against all odds, believe me.

By the way, the defense strategy was NOT to take out Nifong (who took himself out by being a damned criminal). Those guys presented the facts, ma'am!

wayne fontes said...

Don't worry about Gustafson he can fend for himself. He can write, analyze a position logically and argue a point. I worry about Professor Crowly who appologiized and didn't sign the second letter. At the time I said I was "somewhat unsatisfied" by his response but in retrospect i was far too miserly in giving credit. In light of the fact no other professor has stepped forward and taken responsibility for their recklessness I have concluded that he displayed real courage. Lets not forget him.

Tony Soprano said...


Professor Gustafson shatters the myth that all Duke Faculty members are the same - does he not?

He is a gifted writer and truly seems to follow the facts. The case is overloaded with people that were (and still are) determined to see it as validating their world-view. Professor Gustafson is a breath of fresh air - or heaven sent - if you are a disillusioned Duke Parent or Alum that has been a die-hard, staunch supporter of the University, until recently.

Listening to many in the administration at Duke, who've no doubt been cloistered in the enclave too long, they strike me as attempting to placate the activists in the faculty, and at the same time, are keenly aware of the legal entanglements they may face. Facts and Legend are lost in the conversation, as well as Truth and Justice.

How Nifong garnered so much support in Durham, and Nationwide, through two elections is just amazing to me.

My brother is a proud graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The summer before he left he drove us crazy playing Air Force fight songs. I am reminded of one in particular:

Bring me men to match my mountains,
Bring me men to match my plains;
Men to stand at freedom's door.

Indeed, Bring me more men like Professor Gustafson!


duke09parent said...


Terrific analogy. If KC hasn't seen this you ought to send it to him.

Anonymous said...

Bill Anderson,

you are kidding again right? The defense targeted Nifong from the jump and that was their main plan: get rid of Nifong=get rid of the case. the defense even timed a motion to recuse the man before the primary and also moved the 60 minutes story to be right before the election(and do not kid yourself, the defense was heavily involved in the material given to 60 minutes and were even present with the Duke 3 during their interview)to try to help Nifong lose the election. Cheshire wrote his complaint to the bar the same day he wrote the letter to Nifong that Neff put in the N and O. The defense was targeting Nifong from the beginning and then the accuser, who they have also targeted. The defense hoped for a dismissal but they got a special prosecutor instead and now are giving lip service to the idea as they have no choice but they are actually in unstable waters as Cooper is very political and if he suddenly decides to prosecute, the defense has lost their ace in the hole which is to say there is no case and Nifong did this, etc.

Anonymous said...

But here's the thing 8:10--there is no case, regardless of whether or not it is because Nifong fucked up. Nifong didn't make it so no evidence could be found, he didn't make the ccuser change her story multiple times...if there is no case (which it appears very likely there is no case) it's not because Mike NIfong is an absolute psycho.

What people hated most about Nifong was his incomprehensible need to CONTINUE prosecuting when there is no case. Nifong had to lie and hide evidence to keep to seeming as though he still had a case. That's why people were made. Had there been an actual reason for this case to proceed, no one would have been upset or angry at Nifong for doing his job. But Nifong didn't do his job. He simply went on a rampage in an attempt to get reelected without regard to justice or human decency. He destroyed young men's lives for no reason other than to with the black vote. This isn't the prosecutor's job; his job is not to "win at all costs", his job is not to "pander to the community" his job is to investigate a charge, decided whether or not it is founded, and then if it IS founded take the charge to court and prove it. Not to simply believe hearsay and disregard all evidence presented.

The ace in the hole for Duke SUpporters is that nothing happened. Nothing can change the fact that no rape, sodomy, sexual abuse or kidnapping occured in that house. You refer to the ace in the hole as though it was something that kept the real truth, that these guys did something, from coming out. That Nifong's idiocy interfered with people seeing the real issue and now people will see the real issue. Regardless of whether it is Nifong or the AG who handles this case, if there was no rape/sexual abuse/etc, it doesn't matter who handles it--they will either be a.) unable to prosecute it without lying, cheating and fraud, like Nifong, or b.) do the right thing and instead of bringing a case to trial just so the people are happy, do Justice a favor and say "there is no reason this case should go to trial" and drop the charges.

Prosecutions are about seeking justice, not about seeking a win at all and any costs

Anonymous said...

DNA results showed four Aces in the hole.

Anonymous said...

I'm still angry about how these boys were railroaded and how "victims advocacy groups" are still trying to igonore these three innocent victims of the Nifong Rape Case.

I'm waiting to see how the Attorney General is going to handle the dismissal of this case.