Monday, February 26, 2007

Reason, Hope, and Courage

I wanted to call attention to another excellent post by Duke University Professor Michael Gustafson at his Blog of Convenience. Throughout the Hoax, Professor Gustafson has often been a voice of reason, a source of hope, and an example of courage. His latest post exemplifies that description, as he responds to the false dilemma promoted by six fellow Duke professors in a guest column for The Chronicle.
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The disappointing guest column authored jointly by John Aldrich, professor of political science; Peter Burian, professor of classical studies; William Chafe, professor of history; Kerry Haynie, associate professor of political science; Fred Nijhout, professor of biology; and Wendy Wood, professor of psychology begins as follows:
“The time has come to move forward. The primary issue is how we live as a community at Duke-how we behave toward each other, the values we espouse, the rules we pledge to uphold in our interactions. Now is the time to turn what has been a time of crisis into an opportunity for constructive change-to help make Duke a model of mutual respect and caring.
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“Whatever happened at the lacrosse party last spring, three facts remain undisputed: racial epithets were used; a Duke student group hired two female strippers for the entertainment of young men; and underage drinking was encouraged. In the ensuing months, we have heard our students grapple with these and related issues that reflect patterns of behavior found, not only on our campus, but-according to colleagues elsewhere-at our peer institutions as well.
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“The comments of one Duke student illustrate the larger problem. "I went to a fraternity party on campus last fall," a first-year woman disclosed, "and was shocked to see a stripper there, and hear insulting remarks made about her." After listening to numerous such comments, it is clear that the hiring of such dancers for organized parties is no anomaly at Duke.
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"We are all guilty," another woman student declared, "because we have never called to account those people who have engaged in date rape or sexual assault." Stories of racism (often indirect) are frequent, as are those of women being treated as sexual objects, or of gay students being denigrated. These stories from our students expose a reality many of us had previously ignored. It is time to create a different kind of campus culture.”
Professor Gustafson’s rebuttal, Juxtapositional Fallacies Juxtapositional Fallacies, includes the following wisdom:

“The column begins "The time has come to move forward." The first paragraph ends
with, "Now is the time to turn what has been a time of crisis into an opportunity for constructive change -- to help make Duke a model of mutual respect and caring."

“The next three paragraphs then look backward, excoriating the lacrosse team and its party, followed by two paragraphs about unrelated events - one where a stripper had insults hurled towards her by a fraternity and one where a woman declared that, "We are all guilty...because we have never called into account those people who have engaged in date rape or sexual assault."

“Six highly respected, very established Duke faculty from five different departments wrote this column. People whose careers have been marked by excellence in research in their fields - for that is what earns a person tenure here - wrote this. For that reason alone, if not others, it is important to look at this work.

“The second paragraph begins, "Whatever happened at the lacrosse party last spring, three facts remain undisputed: racial epithets were used; a Duke student group hired two female strippers for the entertainment of young men; and underage drinking was encouraged." Eleven months on, and these six faculty members pin those as The Big Three Undisputed Facts.

“I would have created a list of some other ones. They would include the undisputed fact that the district attorney gave over four-dozen interviews to the media calling Duke students an array of names; that the district attorney stated in court filings that the entire white membership of the team should have DNA samples taken and that the results of those would indicate the innocent; that the district attorney is now facing multiple ethics charges from the bar for his behavior; that colleague James Coleman has asserted that the lineups used to identify the three men were fraudulent and that the DA has, in various ways, mooned the justice system; that there were multiple stories told about that night above and beyond the fog that we, as people of good conscience, would understand as a part of an actual rape; that our students had death threats made against them outside of and in open court; that our president said even if they didn't rape that woman, whatever they did was bad enough; that a faculty member failed a lacrosse player after writing on an open message board that a student who claimed to be physically threatened and attacked should be publicly portrayed as a liar and his integrity denigrated however possible; that three students face 30 years in jail for these alleged crimes.

“But instead, these six distinguished faculty members, in telling us we should "move forward," skip all that. I have no choice but to believe that moving forward, to these six faculty members, means take the story DA Nifong chose to tell and then fast-forward to now as if nothing else had happened. I have no choice but to believe that these faculty members, in seeing that the reality of the situation in no way plays into the assumptions of white, male, athlete privilege that our (blessedly former) colleague Houston Baker championed want us to base our thoughts and actions on the narrative created in the first two weeks rather than the realities discovered over the past eleven months.

“… Now, worried that the lacrosse case has fallen apart because of an improper (and perhaps illegal) investigation and the fact that so many agendas have been directly tied to the sinking ship that is the SS Nifong-Wilson-Gottlieb? Put the words "stripper" and "sexual assault" and "racism" and "guilty" and "gay students being denigrated" as close as possible to the word "lacrosse."

“In being told the three "undisputed" facts, we are being told to forget that the Coleman Report quashed any sense of racism on the team; to forget that men on the team publicly stated their outrage over racist comments, if made, by their teammates; to forget that Devon Sherwood called those 46 men his brothers; to forget that the women on the lacrosse team - empowered, strong, intelligent women led by an empowered, strong, intelligent woman publicly wore their thoughts on their wrists about the innocence of three of those men.

“We are being given a false dilemma - either show outrage against the lacrosse team and its party and support those who made noise about it, or deny that racism and sexism and assault exist. Either believe that the entire campus culture is flawed (and we're the ones to fix it), or support sexist insults and racial division.

“Fortunately, my high school English teachers cared enough about their students to make sure we were armed against such false dilemmas and juxtapositional fallacies. I can know that racism exists while understanding that the primary element that needs our attention in the lacrosse case involves the due process being denied three members of our community. I can know that issues of underage drinking continue to be an important part of the discussion of campus life without relying on discussions of the lacrosse party to take the lead. I can know that rape and sexual assault are counted with the most heinous crimes and greatest evils that can be done to a person without believing that such a crime took place in this case. I can know that an individual on the lacrosse team got into a back-and-forth with a woman where both used language that is beneath them and hurtful without assigning those words of feelings to anyone else on the team or to any other white man or black woman in the world without cause.”

If time allows, please visit Professor Gustafson’s blog.

2 comments:

Howard said...

What is increasingly clear is that Duke has a Women's Studies Department staffed by unqualified but tenured ill equipped professors. The entire department should be shut down. As soon as the final charges are either dropped or go to court where the kids will surely win, the law suits will run into the tens of millions, and the parents of those kids deserve every penny.

Ryan Frank said...

"Six highly respected, very established Duke faculty from five different departments wrote this column. People whose careers have been marked by excellence in research in their fields - for that is what earns a person tenure here"

Why oh Why do I have such a hard time believing that is truly what got these shmucks tenure?