Shunning Duke’s Faculty

listening_statement_p.jpgA little while back, former Judge, and law school Dean, Joseph Bellacosa (St. John’s) proposed that members of the public shun the 88 Duke faculty members who sponsored an advertisement in the early days of the Nifong investigation implicitly condemning the accused lacrosse players. Bellacosa argued that

[A]lthough the group [of faculty members] can’t technically be charged with crimes – though abandoning your young and endangering youth sure do come close to real definable crimes – there are ways these professors can be held accountable. The identities of the 88 professors should be posted in significant ways and places, including in the media and on the Internet, so that they may be known for what they have done.

The likely howls of protest from the tenure police, university guild apologists and free-speech absolutists notwithstanding, the professoriat should not be shielded from appropriate public condemnation for their misconduct. Their dormant consciences and sensibilities should be reawakened to the abhorrent nature of the actions they inflicted on their own students.

I am regrettably late commenting on Judge Bellacosa’s article, and so this post may be stale. But still. What the heck is going on here?

Finding the original ad put up in 2006 isn’t so easy. A follow-up statement by Concerned Duke Faculty member has dead links, and Duke’s African-American studies department has removed the page from its server. Fortunately, this blog post pdf’d the ad, which I’ve copied to the right. Unfortunately, Bellacosa doesn’t say, and I don’t understand, exactly what was so wrong about this statement. There are some rumors that the students whose voices are being spotlighted are composites. That would be bad, but not a deadly sin. And the heart of the ad – the statement by the professors themselves – seems to me to consist of a set of vague generalities that verge on truisms, and aren’t objectionable:

“Regardless of the results of the police investigation, what is apparent everyday now is the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism, who see illuminated in this moment’s extraordinary spotlight what they live with everyday.”

Regardless, we’re supposed to shame and shun the signatories to the ad. Why?

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. joe blatant says:

    If you don’t see what’s wrong with this, then you’re either ignorant or looking the other way.

    You don’t quote the following sentence, which follows the snipet you posted:

    “These students are shouting and whispering about what happened to this young woman and to themselves.”

    This statement implicitly, if not explicitly, suggests that something happened to the accuser (now known as The Liar).

    You can dissect the poster in the abstract, but that does a disservice to the wrongly accused. Perhaps you understand this: It is not a completely integrated document; therefore, the parole evidence rule does not apply.

  2. Hans Bader says:

    The ad was libelous, including the passage that joe blatant reprints above.

    If you know anything about defamation law, then you know that defamation is defamation even when it is couched in deliberately indirect language.

    Defaming your own students is not only tortious, it is unethical and unprofessional.

    Admittedly, the malicious falsehoods disseminated by the Group of 88 Duke faculty pales in comparison to the damage done by the violent, dishonest person who brought the false rape charges, Crystal Mangum, who had a history of making false allegations and attempting to deliberately run over another human being with her car, and the deeply unethical and race-baiting prosecutor, Michael Nifong, who brought the baseless rape prosecution, and who suppressed vital exculpatory evidence, and appealed to base racial fears and animosities at every step.

  3. RMCACE says:

    Wow, there is so much wrong with this add. Tell me how the following phrases do not presume that there was a rape in the lax house:

    “These students are shouting and whispering about what happened to this young woman…”

    “This (referring to the lacrosse case) is a disaster…”

    Thanking the potbanging protesters outside the lax house who held up signs calling for castration and passing out “wanted” fliers with the lax team on them.

    By far the best information about this case has come from the blog Durham-in-Wonderland (run by a professor, so you can’t claim an anti-Academia bias). The blog is so good, it is worth reading all the way from the beginning.

  4. AYY says:

    Shouldn’t the last “everyday” have been “every day?”

  5. David says:

    I am so sick of white people whining about the lacrosse players like it’s some big social injustice. This sort of thing happens to people of color every day, and no one blinks an eye.

  6. Mike Lee says:

    Yes, it happens to blacks all the time so what’s the big deal? Wrong, this kind of prosecutrial misconduct does not happen all the time or even often. This misconduct (and the actions of these Professors specifically) was unprecendented. It had never happened before.

    The ad these professors placed in the school newspaper was used by the player’s attorneys in their motion for a change of venue, a first in judicial history.

    This case was an outrage and these Professors have made fools of themselves and damaged their reputations. Yes, misconduct does happen all the time, but not like this. Also, David the fact that it happens to minorities more often should make you even more outraged, not less.

    One last thing David, I don’t see that anyone mentioned race as being a factor in our discussion of the ad…..except you.

  7. Mike Lee says:

    I have a question for you Mr. Hoffman. You mentioned the fact that finding the original ad isn’t easy. Why do you think that is? It seems to me these Duke Professors aren’t so proud of the ad they signed after all. It seems that none of them want to even talk about it much less try to defend it.

    Academics are usually more than willing to debate and explain their positions. When they don’t want to engage in such debate there is usually one reason; they have realized they were dead wrong. Thanks.

  8. Defamation? I think not. Good faith belief in the truth of the assertion (that “something” happened, which is a pretty vague statement anyway) is a defense in most jurisdictions, and having the duly empaneled DA on the case investigating would seem to provide that good faith belief.

    As for whether professors ought to have special duties with respect to students of the University at which they teach, I think that is a close and hard call. After all, duties conflict. Sexual assault is not unknown on college campuses, and it is certainly true that when these allegations surfaced it did cause lots of members of the community to have strong emotions they wished to express.

    Mike Lee asks: why is finding the original ad hard? I imagine that it is because it is embarassing to the university, and so the university decided not to host it on its servers. I don’t think that it means “they” have realized that their “position” is “dead wrong,” because I don’t think the university’s interests and the faculty’s interests here are aligned. I imagine Duke wants this story to go away, so it can get back’s to its institutional business. So do the faculty. But neither position means that the original ad was as outrageous as Judge Bellacosa apparently thinks it was.

    Bottom line: I wouldn’t have signed this ad, in part because it seems to me like undirected venting, and in part because I think it is unwise to comment, even indirectly on a pending criminal investigation. I also think that signing statements petitions or letters is almost always a bad decision. But you see worse statements about accused criminals every day on TV, with no outrage when the accused is exonerated. David’s point, I think, is to highlight that silence in the face of this noise.

  9. RJC says:


    I admire your courage on commenting on this topic but I don’t think rational conversation on the issue will be possible for a long time. The Dukies are mad that they were treated like anyone else would have been under the circumstances (if the lacrosse team had been better citizens it might have gotten more of the benefit of the doubt), and they aren’t going to let anyone forget it for a long time. Rolling Stone did the best article on the topic, not about the team or the incident itself so much as the culture of casual sex, alcohol and drugs at the University, and not just among athletes, that created the conditions that made the whole sorry fiasco possible. In many ways, the villificaton of Nifong now underway is the same process as the demonization of the lacrosse team that preceded it. Beware a southern finishing school scorned. Here’s the link to the Rolling Stone story in the event you missed it.

  10. AYY says:


    I have to wonder if you’ve just been programmed to think that way. The problem is that what we’re talking about here are false rape charges. You might be sick of hearing about it, but the fact of the matter is that if it this happens all the time, then you need to keep letting people know about it. So do you want to do something about false charges, or do you just want to react the way someone told you to? It’s up to you.

  11. Hans Bader says:

    Did the Group of 88 radical Duke faculty behave reprehensibly and deserve condemnation?

    Yes, Professor K.C. Johnson points out, in his perceptive September 18 post at the Volokh law blog:

    The Group of 88’s Effects

    While the Group of 88 led a faculty rush to judgment against the lacrosse team, the most striking aspect of the Duke faculty’s reaction to the lacrosse case came in the professors’ utter closed-mindedness as Mike Nifong’s case collapsed in late 2006. For instance:

    –History professor Peter Wood claimed, in an interview with the New Yorker, that a lacrosse player advocated genocide against Native Americans. His evidence: an anonymous student evaluation in a class of 65.

    –Literature professor Grant Farred published an October 2006 op-ed accusing Duke students of “secret racism” for seeking to vote Nifong out of office; in April 2007, he publicly deemed unnamed lacrosse players guilty of “perjury.”

    –Houston Baker, by this point having been hired away by Vanderbilt, suggested that the lacrosse players might have been guilty of other rapes (he supplied no evidence) and e-mailed one player’s mother that her son and his teammates were “farm animals.”

    Such statements seemed to violate the spirit if not the letter of Duke’s Faculty Handbook, which contains the following passage: “Members of the faculty expect Duke students to meet high standards of performance and behavior. It is only appropriate, therefore, that the faculty adheres to comparably high standards in dealing with students . . . Students are fellow members of the university community, deserving of respect and consideration in their dealings with the faculty.”

    Yet — as our book makes clear — the Brodhead administration had shown no willingness to enforce the Handbook’s provisions at any point in the lacrosse affair. In spring 2006, at least three History professors used class time (in classes with lacrosse players) to deliver guilt-presuming lectures, including one who offered what he termed the findings of his “research” — that an “ejaculation had occurred.” An anthropology professor dismissed her class so the students could go outside and watch an anti-lacrosse rally. And a political science professor — after sending an e-mail in which she described the two lacrosse players in her class as accomplices to rape — gave both students an F on the final paper. One sued Duke; in an out-of-court settlement, Duke publicly announced that the grade had been changed (to a “pass”) and paid an undisclosed sum.

    Group members disinclined toward unsubstantiated attacks or unprofessional behavior engaged in an Orwellian attempt to redefine the past. Perhaps the best example came in a January 2007 op-ed from English professor Cathy Davidson, who rationalized the Group of 88’s statement as nothing more than saying “that we faculty were listening to the anguish of students who felt demeaned by racist and sexist remarks swirling around in the media and on the campus quad in the aftermath of what happened on March 13 in the lacrosse house. The insults, at that time, were rampant. It was as if defending David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann necessitated reverting to pernicious stereotypes about African-Americans, especially poor black women.”

    These claims were absurd: in late March and early April 2006 virtually no one was publicly defending the lacrosse players “on the campus quad” or anyplace else, much less using racial stereotypes to do so.

    While the Group members’ positions might have been divorced from reality, they had a chilling effect on campus discourse. For nearly six months, as an extraordinarily high-profile case of prosecutorial misconduct involving their own students unfolded before their very eyes, not one member of the Duke arts and sciences faculty publicly criticized Nifong’s behavior. The first who did so, Chemistry professor Steven Baldwin, also blasted the Group of 88 for betraying their responsibilities as professors. The response? The next day, the director of Duke’s women’s studies program accused Baldwin of using the “language of lynching,” while the co-director of Duke’s Center for Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender sent Baldwin an e-mail implying that they should settle their differences through violence.

    This sorry record did not pass without notice. In a virtually unprecedented move, defense attorneys cited the statements and actions of the students’ own professors as a major reason why these undergraduates could not receive a fair trial locally. Wade Smith, one of the lead defense attorneys, noted during Nifong’s ethics hearing that the D.A.’s publicity campaign effectively transferred this case from the start to the court of public opinion. In that courtroom, the antics of the race/class/gender-obsessed Duke professors had considerable effect. After Nifong recused himself, the defense attorneys prepared a PowerPoint presentation of the case for their initial meeting with the special prosecutors. They ended the presentation not with anything Nifong said or did but with a close-up of the Group of 88’s statement, as a prime example of the shameful aspects of the case.

    Even now, with Nifong’s case having been exposed as a fraud, only one member of the Group of 88 has publicly apologized. Another privately admitted that she was sorry for signing the statement, but wrote that if she apologized publicly, “my voice won’t count for much in my world.” The Economist recently concluded: “The only people who, it seems, have learned nothing from all this are Mr. Nifong’s enablers in the Duke faculty. Even after it was clear that the athletes were innocent, 87 faculty members published a letter categorically rejecting calls to recant their condemnation. And one professor, proving that some academics are as far beyond parody as they are beneath contempt, offered a course called ‘Hooking up at Duke’ that purported to illustrate what the lacrosse scandals tell us about ‘power, difference and raced, classed, gendered and sexed normativity in the US.’”