Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
Having captured the nomination, Nifong has no continued political need to speak out; he is also confronting increasingly troubling revelations about his peculiar investigation. It turns out that when he “hinted” to Newsweek that the police file would show the accuser was given a date rape drug, it appears that he either (a) hadn’t read the file, which contains no toxicology report; or (b) deliberately misled the reporter. Thursday, defense lawyers filed a motion stating that the only mention of the accuser describing her alleged attackers came in the following note by a police investigator: “I asked her questions trying to follow up on a better description of the suspects, she was unable to remember anything further about the suspects.” So, Nifong either (a) didn’t turn over all case material to the defense, despite informing the court he had done so; or (b) dealt with an accuser who couldn’t give even a basic description of her alleged attackers, but then had no trouble doing so three weeks after the incident at a photo ID that blatantly violated state guidelines. And yesterday, another defense motion revealed that a previously unreported photo ID session (which also ignored state guidelines, in that it consisted solely of photos downloaded from the Duke lacrosse website) occurred on March 21, and police records from that session revealed that the accuser did not identify at least one of the arrested players, Dave Evans, as among her alleged attackers. As Ralph Luker reminds us, the latter two items come from the defense alone—though in the form not of leaks but of formal court motions, subject to sanctions if they contain demonstrably false statements.
Nifong’s desire for a gag order is unsurprising, given that he’s also under investigation by the state bar’s ethics committee and surely wants to avoid any further bad publicity while that process moves forward. The recent action of the North Carolina NAACP, however, is more troubling. Al McSurely, chair of the NAACP’s Legal Redress Committee, has said that the organization will ask for a gag order, which he euphemistically termed a"quiet zone/let's let justice work" motion. His justification, according to the Durham Herald-Sun, is that “media coverage of the alleged rape may deprive the alleged victim of her legal rights to a fair trial.” Leaving aside the question of why the NAACP didn’t desire a “quiet zone” when Nifong dominated the airwaves, the Constitution contains no mention of an accuser’s “legal rights to a fair trial”: the accuser has the power of the state on his or her side. Nor can an accuser’s legal rights somehow trump the very real constitutional protections possessed by defendants. The NAACP’s action, though unlikely to be approved, typifies the bizarre inversion of constitutional theory that has permeated this case, what defense attorney Alex Charns has termed Durham’s “Alice-in-Wonderland” style of justice. Jason Whitlock’s admonition is worth recalling: “If the Duke lacrosse players were black and the accuser were white, everyone would easily see the similarities between this case and the alleged crimes that often left black men hanging from trees in the early 1900s.”
At least the NAACP isn’t in the classroom. This week’s Chronicle contains a memoir of one spring term class that should shame the Duke administration. Author Elizabeth Chin spent the spring 2006 term as a visiting professor in Duke’s cultural-anthropology department, where she taught a course called “Girl Culture/Power.” The class, she reports, enrolled a good number of “well-off white women who were in the most elite sororities at Duke,” balanced against three men, “several heterosexual women of color [Chin doesn’t explain how she knew they were heterosexual or why this fact is relevant], and a handful of what I affectionately thought of as my radical feminists.”
While critical of the Duke administration—which hardly went out of its way to defend the lacrosse players’ rights—for not creating a “town meeting, teach-ins, and coordinated efforts in residence halls” to address the allegations against the players, Chin committed herself “to keep the classroom a safe space for all the students, while allowing people on both sides of the issue to hear and understand each other.” That the space was a whole lot safer for one side than the other became clear when an anti-lacrosse player rally coincided with one class session. Chin stopped class and instructed the students to go outside and listen. (There’s a good strategy for an easy prep.) “After a while,” she relates, “I noticed that, one by one, the sorority girls were going back inside.” (Many of the sorority “girls” knew members of the lacrosse team.) Chin continues: “When I went after them, their pain and frustration were obvious. ‘It's just not fair being targeted as a group,’ wailed one woman.” Wailed? Imagine the appropriate condemnation from faculty members like Chin if a male professor had used this verb to describe an upset “girl” in his class.
Chin’s response to the demonstration and its aftermath effectively assumed that the players were guilty, her view of the scandal was undeniably correct, and teaching diversity is the only conceivable approach in the classroom. Her view of an in-class “olive branch” over the lacrosse issue consisted of a “radical woman” admitting that she could have a common experience with a sorority “girl”: the “radical woman” stated that she, too, knew a man who “had raped someone.” (No rush to judgment about the lacrosse players there.) Leaving aside the question of whether it was an appropriate use of class time to peruse a demonstration with whose message the instructor sympathized (Chin gives no suggestion that she also cancelled class to observe the “innocent” demonstrations that occurred later in the term), Chin might have explored with her “radical feminists” why so many on campus, including the demonstrators, seemed to presume guilt—even at an early stage of the investigation, when the lacrosse players had all denied criminal wrongdoing, their captains had told the authorities they would take lie detector tests, and the procedural irregularities that have come to characterize Nifong’s inquiry already were becoming apparent. This question appears not to have occurred to Chin, who describes herself as a “good liberal.” Apparently she doesn’t see promoting civil liberties as the kind of activity in which a “good liberal” would engage.
Chin would be proud, however, of how the Washington Post and New York Times have addressed Durham matters; as Stuart Taylor noted, “Many members of the national media have published grossly one-sided accounts of the case.” A Postcolumn by Lynne Duke relies on “facts” that are not only, at best, assumptions, but also contradict much of what is now known about the case. It’s absurd to say, based on the evidence that now exists, that the case is “some ways reminiscent of a black woman's vulnerability to a white man during the days of slavery, reconstruction and Jim Crow, when sex was used as a tool of racial domination.” Commentator Julianne Malveaux even more oddly added that as"African American women are not systematically valued in our society,” the accuser is getting"no benefit of any doubt." If nothing else can be said about this case, it’s that the accuser has received the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, the state went so far in giving the accuser the benefit of the doubt that one prominent legal analyst, Andrew Napolitano, has predicted that the case could end with Nifong’s losing his license to practice law.
And in a piece behind the Times firewall, Harvey Araton cited plans by the women’s lacrosse team to wear armbands expressing sympathy with the accused men’s players at this year’s Final Four (held on May 26) and a request by the Duke athletic staff that the women’s basketball players not comment in interviews about the lacrosse case at this year’s women’s Final Four (held on April 2) to claim that “a basketball team with a majority of African-American women was in effect censored while the lacrosse gals, 30 of 31 of whom are white, are apparently free to martyr their male lax mates.” This seems like a compelling argument—if only it were factually correct. Actually, as Newsday reports today, the Duke athletic staff made the exact same request (not to comment publicly on the case in interviews with the media) of the women’s lacrosse “gals” (funny how Araton describes them as “gals” and the basketball players as “women”), and they honored the request. Araton produces no evidence that the basketball team wanted to wear armbands sympathizing with either the lacrosse players or the accuser, or were “censored” in any other way beyond receiving the same request that was given to the lacrosse team about not speaking publicly.
Specifically targeting the women’s lacrosse players, Araton wonders how “cross-team friendship and university pride [could] negate common sense at a college as difficult to gain admission to as Duke,” with the women’s players “staking their own reputations” on the case’s outcome. By making such a claim, of course, it could be said that Araton is staking his own reputation on his critique. It might be that the women’s lacrosse players have been paying attention to events in Durham that have occurred since the basketball Final Four; it’s unclear if Araton has done so. Perhaps they noticed that even though Nifong promised that DNA evidence would positively identify the guilty, the tests for 45 of the men’s team came back negative and the test for the 46th was inconclusive. Perhaps they noticed that, after being arrested with a warrant alleging he committed a 30-minute crime on March 14 (i.e., after 12.00am), Reade Seligmann produced electronic and video evidence showing that starting at 12.06am, he was either text-messaging his girlfriend, in a cab, or at an ATM machine a mile away. Or perhaps they noticed that the accuser identified another arrested player, Dave Evans, as having a mustache, which he did not, and, apparently, initially didn’t identify him at all. Maybe their willingness to evaluate new evidence and respond accordingly explains how those “lacrosse gals” were selected for “a college as difficult to gain admission to as Duke.”
Araton concludes his column by noting, “When behavioral codes intersect with the vexing subjects of sex, race and class on campuses like Duke’s, there are still many more questions than answers. Today, if I could ask just one, it would be directed at the Duke basketball women. What do they think of those sweatbands the women’s lacrosse team was planning to wear?” New York Times columnists have access to the internet (on which the women’s basketball team roster is easily found) and the ability to use e-mail and the telephone. If Araton considered this question so important, why didn’t he simply ask the women’s basketball players? Could it be that he feared the answers he received might contradict the Times’ take on the issue, which even as milquetoast a public editor as Bryon Calame has faulted for making decisions where sometimes “fairness suffered a bit,” referring “to an application for a search warrant as if it were somehow a court finding of fact,” and inexplicably downplaying Nifong’s possible political motivations? Since I too have internet access, I e-mailed Araton to ask him.
Professor Chin, no doubt, would share Araton’s outrage at the conduct of the women’s lacrosse team at last night’s Final Four. Coach Kerstin Kimel has emerged as one of the few heroes of this affair, breaking what could be termed the university’s “blue wall of silence” to become the first Duke administrator, professor, or coach to publicly say anything positive, in his or her own voice, about the men’s lacrosse players’ academic, athletic, or personal qualities. Her team seems to share her sentiments. To show solidarity with the three men’s players targeted by Nifong, women’s team members wore sweatbands with the players’ numbers, or with the men’s team slogan, in their semifinal game against Northwestern. (Despite outshooting Northwestern by double digits, Duke lost in overtime, 11-10.) After the game, Kimel said that any attention the team received for the wristbands paled in comparison to “watching your friends be arrested; watching your fellow students not support fellow students; watching professors not support students.”
My sister was a three-year starter for the Columbia women’s basketball team, and I got to know many of the players quite well; I also taught a good number of women’s swimmers at Harvard and women’s soccer players at Williams. Despite Araton's insinuation, female college athletes have never struck me as a group likely to go out of their way to stand up for males that they believed were sexist. I suspect Professor Chin would have a different view: when a sorority “girl” suggested in class that the players “might” be innocent, Chin believed that those “affectionately thought of as my radical feminists” could only interpret the remark as saying that the student protected “white privilege uncritically.” But in a jurisdiction whose district attorney appears to believe that basic state procedures don’t apply to him, and on a campus that in the past 75 days has experienced the effects of faculty “groupthink” at its most pernicious, another phrase from Chin’s ideological arsenal seems appropriate to characterize the lacrosse players’ course of action. At the Final Four, it might be said that the women’s team displayed the courage to speak truth to power.
I love it when the Phi Beta Cons' loopy Candace de Russy gets all current with things. Both she and the PBC's George Leef think Tom Reeves"is thinking ‘heretical thoughts'" and"hit the nail squarely on the head" with his two year old"Heretical Thoughts About Higher Education." It's another of Reeves' bitter reflections on the democratic hope for higher education. No need to get all present tense about it, Candace. Reeves has been pounding that nail and serving up that cup of bitters for years.
Jon Wiener,"Gun-research ‘Freak'-out," LA Times, 31 May, rightly calls for John Lott's law suit against Steven Levitt to be tossed out of court.
There is, undoubtedly, much to admire and respect about our fellow historian, S. Frederick Starr. He's the author of nearly two dozen books, including Red and Hot: The Fate of Jazz in the Soviet Union, 1917-1980 (1983); and Bamboula! The Life and Times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1995). He's had a distinguished administrative career, as Vice President of Academic Affairs at Tulane (1980-81) and President of Oberlin College (1983-94), but he has been the founding director of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins since 1996.
Two articles by Ken Silverstein,"The Professor of Repression," Harper's, 24 May; and Silverstein,"Academics for Hire," Harper's, 30 May, are just stunning in their claims about Starr's use of the Johns Hopkins platform for active apologias on behalf of oppressive-istan regimes. Silverstein's second article also implicates Harvard historian Brenda Shaffer, who is research director of the University's Caspian Studies Program, in similar apologias. These programs appear to be largely funded by regional regimes, American oil and industrial investors in the region, and right-wing foundations in the United States. Thanks to Manan Ahmed for the tip.
Some people asked me to describe my American Studies course after I mentioned it in a post-Katrina post nearly a year ago, but I got so busy teaching it that only now have I had much of a chance to reflect on the class and how it went. It was a learning experience, as any first-year professor’s courses are going to be, but it really was a joy to teach. Our undergraduate program in American Studies is brand new, and the faculty very generously gave me a free hand to do almost anything I wanted with this seminar. In a lot of ways I got to teach my dream course.
One of the few design specs they gave me was that I should not reproduce the perfectly good U.S. history survey we already have, so I designed American Studies 200 as a kind of anti-survey.
I tried to think of the course as an anthology instead of a narrative, a road trip rather than a bird's-eye-view. Rather than stepping back to survey the nation as a whole, we zoomed in on very specific times and locales. Rather than a sweeping chronological narrative, I offered several staccato portraits. Of course, I hoped and planned for larger themes to emerge, but I banished any pretensions of completeness, any illusions that we would somehow cover it all. Most of my students were planning to concentrate on American Studies so I was not forced to wrestle with the potentially paralyzing fear that this was the only course on the subject they were ever going to take.
Instead, I had the luxury to take up a really rather narrow question—what has “America” meant to different people in different times, and what consequences have those meanings had? Each week we examined a different place and a different historical moment where America and what it meant was constructed, contested, or otherwise up for grabs. (Don’t tell anyone, but I got the idea for the course while outlining a “secret Americana” book I wanted to write for the late lamented role-playing game Unknown Armies.)
When we were talking here about transnational history, I think just about everybody had problems with the idea of the nation as an unmarked category, a “container” that frames the history we tell but never gets questioned itself. I flatter myself that my course did the reverse: here the nation and what it meant was the subject of analysis, but not the frame. I did this not by widening the lens to study the globe but by narrowing it to look at individual locales.
I think it’s easy to underestimate the extent to which American politics, identity, and life remained locally and regionally oriented and distinct, right up to the Second World War or so. Canadian students, and a lot of Canadians who aren’t students too, are especially prone to do this. I expect my students know more about the U.S. than most American students know about Canada, but they are still given to making very broad generalizations about Americans, and inclined to see the United States as a single monoculture. This view is officially endorsed by the mantra of every civics class they’ve ever taken: “the U.S. is a melting pot, Canada is a mosaic.”
Anyway, here are the places and times we visited in the course this past year. I took a few classes to introduce the field (what is “American Studies,” anyway?—but that’s another post) and then we got down to it:
- Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1630-1693
- Virginia, 1676-1776
- Boston, 1773-1776
- New Orleans, 1814-1860
- The Burned-Over District, 1830-1848
- Philadelphia, 1844-1865
- Gettysburg, 1863 and after
- Chicago, 1871-1894
- Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, 1883-1916
- Oz, 1892-1907
- Cuba & The Philippines, 1898
- New York, 1920-1929
- The Dust Bowl, 1931-1939
- Hawaii, 1941-1945
- Suburbia, 1950-1963
- The Mississippi Delta, 1955-1966
- San Francisco, 1966-1969
- Orange, Cobb, & Johnson Counties, 1971-1994
- Los Angeles, 1991-2001
- Tokyo, Moscow, and Baghdad, 2001-present
Since somebody always asks, “Oz” has nothing to do with HBO—that’s Oz as in Dorothy and her little dog Toto too. That’s the week we talked about Populism and bimetallism, the great merger movement and the rise of big business in America. We considered the old Henry Littlefield theory that The Wizard of Oz was a “parable on Populism” but we also discussed William Leach’s (to me) more convincing argument that Oz is an ad man’s fairy tale, a guilt-exorcising celebration of the dawning consumer culture.
There were a few hiccups with the way I’d set up the course. “Places in time” are all very well, but I can see now that I need to provide some connective tissue. My students had varying levels of experience in American history, and some were prepared to be discussing Puritan jeremiads right off the bat while others were not. This year I’ll have an additional hour each week, and I think I’ll use it to do a little more scene-setting and framing. What I hope to do is to use the last third of each class to talk about the place and time we’ll be discussing the following week, so that my lecture precedes the readings and orients students to them.
But the big themes did emerge—some planned, some unplanned. And the students got very good at making their own connections across time. I’ve never been more proud of my students than I was on the day it occurred to them—a day one of my senior colleagues was observing the class, no less—that The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is both about a kind of jeremiad and a jeremiad itself. “Ken Kesey is Increase Mather!” said one student. “You just blew my mind,” said another.
I won’t change the course too much next year, but I think I will swap out a few of the units, just to keep things fresh. I’d really like a unit that let us do some traditional political history—a key Supreme Court decision or a moment in constitutional history that still fits into the “place in time” paradigm. I won’t agitate KC Johnson by even pretending this is a political history course, but classic political history topics—checks and balances, the Constitution, the various two party systems—came up in our discussions again and again. My students were particularly struck (as other Canadians studying the U.S. have been) by American reverence for the Constitution and its relevance to all manner of contemporary debates. Appealing to the intentions of long ago founding fathers is a rhetorical move that few modern Canadians would think to make. I’d like a little more emphasis on women’s history too. There were a number of weeks where women’s experiences were at the center of our discussions, but we could have done more to make this a thread running through the course rather than a topic we visited a couple of times a term before moving on.
If you’ve made it to the end of this post, I’d love to hear your suggestions for other places and times that would be interesting to study. Or if you study other parts of the world, I’d love to hear the places you might visit or the topics you might cover in an anthology-style course.
Cross-posted to Old is the New New.
The opening line is frightening, and seems to come from someone both deeply saddened and angered by what he has lived in Iraq:
Every morning the streets of Baghdad are littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they are Sunni or because they are Shiite. Power drills are an especially popular torture device.
I have spent nearly two of the three years since Baghdad fell in Iraq. On my last trip, a few weeks back, I flew out of the city overcome with fatalism. Over the course of six weeks, I worked with three different drivers; at various times each had to take a day off because a neighbor or relative had been killed. One morning 14 bodies were found, all with ID cards in their front pockets, all called Omar. Omar is a Sunni name. In Baghdad these days, nobody is more insecure than men called Omar. On another day a group of bodies was found with hands folded on their abdomens, right hand over left, the way Sunnis pray. It was a message. These days many Sunnis are obtaining false papers with neutral names. Sunni militias are retaliating, stopping buses and demanding the jinsiya , or ID cards, of all passengers. Individuals belonging to Shiite tribes are executed.
Under the reign of Saddam Hussein, dissidents called Iraq"the republic of fear" and hoped it would end when Hussein was toppled. But the war, it turns out, has spread the fear democratically. Now the terror is not merely from the regime, or from U.S. troops, but from everybody, everywhere.
After descriptions of horrendous brutality committed by Sunnis, Shiites and Americans alike, he concludes:
Sectarian and ethnic cleansing has since (the Samarra bombing and 1000 Sunni retribution killings) continued apace, as mixed neighborhoods are"purified." In Amriya, dead bodies are being found on the main street at a rate of three or five or seven a day. People are afraid to approach the bodies, or call for an ambulance or the police, for fear that they, too, will be found dead the following day. In Abu Ghraib, Dora, Amriya and other once-diverse neighborhoods, Shiites are being forced to leave. In Maalif and Shaab, Sunnis are being targeted.
The world wonders if Iraq is on the brink of civil war, while Iraqis fear calling it one, knowing the fate such a description would portend. In truth, the civil war started long before Samarra and long before the first uprisings. It started when U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad. It began when Sunnis discovered what they had lost, and Shiites learned what they had gained. And the worst is yet to come.
The frustration in this article seems to come from the combination of witnessing the ongoing horrors, and his conclusion that they are getting worse. Some will undoubtedly label it biased, most from the comforts of the Beltway, but whatever ones beliefs on the wars rationale, there should be no doubt that passionate reporting like this is a reminder of the massive human cost of this conflict.
Update: has a very good post up about this piece. Suffice it to say, my mushy sentimentalism post reading this horrific account stands in notable contrast to David's removed rationalism. I agree with some, but certainly not all of his critique. Sometimes, however, it is important to simply listen to the direct accounts of the horrors of war without contextualising them with policy analysis.
Andrew Israel Ross at Air Pollution and Nathanael Robinson at Rhine River are reading and discussing Honoré de Balzac's Père Goriot, with an eye to understanding the novelist's effectiveness as a social historian.
In an exercise that does not hold them up to scorn, though frankly I think some of them are much better than others, Dan Cohen's"Ten Most Popular History Syllabi,"* 10 January 2006, listed these:
#1 – Eric Mayer's U. S. History to 1870 at Victor Valley College;
#2 – Robert Bannister's America in the Progressive Era at Swarthmore College;
#3 – Bruce Dorsey's The American Colonies at Swarthmore College;
#4 – Sheila Culbert's The American Civil War at Dartmouth College;
#5 – Andrew Plaa's Early Modern Europe at Columbia University;
#6 – Robert Griffith's The United States Since 1945 at American University;
#7 – Robert Dykstra's American Political and Social History II at SUNY, Albany;
#8 – Sarah Watts' The World Since 1500 at Wake Forest University;
#9 – Nicholas Pappas' The Military and War in America at Sam Houston State University;
#10 – Jim Jones' World Civilization I at West Chester State University.
More recently, 21 May, Cohen offers the"10 Most Popular Philosophy Syllabi."
*See Cohen's post for explanations of how he derived his findings of relative popularity. For more sophisticated use of his Syllabus Finder, see: Cohen,"By the Book: Assessing the Place of Textbooks in U. S. Survey Courses," Journal of American History, 2005. The title of the article is a little misleading because it also discusses the most commonly used collateral readings.
The government of Romania has returned ownership of the 14th century Bran Castle to the Hapsburg heirs. Commonly referred to as the home of Count Dracula, Bran Castle was probably visited by Vlad the Impaler, the model for Dracula, though he never actually lived there. Thanks to Dale Light of Light Seeking Light for the tip.
Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a film about the early twentieth century Irish rebellion, has won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Finally, Lyndon Baines Johnson analyzes Gerald Ford's economic policies. Hat tip: Big Tent.
I'm told that no decent history blog would have failed to acknowledge the 388th anniversary of the second defenestration of Prague on 23 May. Cliopatria failed, but the Gleeful Gecko remembered. As GG says,"Go figure ..."
The New York Times' David Brooks must have been reading KC Johnson's posts at Cliopatria. See: Brooks,"The Duke Witch Hunt," NYT, 28 May. It's behind the NYT's firewall, but Margaret Soltan reproduces a large section of it at University Diaries. I suppose David writes his own stuff, but you certainly read it [and I certainly argued with it] here first.
Cambridge University Press is offering free trials of the"revised and updated Historical Statistics of the United States: Millennial Edition Online, a one-stop resource for statistics on slavery, ethnicity, elections, poverty, labor, health and virtually every other area of American history. ... The online version is fully searchable, downloadable and customizable." Write to hsus*at*cambridge*dot*org for a free trial of the online edition.
Historiblogography's Sam Shaw and other graduate students at UCLA have posted the website for Mephistos, 2007. It's the annual conference of graduate students in the history, anthropology, philosophy, and sociology of science, technology and medicine. Check it out.
Congratulations to our colleague, Sam Wineburg, who has recently joined our contributing editors, Jim Cobb, Michael Kazin, and Wilson Moses, in the Organization of American Historians' Distinguished Lectureship Program Having your department sponsor Sam's appearance on your campus would be an excellent way to stimulate some serious discussion about learning and teaching history.
The rightwing hellhounds at the History News Network, a website sponsored by the neoconservative George Mason University, have been crying out for my friend Paul Buhle's scalp for years now, on much the same basis that they have gone after Churchill. Ralph Luker, a resident Satan, has charged Paul with crimes against Clio, the muse of history whom he stands on guard with bared fangs to protect ...
Thanks for the kind words, Louis, but Buhle and Churchill aren't the only perpetrators of bad history. See, for example: Wilfred McClay,"A Flood of Words on Katrina," New York Sun, 15 May, a review of Douglas Brinkley's The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Brinkley seems to have just vacuated his bowels of a massive book. But much good history is done by historians on the left, as well. See, for example: Jefferson Decker,"Politics as Usual," Boston Review, May/June 2006, a review of Kevin M. Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism and Matthew D. Lassiter The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South; and David J. Garrow,"Freedom Riders," The Wilson Quarterly, Spring, 2006, a review of Ray Arsenault's Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.
Beyond the reviews, for your long holiday internet browsing, I'd recommend a few good history blogs from Cliopatria's History Blogroll: A Gentle Fuss, by the University of Western Ontario's Nick Milne; PK's BibliOdyssey; Daniel Larison's Eunomia, by a graduate student in Byzantine history at the University of Chicago; misteraitch's Giornale Nuovo; Peter Stothard's, by the editor of the TLS; and wood s lot.
Boston's WGBH has put its archive of public speeches and panel discussions on-line. Its primary recordings include speeches by Calvin Coolidge, FDR, JFK, speakers at the 1963 March on Washington, and many more. Its line-up of historians includes Jeremy Black, Taylor Branch, Alan Brinkley, Richard Bushman, Robert Caro, Philip Dray, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, James O. Horton, Jill Lepore, David McCullough, Edmund Morris, Gary Nash, Arthur Schlesinger, Bruce Schulman, Nina Silber, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and many more.
"Churchill Fallout": Anne D. Neal and Dennis Baron, Inside Higher Ed, 26 May. Neal defends ACTA's report from Tim Burke and John K. Wilson; Baron defends Churchill from threats to academic freedom. ACTA has only itself to blame for associating its report with Churchill's name, when its content has nothing to do with the charges against Churchill and its methods scarcely reached beyond David Horowitz's level of sophistication. On the other hand, both John Wilson and Dennis Baron summon us to the battlements in defense of the indefensible. UC's report on Ward Churchill is the academy's self-policing at its best.
Larry Cohler-Esses,"‘Yellow' Journalism!!," Jewish Week, 25 May, looks at how the false story of Iranian legislation to require religious minorities to wear badges got started and found legs. On a related note, in"Jews and Muslims in the Middle East" at Brian's Study Breaks, Brian Ulrich surveys the historical experience of Jewish minorities in the Muslim Middle East to help us understand issues like"dhimmitude."
Finally, in case you've not seen it yet:"Heroic Computer Dies To Save World From Master's Thesis," The Onion, 17 May.
But apart from blatantly distorting the committee's findings (which he essentially characterizes as agreeing (!) with his conclusions), a couple of the lines in the report are breathtaking, even for Churchill.
"Ethnic Studies not only bases itself in the perspectives of diverse communities, but employs its own set of research practices and methodologies." While it's true that all disciplines employ different methodologies, plagiarism or misrepresenting footnotes aren't part of any discipline's"research practices."
He viewed his job as"to bring a critical indigenous understanding to my teaching and scholarship. However, the committee included no American Indians and no one with expertise in American Indian Studies." On the former, was he saying that an American Indian who wasn't expert in his field would have sufficed?
He excuses (unspecified) factual errors on the grounds that"much of my work takes the form of synthesis; in other words, connecting-the-dots with respect to a broad range of information."
He accuses the committee of using improper standards of behavior--most notably that of the AHA--standards that had never been used before, except in"blatantly political cases, such as those of David Abraham and Michael Bellesiles." So Bellesiles is now innocent, too?
In the end, Churchill concludes, the inquiry"is but the latest volley in a national, indeed international, campaign to discredit those who think critically and who bring alternative perspectives to their research. The May 9 report generated by the University of Colorado’s investigative committee is designed to send a clear message to all scholars: Lay low. Do not challenge orthodoxy. If you do, expect to be targeted for elimination and understand that the University will not be constrained by its own rules – or the Constitution – in its attempts to silence you." All elements of that international conspiracy can rest easier tonight.
*[Update: Via e-mail, KC says"I neither contacted Frontpage nor was aware that they republished the piece until I read your post." I take him at his word about that. Frontpage commonly reproduces work without an author's permission. Further update: Frontpage has removed KC's article from its mainpage, but retains it within its system.]
Yet, even as I write that bit of cynicism, I have doubts. It took a long time for me to learn to bridle my own presentist tendency to make normative judgments about the past and not to hold historical figures accountable for their failures to live up to my expectations of them. I had, first, to understand that I, too, was a historical figure, subject to the limitations of my own time -- limitations I probably didn't altogether understand, myself; and, second, by extensive research, to find out what possible range of opinion about an issue was available in a given period. But, in fact, the more research I did, the broader the range of alternatives I found available to them. At Is That Legal?, Eric Muller displays a document that challenges superficial justifications of Japanese internment in World War II on the grounds that our criticism of it is only a function of hindsight. Some prominent Americans did know better and did protest it. Maybe KC's voice is comparable to theirs. Maybe I am insensitive to an injustice that's taking place before my very eyes.
Similar issues of perspective arise in the erroneous reportage about the Iranian parliament having passed legislation requiring religious minorities to wear distinguishing badges. Canada's National Post now repudiates and apologizes for its story. But the outrage with which right-wing bloggers seized on it assumes, of course, that we wouldn't do anything comparable. It's always they who commit outrages. But I'd go so far as to suggest that thosemostoutraged at the (erroneous) report of Iranian action might be the first to demand that we act comparably. How would the Iranian action be different from demands for National Identity Cards? Or from some of the demands in the United States' current debate about immigrants? Demands for their removal resonate with earlier demands elsewhere and in the United States for the removal of unwanted minorities. In order to avoid superficial judgments, we need to think about what badges of otherness connote."Unclean"?"Illegal"?"Subordinate"?"Inferior"? Or, merely"Other"? As Nathanael Robinson suggested, we'd benefit from knowing whether facist regimes, other than Germany's, required ethnic minorities to wear distinguishing badges and, if so, what consequences that meant for them under those regimes; and we'd benefit from understanding the meanings of"dhimmi" and how that would differ from the status of an"illegal immigrant." In some circumstances, apparently, dhimmi implied protection. In others, discrimination. What's the difference?
At a very practical level, the answer is clearly no.
That is because a majority of Congress today would not define his actions that way. A majority of the house would not impeach him, and not even a simply majority of the senate would convict. Sincere agreement with Bush’s position, party loyalty, a lack of widespread public opposition, and the fear of limiting presidential action in time of war all lean against it. Only if evidence emerged suggesting widespread use of the program in self-serving ways would that change.
Thus the question of impeachment does not hinge on “is this action illegal or unconstitutional” (except for a few constitutional purists) so much as on an evaluation that begins with “is this action illegal or unconstitutional” but ends with “is this action self-serving and unpopular.” Only if all the answers are yes need the president fear impeachment.
In some ways I find that depressing, particularly when I’m in one of my purist moods. If one decides that the criminality of the act depends on its purpose and not its legality then the judgment of Bush, or any other president, is removed from the legal and constitutional realm and placed in the hand of politics. However, maybe it is better to think of impeachment, conviction, and removal of office that way. That is, outside of a few clear horrible crimes, impeachable offenses really should be defined by the intersection of law and politics and not by the former alone.
As an example, take James K. Polk. Please.
In 1846, James K. Polk used his constitutional power as commander in chief to provoke a war with Mexico. It was controversial, but faced with a request for a Declaration of War when hostilities had already begun, most congressmen and senators yielded.
In my survey class, I often make the point that Polk was the first president to understand that the ability of the president to put troops into the field gave him the de facto power to declare a full-scale war. However, the more I think of that, the more I think that my generalization—though not without merit--understates the importance of Polk’s understanding of politics and the temper of his time.
As an example of that, and as a way to consider the definition of an impeachable offense today, here is a counter-factual scenario:
James K. Polk badly misjudged Congress when he sent troops to the Rio Grande, and instead of backing the troops, a majority opposed the war. Furthermore, in this scenario, some were so upset that they propose impeaching Polk for having provoked hostilities. Polk’s supporters countered that he did nothing outside the powers of his office. Right or wrong, they said, he had committed no impeachable offense.
Polk’s opponents probably would have invoked the power of Congress in declaring war in arguing for his impeachment. They might also have brought up the horrors of war and suggested that the blood of the dead in the initial battles were on Polk’s hands. Maybe they would have won the argument and impeached Polk. Of course, the 2/3 senate majority for conviction is a much higher burden. We will allow the counterfactual to stand moot on the question of conviction.
So what’s the point? My point is not that might trumps right in impeachment politics. At least that’s not the point that I want to make today. The point is that when a president goes to the ragged edge of the constitution, he had better make sure that he’s got the public with him. If he goes to that ragged edge without such support, then maybe he ought to be impeached for having committed the crime of creating national chaos for reasons the public will not support.
Finally, even if a president is successful, the animus built up by going to that edge can come back to haunt the country. Consider what did happen during the Mexican American War. The animus built up by Polk’s actions motivated support for the Wilmot Proviso, provoked a hardening of the positions in the debate over slavery in the territories, and at least arguably, began the march toward a new war.
Caleb McDaniel,"The Colored Expatriates of the American Revolution," Mode for Caleb, 22 May, takes issue with Jill Lepore's"Goodbye, Columbus," New Yorker, 8 May, to consider how subsequent African Americans' regarded their kinsmen who abandoned the United States at the end of the Revolution.
If you're still up for the discussion, I recommend: Michael Massing,"The Storm over the Israel Lobby," NYRB, 8 June. Thanks to Eric Alterman at Altercation for the tip. Relatedly, Scott McLemee's"Euston ... We Have a Problem," Inside Higher Ed, 24 May, takes a jaundiced look at The Euston Manifesto.
Oso Raro,"The Invisible Adjunct: An Appreciation," Slaves of Academe, 17 May. I still think that much of the best of academic blogging is done by people largely inspired by IA's example. Few of us have her brilliant mix of thoughtful posts, gift for repartee, and readiness, when necessary, with the soft or stern rebuke. I miss her deeply and have, to no avail, made two efforts to draw her back into the public sphere. This is also a good opportunity to note the fact that two alums of IA's school, Naomi Chana and Russell Arben Fox, are leaving academic positions and Fox has closed his blog. It is academe's and the 'sphere's loss. Best wishes to them both.
Finally, I like the title of Rachel's new blog, I'm Too Sexy for My Master's Thesis. I dare say!
Email nominations for recently published posts about history (a historical topic, reviews of books or resources, reflections on teaching or researching history) to amy[AT]amystevensonline[DOT]com, or use the submission form provided by Blog Carnival.
In recent years, those of us concerned with the erosion of congressional power have been looking for an intellectual leader in the legislature. Robert Byrd is the figure most frequently cast in this role--but the West Virginia senator is in many ways a poor choice: during the Vietnam War, Nixon officials referred to him as a"king's man," and he repeatedly sponsored amendments to weaken Congress' role in international affairs.
There is no longer any reason to despair: a brave new voice has emerged from the halls of Congress to champion the protection of legislative prerogatives vis-a-vis the executive. He is New Orleans congressman William Jefferson. Sure, some might know Jefferson for his unflattering recent news--such as attempting to enter New Orleans right after Katrina to remove unspecified material from his district office, being caught on an FBI videotape accepting a $100,000 bribe (in marked bills, while joking with a partner about"all these damn notes we're writing to each other as if . . . the FBI is watching"), then seeing law enforcement officials finding $90,000 of this money in his freezer (helpfully stored in aluminum foil), and apparently becoming the first sitting member of Congress to have his House office raided.
But in his press conference yesterday, Jefferson also revealed himself to be a theorist of congressional power. The search of his office, he declared,"represents an outrageous intrusion into separation of powers between the executive branch and the congressional branch, and no one has seen this in all the time of the life of the Congress."
Indeed, the congressman continued,"there's no real authority for it." Not only have his lawyers"expressed outrage" at this blatant violation of the separation of powers,"all of those who consider themselves scholars in the matter have also done so." Jefferson didn't reveal how he ascertained the opinions of"all of those who consider themselves scholars"; perhaps he did so between trips to his freezer. We haven't seen such a stirring defense of congressional prerogatives since former Philadelphia congressman Ozzie Myers performed on videotape during the Abscam scandal. Scholars can expect, undoubtedly, to continue to hear Jefferson expand on his theory of congressional power. Perhaps the federal government will consider Jefferson's thinking to be of such importance that it provides him with a federally-funded guarded residence--for, say, the next 8-10 years.
In all seriousness, there is something of a constitutional issue here--Newt Gingrich, among others, has claimed that the raid violated the Speech or Debate Clause, which provides immunity to Members and staff from all actions “within the legislative sphere." According to Doe v. McMillan,"The Speech or Debate Clause was designed to assure a co-equal branch of the government wide freedom of speech, debate, and deliberation without intimidation or threats from the Executive Branch. It thus protects Members against prosecutions that directly impinge upon or threaten the legislative process.” That said, it's hard to see how Jefferson's conduct can be considered covered under this clause--if carried to its logical extension, this new"Jeffersonian" theory of congressional power would suggest that congressmen should be free to engage in corruption, provided they simply hid all of the incriminating documents in their House or Senate offices.
Politically, the Democrats have badly mishandled this case. Nancy Pelosi should have publicly demanded that Jefferson resign. As things stand now, the Louisiana congressman is the GOP's best friend in the House.
Although we'd both written about them, Chris and I had to reacquaint ourselves with the gory details of the events at Palmetto. Here's a rough chronology of what happened:
February 1899 – Several buildings (reports vary from one to three buildings to two blocks of buildings) burn in Palmetto.
15 March 1899 – Nine African American men are arrested for arson. They are bound with rope and, under armed guard, are placed in a warehouse near Palmetto's depot, awaiting rail transportation for trial the next morning.
16 March 1899 – Between midnight and 1:00 a.m., an armed and masked mob of about 100 white men break into the warehouse and fire at all the prisoners. Four of them are killed immediately; one of them has mortal wounds; and two others are injured. The mob disperses into the night. At 10:40 a.m., a special train brings a command of state militia to the scene. The white townsmen are armed and, apparently expect local African Americans, who had fled, to attack the town at dark. The families of all the men accused of arson are driven from the community. No charges are ever brought for the murders,"at the hands of persons unknown."
12 April 1899 – Samuel Wilkes (aka Sam Hose), an African American laborer on the farm of Alfred Cranford near Palmetto, approaches his employer about his pay. Cranford draws a gun and Wilkes kills him with an ax. Subsequent accounts claim that Wilkes also threw the Cranford's infant to the floor and raped Mrs. Cranford. Wilkes flees to the south.
13 April 1899 – The first newspaper accounts of the murder of Alfred Cranford report a widespread search for Wilkes and, matter-of-factly, that he will be lynched and his body riddled with bullets or burned.
22 April 1899 – Wilkes is caught near his mother's home between Macon and Griffin Georgia. The Governor orders him brought to Atlanta for trial, but he is taken to Newnan.
23 April 1899 -- On Sunday morning, a crowd of 2000 people take him about a mile and a half out on the road to Palmetto. Children in the crowd are sent ahead to gather up firewood. Wilkes is hung and burned. Sunday's banner newspaper headlines notified the public of the event and, after church, special trains from Griffin and Atlanta bring additional site-seers out to the Palmetto Road for the occasion. Witnesses gather charred remains from the fire.
23 April 1899 – Some witnesses claim that shortly before his death, Wilkes said that a Baptist preacher, Elijah Strickland, had paid him $20 to kill Alfred Cranford. That evening, Lige Strickland is seized by a mob, tortured, and hung from a Persimmon tree near Palmetto. His ears and a finger are cut from his body.
24 April 1899 – The trophies from Lige Strickland's body are on display in Palmetto and W. E. B. Du Bois, a member of the faculty at Atlanta University, sees the charred knuckles of Sam Wilkes hanging in the window of a butcher shop in Atlanta.
Newspaper accounts of the events gave us only the roughest approximate locations. As we drove into Palmetto, however, we spotted the old railroad depot that stands near the warehouse in which the men accused of arson were killed. The railroad paralleled the highway as we drove out of Palmetto and stopped at a place near where Lige Strickland would have been lynched. So far as as we could tell, the modest building of North Coweta Baptist Church stands just about there. We were tempted to knock on its door and ask the pastor if he knew that an earlier Baptist preacher had been lynched there. As we drove toward Newnan, however, the real estate became increasingly impressive. Sam Hose would have died on what is now very expensive property. The crowd that burned him, after all, was led by prominent businessmen in the community. There was no historic marker anywhere in sight. It isn't that these events are unknown. Du Bois wrote about the lynching and burning of Sam Hose in The Souls of Black Folk and Ida B. Wells wrote about the murders of the African American men at Palmetto in March 1899, the lynching and burning of Sam Hose outside Newnan, and the subsequent lynching of Lige Strickland near Palmetto. More recently, Fitzhugh Brundage and Philip Dray have written about these events. But, on the face of things along Highway 29, you'd never know anything happened there.
Chris and I drove into Newnan and had lunch at Sprayberry's, a haunt once favored by Newnan's Alan Jackson and Lewis Grizzard. The barbecue was just o.k., better than what we were served in Monroe, but almost anything would be. The brunswick stew was better. I'm beginning to think that barbecue isn't an appropriate repast when you are hunting down lynching sites. We stopped at the public library and confirmed that there were grizzly reports of the 1899 events on its microfilm copies of the local newspaper. So far as we could tell, however, all local memory of them was tucked safely away in their metal filing cabinets.
May 22 is my birthday, but of course I share it with plenty of famous folks (Lawrence Olivier, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and so forth). But one person with whom I am particularly proud to share it is the late San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in America. Had he not been assassinated in 1978, Harvey would be 76 today.
Next to Star Wars (which I saw countless times as a kid), the film I have seen more often than any other (at least thirty times) is The Times of Harvey Milk, which won the 1984 Academy Award for Best Documentary. I always show it in my gay and lesbian history class, and of course, I showed the first part of it this afternoon -- the first time I've managed to do so on Milk's birthday.
Only three students in the class had even heard of Harvey Milk before my lecture on him last week and the showing of the documentary today. Every movement has its martyrs, but while almost all students know the names Malcolm and Martin, far too few young queer students even know the name (much less the story) of this extraordinarily important figure. The Time magazine profile is here.
Movements need heroes, and kids need to know the names of their heroes. This is why I am so strongly supportive of SB 1437, currently in the California state assembly, to require the mention of gay and lesbian history in the public schools and in state textbooks. All of us need to know who Martin was, who Malcolm was, who Cesar Chavez was; all of us need to learn about Susan B. Anthony. But we also need to learn about Harvey. Gay and lesbian students need heroes, and the rest of us need to understand that Queer History is a vital part of the American story.
Names like Karl Ulrichs, Henry Gerber, Donald Webster Cory, Harry Hay, Phyllis Lyon, Barbara Gittings, Del Martin, Evelyn Hooker, Frank Kameny, Elaine Nobel are entirely ignored by our textbooks. How many readers know even three of these names? Even one of them? All are vital figures in gay and lesbian history, and their stories are virtually unknown.
I may have seen the Times of Harvey Milk thirty-plus times, but showing it today, I teared up again as I always do. For Harvey's sake, let's get this bill through.
The article describes a rogues’ gallery headed by Mike Nifong, condemned for “gross prosecutorial misconduct” in Taylor’s earlier examination of events in Durham. But Taylor does much more than simply discuss the case: he now turns his attention to the behavior of Duke and the national media as well. He correctly characterizes the document produced by William Bowen and Julius Chambers as an attempt to “slime the lacrosse players in a report . . . that is a parody of race-obsessed political correctness.” The Group of 88 earns a spot in Taylor’s rogues’ gallery for “exuding the anti-white racism and disdain for student-athletes that pollutes many college faculties,” all while “treating the truth of the rape charge almost as a given.” And he faults the national media for having “published grossly one-sided accounts of the case while stereotyping the lacrosse players as spoiled, brutish louts and glossing over the accuser's huge credibility problems.”
Taylor concludes that “the available evidence leaves me about 85 percent confident that the three members who have been indicted on rape charges are innocent and that the accusation is a lie.” And his piece went to press before three revelations in the last four days: that despite North Carolina law forbidding prosecutors from intentionally avoiding “pursuit of evidence merely because he or she believes it will damage the prosecutor's case or aid the accused,” Nifong had inexplicably failed to check the incident-night records of the accuser’s cellphone, which the authorities have possessed for eight weeks; that when Nifong publicly rationalized the lack of DNA evidence by suggesting that the attackers wore condoms, he apparently contradicted the accuser’s own initial version of events; and that, despite suggesting to Newsweek that the players might have given the accuser a date rape drug, he declined to turn over a toxicology report to the defense. None of these items should increase public confidence in a prosecutor for whom “rogue” might turn out to be an overly charitable description.
Taylor also spoke to Kerstin Kimel, a former National Defensive Player of the Year in college women’s lacrosse and the current coach of the Duke women's lacrosse team (which on Saturday earned a spot in this year’s Final Four). The men’s players, she noted, “made a very bad decision in hosting the party and hiring strippers. But I will tell you they are great kids. There is a strong camaraderie between our teams, and my players—being smart, savvy young women—would not associate with them if they felt on the whole, there was an issue of character." Kimel added that the actions of professors like the Group of 88, and the silence of their faculty colleagues, attracted her players’ notice."Being at an elite university," she observed,"where every side of every issue is debated, my kids were shocked, disillusioned, and disappointed that their professors and the university community were so one-sided in their condemnation of the lacrosse players."
Seventy days after the incident, Kerstin Kimel is, to my knowledge, the one and only full-time Duke administrator, professor, or coach who, in his or her own, voice has publicly said anything positive about any member of the men’s lacrosse team’s academic performance, athletic skill, or personal characteristics.
Academics, even academic institutions, are supposed to be open to reviewing new facts and adjusting their behavior and beliefs accordingly. Academic administrators, of course, desire above all else to avoid controversy. So confronting a prosecutor whose initial public relations burst suggested overwhelming, unimpeachable evidence of a crime surrounding an incident that unquestionably involved difficult-to-defend, though perhaps all too common, behavior (drinking, strippers), it’s easy to rationalize the early actions of Duke president Richard Brodhead (suspending the team’s games and then season, even scapegoating Coach Mike Pressler). Less explicable was Brodhead’s mid-April refusal to protest Nifong’s sending police to campus to question his own institution’s students outside the presence of their counsel. And the current party line at Duke, perhaps best reflected in the Bowen/Chambers report, is tough to defend, with facts frozen in place circa March 28, when the district attorney’s version of events seemed possibly credible and many viewed Nifong as courageous rather than a rogue.
Another manifestation, sadly, of this current Duke line is a recently published article, “A Spring of Sorrows,” in Duke Magazine. The magazine is an official publication of the university; its publisher reports to the senior vice president for alumni affairs, who in turn reports to Duke president Richard Brodhead. So it’s safe to say that messages of which Brodhead strongly disapproves do not appear in Duke Magazine.
The article contained quotes from four Duke professors, appropriately beginning with the head of the faculty senate. Then article readers heard from Anthropology professor Orin Starn, who claimed that Duke athletes receive “education lite”; previously, Starn had singled out the lacrosse team for particular condemnation: “Unlike at least some of the men's lacrosse players, most Duke athletes are smart, delightful and hard-working.” Making Starn appear moderate by comparison are the only other professors quoted in the article: Peter Wood and Houston Baker, the faculty’s two most outspoken critics of the men’s lacrosse team. Their comments are predictable, and, as more and more facts and procedural violations about the case have come to light, increasingly unsustainable.
Despite the monolithic negative faculty attitudes portrayed in the article, the Coleman Committee managed to interview 10 professors who had taught sizeable numbers of lacrosse players. Nine had wholly positive or neutral comments about team members. (The committee's report cast strong doubts upon the credibility of the tenth professor, Wood, a fact unmentioned in the article.) The report also detailed the very strong academic performance by the team members—among the best of any Duke team—calling into question, to put it mildly, the impressions of Professor Starn. The voices of Starn, Wood, and Baker are critical aspects of the campus culture. Yet while the article mentions Peter Lange’s rebuke of Baker's public letter urging due process be set aside for the lacrosse players’ enrollment at Duke, it contains no discussion of how subsequent revelations in the Coleman Committee report badly weakened the statements of Wood and Starn. Professors making public statements in a high-profile case that later turn out to be intellectually dubious strikes me as a significant item in any examination of campus culture.
To give a sense of how the Duke Magazine article handled evidence contradicting the administration’s current party line, it’s illuminating to compare the Coleman Committee’s analysis of the team’s academic performance with the article’s description of the report. The report noted the following:
The Committee surveyed ten members of the Duke faculty in whose courses a significant number of lacrosse players have enrolled. With one exception, those members of the faculty who have been able to identify lacrosse players in their classes report that the students have been engaged and “certainly have caused no problems.” The professors report that the students appear to take their academic obligations seriously. Two of the professors told the Committee that when the players had to miss class, they appropriately notified the professor and completed any make-up work. One instructor thought the lacrosse players were willing to defend unpopular positions in class, but had not been disruptive in any way. The students were generally described as polite. Two professors noted that the players tended to “move as a group.” One of these professors separated them in class, “simply because a ‘team’ in a classroom is a particular energy; but this is not different from other team members taking classes together.” One professor mentioned that he did not remember “any race or gender related problem caused by this group in my class.” Several of the professors we contacted were not aware that they had lacrosse players in their classes. There have been no charges of academic misconduct against any member of the team . . . Lacrosse players also have performed well academically. In 2005, twenty seven members of the lacrosse team, more than half, made the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Academic Honor Roll, more than any other ACC lacrosse team. Between 2001 and 2005, 146 members of the lacrosse team made the Academic Honor Roll, twice as many as the next ACC lacrosse team. The lacrosse team’s academic performance generally is one of the best among all Duke athletic teams. (The ellipsis section called into question the credibility of Professor Wood’s highly negative attitude toward the team.)
Here is how the Duke Magazine article characterizes the above material:
Such [negative] concerns [articulated by Professor Wood] notwithstanding, the faculty committee set up to review the lacrosse program painted a more nuanced picture. The comittee [sic] surveyed faculty members whose courses included significant numbers of lacrosse players. Broadly speaking, those faculty members who were able to identify lacrosse playes [sic] found that they took their academic obligations seriously—even as they tended to stick together in class.
One positive item tempered by one vague comment presented in a negative (“even as”) fashion, lacking the context of the professor’s qualification that the lacrosse team sticking together was no “different from other team members taking classes together.” No mention of the team’s impressive academic performance, as compared to other Duke teams or other lacrosse teams in the ACC. No mention that professors reported no race- or gender-related problems from team members in class. No observation on how, given some surveyed professors didn’t even realize they had large numbers of lacrosse players in their classes, it stands to reason these faculty members simply viewed the players as typical Duke students.
Perhaps two percent of all Duke graduates will read the Coleman Committee report. Duke Magazine’s characterization of that report, on the other hand, has been sent to all alumni.
Even more disturbing was the article’s examination of student attitudes regarding post-March 13 campus culture. The piece contained quotes on the case from only one student—Nick Shungu, an African-American senior. Shungu, who comes across as passionate and very intelligent, remarked that his friends considered themselves"extremely vulnerable" at Duke (not because they lived in a jurisdiction whose chief prosecutor doesn’t adhere to basic state procedures, but because the accuser’s allegations confirmed the pervasive racism at Duke.) He added his hope for the university to issue"an acknowledgement of sympathy for the alleged victim." The article also included a lengthy discussion, filtered through the head of the Duke Women’s Center, about sexual misconduct by male Duke students and the dislike of some Duke women for the campus party scene. No comments from Kimel here, nor any mention of the Coleman Committee’s conclusions regarding the lacrosse team’s positive treatment of women students and staffers on campus. Nor was there any mention of articles and editorials in the campus newspaper and other publications that as the spring term progressed, a groundswell of student support developed for the lacrosse players--or that, according to the student newspaper, views such as Shungu's fell way outside the mainstream of student opinion.
I emailed the author of the article, Robert Bliwise, to express my concerns about the piece’s imbalance, and he was gracious enough both to send me a thoughtful reply and to consent to my request that I reproduce the section below. He said that, “The main intent here was to discuss the issues of campus culture brought to the surface by the initial Buchanan Blvd. incident and its aftermath, not to gauge the particulars of the (confusing and ever-unfolding) legal case. So the notion of introducing the voices of those who ‘sympathized with the team members' plight’--or, for that matter, the voices of those whose focus might have been seeking more severe university action against the team members--seems irrelevant in this context. The point of the story was not to gauge support or lack of it, but to explain, clarify, and contextualize what had been reported.”
If Baker, Starn, Wood, and Shungu did not constitute “the voices of those whose focus might have been seeking more severe university action against the team members,” then who did? (I’m unaware of any member of the Duke community whose public criticism of the men’s lacrosse team has been more intense.) Apart from the unusual portrayal of the Coleman Committee report, the article finds no defenders of the lacrosse team, and goes off campus to find a defender of the athletic program, Duke graduate Jay Bilas of ESPN. Kerstin Kimel obviously represented an on-campus point of view that differed from those in the article; so too did editors of the campus newspaper.
Moreover, a critical—I believe the critical—issue of campus culture exposed in the “aftermath” of the lacrosse incident is wholly unmentioned in the article: that, to my knowledge, 70 days after the incident, not even one Duke administrator or faculty member has publicly questioned the procedural irregularities that have marred Nifong’s handling of the case—despite the traditional celebration in the academy of respect for proper procedures, fair play, and the impartial evaluation of evidence.
The closest parallel to this emerging Duke party line is the performance of former White House press secretary Scott McClellan during the Fitzgerald-Plame investigation. For two years, McClellan functioned as a kind of human punching bag in press briefings, saying that he couldn’t comment on “ongoing legal matters.” Everyone understood, though, that he really meant he wouldn’t entertain questions about possible misconduct by administration officials. He had no problem with saying positive things about Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, or Dick Cheney. At Duke, there seems to be a claim that professors, administrators, or the alumni association don’t consider responses to “ongoing legal matters” appropriate in their ongoing examination of campus culture. Quite apart from the fact that any student of the McCarthy or civil rights eras could discuss how professors or colleges have long, and appropriately, offered contemporaneous critiques of procedural abuses in “ongoing legal matters,” it’s clear this prohibition really applies only to positive remarks about members of the men’s lacrosse team. Critical commentary, of any type, even if contradicted by evidence in the Coleman Committee report, is perfectly acceptable, and even reproduced in such items as the Bowen/Chambers report or the alumni magazine.
There’s one big difference, though, between McClellan and Duke. McClellan’s job was to defend the actions of the President and his advisors as effectively as possible. The last I looked, neither the Duke administration nor its faculty had any obligation to do Nifong’s dirty work for him. Indeed, the district attorney has proven more than capable of handling that task himself.
Over the past two months, one of two equally horrific events has occurred in Durham. The first is that three Duke students brutally raped a defenseless woman; and, in the aftermath, more than 40 other Duke students have participated in a (stunningly effective) conspiracy to prevent facts about the crime from coming to light. The second is that a prosecutor, for personal or political reasons, has perpetrated a massive miscarriage of justice, acting as if the state bar’s ethical and procedural regulations don’t apply to him; and that Duke administrators and faculty members abetted his crusade, perhaps unwittingly, by declining to use their influence to demand procedural fair play for the school’s own students—and, in some cases, by taking actions that, as Kerstin Kimel and Stuart Taylor pointed out, suggested they believed the worst of the lacrosse players.
If Taylor, hardly a figure known for rash or intemperate judgments, proves correct in his estimate of the embarrassingly weak basis of Nifong’s case, Kimel won’t be surprised. Nor will the Duke undergraduates who came out in support of the accused players. Most others at Duke, however, will have to take a hard look at their conduct during “a spring of sorrows.”
Let's celebrate with some links.
Sherlock Holmes Online: the Doyle estate's official website.
Arthur Conan Doyle Society: organization devoted to Doyle (and, apparently, at odds with the folks above).
Discovering Arthur Conan Doyle: Stanford University's "community reading project."
Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection: support for the Toronto Reference Library's special holdings in books, MSS, and other items relating to Doyle and Holmes.
Conan Doyle Manuscripts: what they are and where they're to be found.
New York Times obituary: reprint of the 1930 obit.
Sherlockian.net: probably the ultimate guide to all things Holmesian.
221B Baker Street: e-texts, illustrations, etc.
The Diogenes Club: links and many e-texts, including J. M. Barrie's "The Adventure of the Two Collaborators."
Doyle Hyper-Concordance: search the Holmes stories.
Universal Sherlock Holmes: massive bibliography.
The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard: e-text of one of Doyle's historical novels.
The Adventures of Gerard: the same character.
The White Company: probably Doyle's most famous historical novel.
Charles Doyle: devoted to the work of Doyle's father, a painter and illustrator.
Gaslight: small collection of parodies, including one by Bret Harte.
Sherlock Holmes Pastiches: "a listing of historical, fictional and canonical characters appearing, or mentioned in published Sherlock Holmes pastiches, parodies and other Sherlockian writings."
Sherlockian Pastiches & Parodies: includes Doyle's own "How Watson Learned the Trick."