Phi Beta Cons

Duke Profs

Now that the charges against the Duke players have all been dropped, it is worthwhile to look back at the responses and counter-responses of the Duke professors. Here is an op-ed from the Charolotte paper from January 07, written by Cathy Davidson, English professor. It is a revealingly symptomatic document, showing how far the insulated, self-regarding mind-set grips the professorate. A few paragraphs:

Last April I added my name to an ad published in the Duke Chronicle. The ad said 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. Many black students at Duke disappeared into humiliation and rage as the lacrosse players were being elevated to the status of martyrs, innocent victims of reverse racism.

Note how noble the motives were, how sensitive the faculty were to the “anguish,” how they endured mighty “insults.” And why? 

The ad we signed explicitly was not addressed to the police investigation or the rape allegations. The ad focused on racial and gender attitudes all too evident in the weeks after March 13. It decried prejudice and inequality in the society at large. “It isn’t just Duke, it isn’t everybody, and it isn’t just individuals making this disaster,” the ad insisted.

Nice to know that elite professors at an elite institution can remind everybody else of “inequality in the society at large.” And nice to know, too, that Davidson and colleagues had supporters even among the families of Duke students.

I was touched, recently, when one mother concluded our thoughtful exchange by noting that she still didn’t like the ad, but hoped that her daughter would have the opportunity to take a class with me someday.

But the private testimonials don’t change the fact that Davidson and her colleagues miscontrue the entire affair. Here is her explanation of why the Duke story became so big:

The lacrosse incident became one of the top news stories of 2006 because Americans saw the case as symbolic of many of their deepest social concerns. Race, gender, sexuality, class, athletics, the South, poverty, privilege, the younger generation: those are some features of the brew that captured the world’s attention and fed its moral voyeurism.

Professors like to find “symbolic” meaning in things, but in this case their search for symbolism overcame the patent facts, namely, that the Duke case lived on and on long past the triggering event not because of the “social concerns” of Americans–including “the South”?–but because of the simmering race-based resentment, White guilt, empathic posturing, impatient judgment, and outright rage of pampered, biased, conceited professors.
Don’t expect the lacrosse case to do anything to puncture the grandiose self-image of the professors. They talk only to each other, they act and think in a closed society, and they have little outside accountability. If anything, the public response to the professors will likely only harden their own feelings, and we can include martyrdom in the mix.

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