Duke and the Death of Academe

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A few years ago — when the Bush Administration still had some popularity — someone from the White House chided a journalist for being from the "reality-based world." As one can imagine, a number of people, and especially left-wing academics such as Paul Krugman of Princeton University, jumped on that statement and still like to stomp on it. After all, reason those in the professoriate, is there not a more reality-based community than that which is found in higher education?

In the wake of the Duke rape hoax, the answer to that rhetorical question is a resounding "no!" Indeed, as the facts of the case continue to demonstrate the fraudulent nature of the prosecution, much of the Duke University faculty and allied groups continue to dig in harder in order to save Michael Nifong’s case against the three former Duke Lacrosse players. In fact, one of the main reasons that this dishonest and abusive prosecution continues is because the Duke faculty and administration have demanded it continue, if only to permit them to continue living in the fantasy world they have created — and wish to impose upon that "reality-based" world that comprises the rest of us.

Before I deal with the dishonesty of much of Duke’s faculty, let me first point out that the desire to create a fantasy world hardly is the purvey of the faculty of that elite university. Most college and university faculties are overwhelmingly leftist and perhaps they are the last set of True Believers in the efficacy of the Grand Socialist Experiment.

I saw that situation up close last January when I attended university-wide training sessions in setting up an on-line course. The session was dominated by faculty members from the college of arts and sciences, and their conversations reminded me of something from Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution. They were obsessed with Wal-Mart (or the alleged sins of Wal-Mart), but ultimately the conversations moved to the evils of capitalism. And this was the normal conversation.

It was a microcosm of the modern academy, what with its anti-capitalist mentality and the obsession with all of the various "isms" that have plagued the world since the Bolsheviks set up their "workers’ paradise" in 1917. Nor has the failure of the "isms" deterred fantasy-based faculty members from demanding that a new paradise be created — by force, as necessary.

Duke University is not the only place where such a rape hoax might have occurred, but the peculiar make up of Duke (as well as other elite universities) has made this storm much more likely. Most important, Duke, like its elite cousins, can afford to pay high salaries to professors in the liberal arts and humanities, which often is not the case elsewhere. For example, Duke’s storied English department was paying close to six-figure salaries more than 20 years ago, with pay in many instances for Duke faculty in English and other liberal arts departments being twice what liberal arts professors might be earning in typical first and second-tier state universities.

Duke’s English Department for many years was home to Stanley Fish, who was well-known for promoting himself as an apostle of Postmodernism, becoming an academic icon in the process. Like most liberal arts departments, the faculty members were overwhelmingly leftist, and their works took on the depressingly familiar tone that dominates academe today. Likewise, the other disciplines in liberal arts moved pretty much in the same direction.

On the other hand, while the arts and sciences faculty members were able to dominate the campus conversation (just as it was at Harvard, where the arts and sciences faculty drove Lawrence Summers from the president’s office), they could not dominate the majority of students at Duke, and the social status of the lacrosse players irked those faculty members in particular.

Here were young men who were socially popular, were overwhelmingly white and prep-school educated, were respectful to their professors, made high grades, majored in things like finance, and took well-paying jobs after graduation. In other words, they were the epitome of the bourgeoisie that the arts and sciences faculty have hated with all the passion their Marxist training could muster.

Thus, when a black stripper claimed that members of the lacrosse team gang-raped her, faculty members seized the moment. The truth of the charges themselves was irrelevant; these young men represented everything these faculty members despised, and they were not going to permit something as bourgeois as truth stand in the way of their attempt to remake Duke University in their own image — and perhaps be able to help railroad innocent young men into prison, which they would have seen, ironically, as a triumph of justice.

After the initial charges and countercharges, 88 members of the faculty (mostly from arts and sciences) signed a newspaper advertisement in which they praised the students for rushing to judgment about the alleged "guilt" of the "rapists." It also praised the students for posting "wanted" posters about campus of most of the lacrosse players in which they clearly were accused of rape. Evidence? Who needs evidence when Marxist ideology already lays out the entire episode?

I have written about what I call Duke’s "Reichstag Fire" in previous articles, which included information about some of the antics of the Duke faculty. However, if one wishes to gain a sense of just how pathetic the "scholarship" of some faculty members has been in the wake of the rape accusations, perhaps the poster child is a "journal" piece written by Karla F.C. Holloway, the William R. Kenan Professor of English at Duke. She begins:

When things go wrong, when sports teams beget bawdy behavior and debasement of other human beings, the bodies left on the line often have little in common with those enclosed in the protective veneer of the world of college athletics. At Duke University this past spring, the bodies left to the trauma of a campus brought to its knees by members of Duke University’s Lacrosse team were African American and women. I use the kneeling metaphor with deliberate intent. It was precisely this demeanor towards women and girls that mattered here. The Lacrosse team’s notion of who was in service of whom and the presumption of privilege that their elite sports’ performance had earned seemed their entitlement as well to behaving badly and without concern for consequence.

Justice inevitably has an attendant social construction. And this parallelism means that despite what may be our desire, the seriousness of the matter cannot be finally or fully adjudicated in the courts. The appropriate presumption of innocence that follows the players, however the legal case is determined, is neither the critical social indicator of the event, nor the final measure of its cultural facts. Judgments about the issues of race and gender that the lacrosse team’s sleazy conduct exposed cannot be left to the courtroom. Just as aspects of their conduct that extend into the social realms of character and integrity should not be the parameters of adjudicatory processes, the consequence of that conduct will not be fully resolved within a legal process. Those injured by this affair, including the student and the other young woman who were invited to dance under false pretenses and then racially (at least) abused, as well as Duke’s campus and Durham’s communities, are bodies left on the line – vulnerable to a social review that has been mixed with insensitive ridicule as well as reasoned empathy. Despite the damaging logic that associates the credibility of a socio-cultural context to the outcome of the legal process, we will find that even as the accusations that might be legally processed are confined to a courtroom, the cultural and social issues excavated in this upheaval linger.

Not only do the facts of the case differ from what can only be described as prose masquerading as academic gobbledy-gook, but Holloway then goes on to divorce the case entirely from reality:

In nearly every social context that emerged following the team’s crude conduct, innocence and guilt have been assessed through a metric of race and gender. White innocence means black guilt. Men’s innocence means women’s guilt. These capacious categories, which were in absolute play the night of the team’s drunken debacle, continue their hold on the campus and the Durham community.

In such a worldview, the three accused young men are rapists, and must be convicted of rape, no matter what the facts might be, since an acquittal would be proof of racism. Thus, "white innocence means black guilt" and so on. This is collectivist "justice" at work, and it is clear — absolutely clear — that terms like "justice" among the educated elites of this country have become nonsensical. That Holloway’s nonsense appeared in a journal sponsored by the elite Columbia University, an Ivy League institution, while giving Holloway’s babblings some alleged academic prestige, demonstrate just how pathetic "elite" higher education has become in this Postmodern age.

As I wrote earlier on this case, the Duke affair presents the Purely Political State of Being that the elite academies wish to impose on everyone else. It is not unlike the world of Lenin and Stalin, where only politics mattered, as truth was something to be molded in order to create the Socialist Paradise. Anything that might serve as a barrier to this brave new world, or anyone who might represent such a barrier, must be destroyed.

While one might still have a picture of the learned English professor teaching students the brilliance of Shakespeare or the "fearful symmetry" of a William Blake poem, the sad fact is that in modern "liberal" academe, the Karla Holloways are the people who dominate the scene. Furthermore, they will continue to dominate, which says that some, if not most, of the “education” gained at “elite” institutions is not so much education in its historical sense, but rather is crude propaganda that differs little from the outright lies written by apparatchiks for Pravda.

While somewhere in my mind I still have an affinity for what used to be the standard for arts and sciences, I have come to realize that such a world no longer exists anywhere in higher education. The Duke case has not killed elite arts and sciences; it simply exposes the fraud of higher education that has existed for a long time, and will continue to be the norm for decades to come.

Universities to some extent have prided themselves on being "other-worldly," in that they have seen themselves as places of refuge from the real world. Unfortunately, instead of being refuges from the bad aspects of life, they have become a nightmare of political correctness, in which professors have come to view their campuses as huge re-education camps.

However, a large number of students, such as the Duke Lacrosse players, do not see themselves as attending college in order to be transformed into True Believers of PC-land. Instead, they have personal goals that are incompatible with what the Karla Holloways of Duke and elsewhere believe that they should have.

Thus, three young men are falsely accused of rape, and the left-wing politics of Duke University is one of the most important reasons this sorry state of affairs has taken place. However, keep in mind that Holloway and many other professors at Duke do not see Reade Seligmann, Colin Finnerty, and David Evans as real people. No, they are nothing more than eggs that must be broken in order to make that Great PC Omelet that is at the end of the rainbow that leftists call social justice.

October 14, 2006

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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