Seizing the mantle

By Lex, Posted on January 23, 2007


The Duke provost has finally broken his silence to speak on behalf of the victims in the university’s LAX scandal. Interestingly though, the victim he is supporting through his open letter is not the young woman who alleged that that a horrible crime had been committed upon her person. Nor are his victims the lacrosse players, who, it seems increasingly clear with the ever-changing accusations, the DA’s recusal, the crime lab’s impeachment and the disgrace of the constabulary, were not just falsely accused, but criminally misused by the North Carolina justice system. These are the principal actors in the drama, but surprisingly they are not even mentioned in his victimization missive.


His victim class is the now infamous “Group of 88,” a self-selected body of university professors who responded to the moment’s heat not by shedding light but rather by throwing logs on the fire, saying some deeply stupid things along the way, for which they have been roundly – and rightly – criticized. Per Provost Lange:

(S)ome of our faculty, primarily African-American but not only so, have been under repeated attacks in personal emails and in blogs. The primary precipitant – in the sense that the content offended those writing the blogs or sending the emails – was the advertisement signed by 88 of Duke’s faculty and printed in the Duke Chronicle. Subsequently, the connection to the advertisement often has become attenuated and the ad has become rhetorically transformed into and manipulated as a symbol of all that was thought to be extreme and bad about Duke faculty, and, in some cases, universities more generally. At the same time, the emails and blogs attacking what people wrote or said have sometimes been replaced by personal attacks, some of them directed at the faculty member’s scholarship or intellectual credentials, some viciously personal, still others openly threatening or racist.

Which is exactly the problem when people – bloggers, emailers or university professors – absent the field of rational discourse and give rein to their baser instincts by issuing ad hominem attacks. There was an embarrassment of riches to exploit in the muddle-headed, politically correct boneheadedness incorporate in the Group of 88’s “Listening Letter,” and their equally inane non-apology follow-up. There was ample space, by extension, to pry into the quality of their academic thought and antecedents.

But somewhere along the way someone, or some many – fools will always be with us – crossed the line and personalized their attacks on the professoriate along racial lines. They sought to promote the ludicrous idea – pace Lashawn Barber – that such soft thinking as was represented by the Group of 88 was somehow racially inherent. Which is as sand-poundingly stupid – and greatly more self-defeating – than anything foisted on academia by a perpetually aggrieved class of victimization pimps.

This permits the Provost to flash the race card and change the subject: Now the university – which could have done with more rather than less speech on the underlying issues surrounding race, violence, sexism, the presumption of innocence, due process and the rule of law – can escape the necessary introspection and consequential self-criticism.

Neat trick.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex, Politics and Culture

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