Friday, November 17, 2006

Duke faculty duties

Readers’ note: If you’re not familiar with what people refer to as “the Duke faculty’s Group of 88’s ‘listening’ statement,” please read this post.


Karla FC Holloway
William R. Kenan Professor of English
Duke University

Dear Professor Holloway:

Since April 6 when you, other faculty, and various academic departments and programs sponsored a full page Chronicle ad called “the ‘listening’ statement,” I’ve read a number of your statements in media and your recent article, "The Cultural Value of Sport: Title IX and Beyond."

They’ve helped me understand what you see as your rights, your victimization, and the shortcomings of other people and Duke University.

But your statements and article say almost nothing about your duties as a Duke faculty member. Nor do they say anything about what you, as a faculty representative on President Brodhead’s Campus Cultural Initiative committee, see as your faculty colleagues’ duties.

I use duties in the common dictionary sense of things one is expected or required to do by moral or legal obligation.

Concerning faculty duties, the ad says its faculty sponsors are “listening [to] the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism.” That’s followed by students’ statements, mostly anonymous, including this one:

“Being a big, black man, it’s hard to walk anywhere at night, and not have a campus police car slowly drive by me.”
It’s true that at night campus police cars drive slowly by big, black men. We’ve both seen them do it.

But we also know that at night Duke police cars drive slowly by small white women, elderly Asian couples, Hispanics and grandparents of every ethnicity holding their grandchildren’s hands.

Duke police are watching out for all of us regardless of our size, race, or gender. To do that, they need to see us and any threats that might be behind or about us. So they “slowly drive by” us.

Responsible adults would explain all of that to the “big, black man.” Who would leave him seeing a racial aspect in a police practice that has none? The student’s misperception doesn’t help him or the police who seek to protect him. In fact, it makes serious misunderstandings between them more likely.

Didn’t you, as a faculty member, have a duty to tell the student why the campus police drive slowly by him at night? Didn’t your “listening” statement colleagues have that same duty?

I hope you agree it was a failure of duty to advertise the student’s misperception in The Chronicle under any circumstances, but especially so at a tense time when some on campus were circulating “vigilante” posters targeting Duke students and others were encouraging them.

Reade Seligmann was one of the students targeted by the “vigilante” posters.

On May 18 Seligmann was again targeted when racists twice shouted threats at him. The first threats occurred as he walked to Durham’s County Courthouse and included shouts of “Justice will be done, Rapist.” Then, within the courtroom and before the judge entered, there were more threats including: “There’s a dead man walking.”

The faculty, as far as I know, was silent at the time and has been so since. But surely you agree the faculty has a duty to speak out when something like the events of May 18 happen?

If the faculty remains silent about those events, what kind of campus culture can it provide students?

I’ve heard some of your colleagues say they believe President Brodhead had a duty to speak out at the time and should do so now.

I agree but that doesn’t lessen in any way the duty the faculty has to speak out as well, does it?

I hold two degrees from the University and blog at I’ve included this letter in a post. Here’s the link:

I look forward to your response. I will post in full a response of up to about 1500 words.

Thank you for your attention to this letter.


John in Carolina


kbp said...

Thanks John

Keep writing until it sinks in.

Anonymous said...

John, I'm sure I speak for many Duke alumni who have been reading your thoughtful posts for these many months when I say thank you for all your wonderful work. I wish you would get an intellectually honest response from Prof. Holloway, but I won't hold my breath waiting for it.--'67 Alum

Anonymous said...

Great letter. I love how you limit this verbose abuser of the English language to 1500 words. She sure can go on.

Anonymous said...

Excellent work, John. But you're wasting your time. Duke and Brodhead apparently aren't embarrassed by these intellectually embarrassing professors.

JJH said...

The verbosity, incoherence, and mental sloppiness of Holloway and other DU profs trying to defend an event that didn't happen, under the guise that it might have happened (see Rev Sharpton, re: Tawana Brawley) confirms my conclusion that outside of Trinity DU is still a great univerity. Within Trinity, it is nothing.
JJH DU 74 School of the Environment

Anonymous said...

John, I fear she may get only one sentence of nonsense in at 1,500 words, which may likely be suggesting that nothing ever said by anyone would have anything to do with the statement about to be made, except perhaps one's own emotional state, or flight of fancy, which is, of course, the center of the moral, scratch the moral, merely, universe. How do you like it so far? sic semper tyrannis

Anonymous said...

Dean Holloway’s article (or reprise of similar remarks made in other contexts) clearly evokes consternation and ridicule for an academic, in an era in which Strunk and White is cheaply available to all, who still believes that inflated rhetoric enhances the validity of an argument. Many readers seem to conclude that there is no “There there.” But there is at least documentary value in her paper, which demonstrates among other things how easily the essential crux of the LaxHoax, equal justice for all, can be displaced by the solipsistic notion that women and blacks--and college administrators who happen to be both--are the most oppressed members of our society. (I need hardly mention the present increasing rate of vilification, violence towards, and even murder of homosexual citizens that is hardly unrelated to the mounting rhetoric of opportunistic politicians and clergy.) Perhaps this confessional tone is what readers of the journal in which it appears want and expect.
But beyond questions of style and self-pity, the problem of self analysis remains, especially at a time when, at least in Durham, some African Americans appear to be reverting to habits of thought more characteristic of southern whites of the previous mid-century, as several contributors have pointed out. Perhaps Dean Holloway might reconsider the work of James Baldwin, one of the most precise stylists of American English, and ask herself if this passage from “The Fire Next Time” might not, mutatis mutandis, have something to say to the present discussion:

“Something very sinister happens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become. It is this individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew oneself at the foundation of their own lives, that makes the discussion, let alone the elucidation, of any conundrum--that is, any reality--so supremely difficult. The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality--this touchstone can only be oneself. Such a person interposes between himself and reality nothing less than a labyrinth of attitudes. And these attitudes, furthermore, though the person is usually unaware of it (is unaware of so much!), are historical and public attitudes. They do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person. Therefore, whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.”

Joe T. said...

The profiles of these academics make me feel relieved I was never smart enough to go to college.

wayne fontes said...

Your attack on Prof Holiday in today's post is yet another example of Duke lax appologists attempting to attack the messengers of cultural truth.
Did you not even read the artical whose link you provided? This woman is laboring on a comitee (mentioned 5 separate times). How can you expect her to find the time to compose a reasoned concise 1,500 word response?

You might as well ask her to vote republican.

JWM said...

To kbp,

Thank you. I always appreciate hearing from you. Also, the "work" you do on the net "speading the word."

Anon@5:15pm and '67 Alum,

Thank you for the nice words. You're right about not holding our breaths but there are other "gains" in writing her.

See a seperate post.

Anon@5:44 pm,

Thank you for the nice words. I smiled at "limit this verbose etc."

I may not hear from her but there's always the chance she'll do just what you have in mind.

You read me right on the 1500 limit.

Anon @3:31 pm,

Thanks for the nice words. It doesn't seem at times there's no point to it and the Univerisity has clearly set the faculty bar too low.

But I'm a "light a candle guy." I hope you stay with the fight and raise you voice as appropriate.

One part of this fight is about justice for a group of young people and their families. But another part of it is Duke can't be dominated by a group like the 88.


I hope you're right that the problems are limited to Trinity but I wonder if they haven't spread to other places (parts of G and Law, for eg)

Thank you for commenting.

Anon @ 11:11 pm,

Loved you comment especially the part about the 1500 word sentence.

Shhh. If she hears about what you said, she may take it as a challenge.

I see your sic semper ... comments on other threads and always appreciate them.

Anon@2:53 am,

What a thoughtful, informed, literate comment. I hope you consider sending it on to Holloway with a cover note.



Glad to get you comment. You seem to be becoming a "regular." I'm glad for that too.

Dear Wayne,

We won't agree but you made a comment within the bounds of debate.

I hope you keep visiting.

Thank you to you all.


Anonymous said...

She thanked 2 people for editing that garbage. Can you imagine what the original looked like?

wayne fontes said...


Please reread my original post. I thought my sarcasm was apparent. Not to worry this case leaves room for much broader sarcasm.