CORRECTION: I say in the post that Professor Piot is a signatory to the Group of 88's statement. He is not.
I apologize for my error.
On November 18, 1973, as the Watergate cover-up was unraveling, The Washington Post reported President Nixon had said:
"People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook."On Feb. 12, 2007, in what was advertised on the Internet as a panel presentation on Duke’s West Campus to which the public was invited , African and African American and Cultural Anthropology professor Charlie Piot, a signatory of the now discredited Duke faculty Group of 88’s “listening statement,” attacked historian, Brooklyn College professor and blogger Robert KC Johnson, one the statement’s leading critics.
Piot ended his attack with: “KC – Shut up and go back to teaching!”
Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” claim didn’t do him any good. If fact, it hurt him. It got a lot of people saying to themselves: “Now that I think about it, maybe he is a crook.”
What about Piot’s “KC – Shut up and go back to teaching?” Did it do Piot any good? What are people at Duke, especially Piot’s faculty colleagues, likely to think of it ?
Piot clearly meant his “Shut up” line to be one of the most important in his lecture. It was his crescendo and climax, delivered with deliberate emphasis. It drew long and sustained applause from his audience which included many of his fellow Group of 88 signatories and their students.
As regards all of that, Piot’s “Shut up” closer was well-chosen and successful. It expressed in a few words exactly what Piot, the majority of the “88,” many of their students and some others at Duke would like Johnson to do.
But did Piot’s “Shut up” do him much good beyond “the world of ‘88’ and its satellites?”
I doubt it. In fact, I think Piot’s “Shut up” has already hurt him and will hurt him even more as people at Duke learn what he said. While the panel event has received scant media attention, word of Piot’s “lecture” is spreading on campus with his “Shut up” line getting the most attention.
Did Piot want people to view his lecture as a scholarly disputation?
If he did, ending with “KC – Shut up and go back to teaching” was a mistake.
Telling another academic to “Shut up and go back to teaching” is the way you end an ad hominem, which is just what Piot’s “lecture” was. (Taping of Piot’s remarks was not permitted except for an “official” taping by panel sponsors who haven’t released it. Piot told me in an email he couldn’t release text copies of his remarks because he’s promised them to a journal editor who’s agreed to publish them, a proviso of which is that Poit’s remarks not be released pending journal publication.)
I’ve often heard “Shut up and go back to teaching” or something very like it said at Duke. “I wish that professor would just shut up about politics and teach” and “If we don’t safeguard our rights, the trustees will think they can tell us, ‘Shut up and go back to teaching.’”
Duke faculty have a very strong negative reaction to the “Shut up” line, especially when the target is a fellow academic, even one with whom they disagree.
Faculty who value open debate and free expression, and that’s most Duke faculty, scorn those demanding an academic “Shut up and go back to teaching.”
In fact, thinking back over a more than 30 year association with Duke, I can’t recall a single professor who, speaking at a public panel forum, said of another professor: “Shut up and go back to teaching.”
I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, and I’m not saying that most of Piot’s “88” colleagues and some others on the faculty wouldn’t say the same thing to Johnson in the same kind of setting. We’ll have to wait and see.
But I am saying Piot’s statement, coming from a Duke faculty member, is unusual, abhorrent and will be rejected by the overwhelming majority of Piot’s faculty colleagues.
They’ll instead identify with what Economics Professor Roy Weintraub, a faculty member for thirty-seven years and twice chair of the academic council said in a Feb. 14 letter to The Chronicle ( “Disagreement is not McCarthyism” )
”I don't ask the panelists to shut up and teach. I ask them instead to understand that for various Duke faculty, staff, administrators, students, parents and alumni to disagree with them in public or in private is neither McCarthyism nor an academic travesty and betrayal of the values of our institution, but is rather an expression of their believing otherwise.”