Wednesday, May 16, 2007

INNOCENT: Chafe’s latest: No apology

"... these three individuals [David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann,] are innocent of these charges."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, Apr. 11, 2007

Readers Note: To understand the post below the star line, you should be familiar with the following posts:

"An Invitation to Duke's Prof. Chafe"

INNOCENT: "Prof. Chafe Responds"

"Comments Responding to Prof. Chafe"

INNOCENT:"Chafe responded; I'm holding"
ERROR ALERT: This post initially said Duke raised Kyle Dowd's grade from "F" to "D." "thus allowing Dowd to graduate." I was wrong. Dowd would have graduated even if Duke had not changed his grade. The post has now been corrected to reflect that. I regret my error. John

Readers Note: As many of you know, I’ve had letter exchanges with William Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of American History at Duke University and a signatory of the faculty’s Group of 88’s “social disaster” statement that ran as a full-page ad in the Apr. 6, 2006 Chronicle.

I’ve shared with Chafe my concerns about the "social disaster" statement, most pointedly and in detail the fact that it made an already dangerous situation at Duke even more dangerous. Chafe does not agree and stands by the statement.

Many JinC readers commented on the threads. They asked questions that deserve answers from every member of the “88.” They expressed concerns that are shared within the Duke community by many still silent faculty as well as by tens of thousands of Duke students, parents, and alums.

In my last letter I urged Chafe to respond to at least some of what commenters were asking and saying.

Chafe declined as you'll see in his letter below.

I responded with a brief letter that follows his. I added at the end of my letter a text copy of a statement signed by about 1,000 Duke students who demanded the faculty's Group of 88 apologize for the harms done by "social disaster" statement which the students detailed.

I doubt Chafe, who’s in Venice this semester, was aware of the students' demand when he wrote his latter.

I doubt too, whether Chafe is aware of all that's been happening at Duke and in Durham these past few days. So I mention some of that in my letter.

Now here’s Chafe’s latest letter, followed by my reply and the students' statement demanding an apology.
Dear John,

Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your comments. I do not wish to become involved in multiple communications about what I or others have said since I believe that is more likely to result in more recrimination, and that serves no useful purpose.

I appreciate your recognizing that the “group of 88” is not an entity. Many of us do not know each other, and would not recognize each other if we passed on a street. We all did sign an advertisement. You and many of your readers have criticized that document. Each of us has a different interpretation of what the document was intended to say.

From my previous statement, you know my interpretation – that it was primarily an expression of concern for situations within our campus culture that needed attention. Those problems persist and those of us who are committed to Duke must continue to address them. The problem is not the number of reported sexual assaults on campus, but the large number of unreported assaults. When my students – typical Duke students – tell me that a very small percentage of sexual assaults get reported, I believe them.

I regret, and so do many others, that the advertisement, as interpreted by some, has led to division, recrimination, and hostility. Many ask that I/we apologize for the statement. But to apologize for something that others interpret differently than yourself is not an act of principle, but rather one of expediency and hypocrisy. I did apologize for my erroneous generalization about bloggers. That was my mistake for which I am accountable.

I do not believe that I ever presumed “guilt” on the part of those accused – indeed I stated explicitly that only the criminal process could determine guilt or innocence, which it now has. I am very sorry that the advertisement has become THE MAJOR point of contention rather than what I believe to be the more critical issue, how we treat each other on campus.

I am also concerned with the generalization that we should stand with the students, period. Should I stand with my freshman woman student who was appalled that a stripper, black, was hired for an on-campus party, or should I stand with those who hired the stripper. That’s why generalizations create problems, whether I/we make them, or others do.

Some – perhaps many – of your readers will continue to focus on the ad. That is their right, but I would prefer that we choose to move on to a constructive agenda of how Duke can come to exemplify how we would like our young people in college to treat each other, and how we as adults believe we should treat each other.

As you know, I am teaching abroad for Duke, but I will be happy to meet with any group of people who would like to discuss such a constructive agenda when I return.


Bill Chafe
Dear Professor Chafe,

Thank you for your prompt reply to my letter.

While I appreciate your responding at a time when you’re in Venice teaching for Duke, busy with end of semester tasks and preparing to return to Durham, I’m very disappointed by your failure to address critical problems inflamed by the Group of 88's “social disaster” statement, especially its heightening of danger to students

Given all that’s before you in the next few days, and given all that’s happened at Duke and Durham in the last few days, I propose we suspend our correspondence for at least a week in order to give you a chance to return to Duke and “settle in.”

Among other things that have happened at Duke in the last few days are:

1) The settlement of the Dowd suit on terms which can’t be spoken about publicly by either party, but which were obviously favorable to Duke graduate Kyle Dowd, a former lacrosse player, and his parents.

You may recall "88" signatory Professor Kim Curtis initially gave Dowd an "F" which Duke later raised to a "D."

But Dowd and his parents insisted the grade should be a “P” which Duke initially said was not warranted. The settlement statement noted Duke had changed Dowd's grade to "P."

2) The “revision” by Duke News of its account of what happened last spring now claims President Brodhead cancelled the lacrosse season on April 5, 2006 out of concern for the safety of the lacrosse players.

Whatever you and I may think of President Brodhead and what is now claimed in his name at Duke News, I'll bet we agree that Brodhead, Duke University and the attorneys representing them will cite as support for Brodhead’s claim of "players' safety" events surrounding April 5, 2006 including your Group of 88 statement the following day.

Meanwhile, in Durham we’ve just had a “report” from City Manager Patrick Baker and Police Chief Steve Chalmers that was meant to be “the official Durham City/ Police Department account of the ‘lacrosse rape investigation.’”

Baker and Chalmers each signed their respective parts of Durham’s “official report.”

It too bad at least one of them isn’t a coroner: Durham’s “official report” was a DOA.

On the same day he received the Baker/Chalmers’“body,” Mayor Bill Bell called for an independent investigation of DPD.

There’s a lot more I could say but this letter is getting long.

I’m including after this letter the full text of the statement by over 1000 signatories that appeared in The Chronicle just days ago in response to your Group of 88’s statement.

I hope you have time to send a brief note before you leave Italy.

Once you’re back in the States and rested, I hope we can resume our correspondence.



***********PAID ADVERTISEMENT*****************

The following petition was endorsed by over 1,000 Duke Students along with recent graduates:
On April 6th of last year a full page ad ran in The Chronicle signed by 88 professors and 16 academic programs and departments at Duke University.

Weeks before any indictment was issued, in disregard for due process, our own professors projected guilt onto our peers on the lacrosse team.

In the ad they not only tacitly supported the accusations of the now utterly discredited accuser, but praised protestors who similarly rushed to judgment, while levying baseless accusations of racism against our student body.

In a time of intense emotions and enormous stakes, when our community dearly needed a call for calm, for patience, for rational and careful thinking, these professors instead took a course of action which escalated tensions, spurred divisions along lines of race and class and brought our community into greater turmoil.

Their actions also further undermined the legal process and most likely emboldened a rogue district attorney.
As students who love Duke we are ashamed by the apparent decision of these faculty members to exploit a tragic situation to further their own political and social agendas.

As an institution of higher learning we expect our professors to provide a model of intellectual integrity to which we can aspire—not to act with reckless disregard for fairness, justice and jurisprudence, and then callously refuse to make an apology or accept responsibility for their actions.

For those who would argue their ad has been mischaracterized we offer the following excerpts, which leave no doubt as to the material it contained—

“Students are shouting and whispering about what happened to this young woman…”

“‘If something like this happened to me…what would be used against me—my clothing? Where I was?'"

“No one is really talking about how to keep this young woman herself central to this conversation, how to keep her humanity before us…”

“To the students speaking individually and to the protestors making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.”

Some of the Group of 88 went even further in their ill-begotten rush to judgment. Some professors are alleged to have maligned lacrosse players in their courses; Professor Kim Curtis is alleged to have failed a student (with a 3.5 GPA) simply because he was a member of the team.

Other professors have made some truly shocking public statements, such as—

Prof. Houston Baker’s claim of “Young, white, violent, drunken men among us - implicitly boasted by our athletic directors and administrators - have injured lives,” and his remark that the lacrosse team “may well feel they can claim innocence and sport their disgraced jerseys on campus, safe under the cover of silent whiteness. But where is the black woman who their violence and raucous witness injured for life? Will she ever sleep well again?”

Prof. Mark Anthony Neal’s claim that, “”Regardless of what happened inside of 610 N. Buchanan Blvd, the young men were hoping to consume something that they felt that a black woman uniquely possessed.”

President Brodhead has yet to come forward and defend his students against the assaults launched by his own faculty.


Text copied from pdf form provided at KC Johnson's Durham-in-Wonderland


Anonymous said...

The grade was changed from an F to a D AFTER Dowd graduated not in order to allow him to graduate

DukeEgr93 said...

Regarding the following two sections:

"I am also concerned with the generalization that we should stand with the students, period. Should I stand with my freshman woman student who was appalled that a stripper, black, was hired for an on-campus party, or should I stand with those who hired the stripper. That’s why generalizations create problems, whether I/we make them, or others do."

This is a false dilemma. And, certainly, in the midst of a criminal investigation, surely one with Dr. Chafe's academic credentials and history in actively documenting and working on the civil rights movement understands that sometimes, the people needing the most support are not the "perfect victims" - in this case, members of the lacrosse team as victims of DA Nifong. If the ad hadn't come out, and if certain other faculty hadn't made certain statements, they would *now* be in a position to discuss the issues of culture. As it is, refusal to engage with the specifics of the case make it difficult to believe some folks can come at the issues with any but the narrowest of perspectives.

"Some – perhaps many – of your readers will continue to focus on the ad. That is their right, but I would prefer that we choose to move on to a constructive agenda of how Duke can come to exemplify how we would like our young people in college to treat each other, and how we as adults believe we should treat each other."

Ah - the infamous "move on." Remarkably, perhaps, many of us feel that the ad itself is a worthy issue for discussion with respect to how we treat each other. Do we, faculty, in positions of power over students support protests against other students without facts?

I have to say, the more the ad is defended, seemingly with a pair of the most effective and efficient blinders to context ever made, the less defensible it is.

wayne fontes said...

I would like to suggest that in addition to removing his blinders Chaffe updates the lenses through which he views the Lax incident. In his March 31, 2006 Op-Ed
Chaffe refrernces slavery and Emmit Till. By referencing these two distant points in history Chaffe ignores the advances in race relations that have been made. When coupled with the student quotes selected for the listening statement the image created is one that much more closely resembles Selma Alabama in 1965 than Duke University in 2006. I seriously doubt Duke students are in "terror" as they walk across the campus. I find the assertion especially preposterous in light of the fact that Duke was rated the the number one most welcoming school for AA students and faculty in 2002 by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

Anonymous said...

At least Chafe's writing isn't 100% psychobabble like Lubiano and Farred. His logic isn't what it should be given that he's a PhD, but I guess at Dook you can't have everything, can you?

Anonymous said...

Very well said. It is indeed a false dilemma. It is telling, however, that Dr. Chafe's knee-jerk reaction is to side with the woman student. But this is to be expected in a culture where sentimentality and outrage are cultivated. Everyone is entitled to their feelings but they are not entitled to raise their feelings to the level of a value. Dr. Chafe missed a potent teaching moment: he could have explained that it is more important to be responsible with rape allegations than it is to be apalled at someone's admittedly tawdry behavior.
Brant Jones

Mike Lee said...

Chafe wrote, ""I am also concerned with the generalization that we should stand with the students, period. Should I stand with my freshman woman student who was appalled that a stripper, black, was hired for an on-campus party, or should I stand with those who hired the stripper."

The answer is yes and yes. Professors should stand with all their students. Supoorting and sympathizing with the freshmen female doesn't mean he has to malign the students who hired the stripper.

I can understand why you would be appalled at students hiring a stripper. While I don't condone it, I can understand that you guys wanted to hire a stripper. Is that so hard?

The problem with the Social Disater ad is not that it supported some students who see themselevs as victims of racism, sexism or anything else. Suppoprting students is all well and good.

The problem is that the ad maligned the lacrosse team and projected guilt onto them. I am sure that no one has a problem with professors pointing out social ills or problems they perceive to be on campus. The problem is when you harm other students in the process.


To be honest I think the 88 (most of them anyway) had good intentions. The problems were the "what happened to this young woman" reference, the support of the protestors, and the quotes by anonymous students clearly referring to violence and inferring that the accuser was raped.

In essence, the ad was a fine idea. It was just worderd horribly and released at the worst possible moment in time.

All of this aside, these professors have acknowledged that they caused harm to their own students. Why do they refuse to apologize for that? What damage can apologizing possibly cause them? I believe that the continued failure of these professors to apologize for harming their own students may be the worst act of all.

It's a lesson we all learned in first grade. When you harm someone, (regardless of intent) you apologize. Period.

For professors at a respected University like Duke to fail to take this simple step is to fail to have the fortitude to move on.

Professor Chafe, the ad you signed was well intended but poorly worded. Please acknowledge this, apologize for the harm the poor wording caused and allow the community to do just what you suggested.....move on. Thanks.

Mike Lee

Jeff said...

I cannot say that I am surprised that Dr. Chafe has decided not to respond and not to apologize. I am, however, saddened.

I understand of course: it IS far less embarrassing to say that others, not yourself, have misconstrued your well-intended statements, than it is to admit that (a) despite a PhD, you were so careless in parsing a statement signed by you that you did not recognize that the most reasonable, arguably the only reasonable, construction of it differed from your intent, or (b) you deliberately affirmed an inflammatory statement designed to be equivocal and ambiguous enough to protect you from the consequences of exacerbating an already excited situation.

Now my suspicion, for which I admit I have no proof other than experience of life, is that some of the 88 were in group (a) and others in group (b). If I were in group (a), I would be in a hurry to admit it so that people would not have reason to think me part of group (b). But that means taking responsibility and admitting error. And Dr. Chafe has proved himself unable to do either.

Continuing to assert that phrases like "something happened to this young woman" and "thank you for not waiting" affirmed presumption of innocence and were not fundamentally related to the allegations of rape is to distort language intentionally. Those who intentionally distort language have no right to expect others to respect them or their words, to engage in dialogue with them, or to trust their claims of good intentions.