The Chronicle published a letter today which Duke School of Law Professor James Coleman co-authored with Professor Prasad Kasibhatla of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. The letter follows, after which I offer some commentary.
To the editor:
We are impressed with President Richard Brodhead's continued attempts to reach out to all members of the Duke community to promote healing and reconciliation in the wake of last year's lacrosse incident, as evidenced by his recent remarks at the Duke School of Law. We are disheartened, however, by the continued drumbeat of destructive criticism of the administration and faculty by some within and outside the Duke community.
More importantly, as chairs of two of the five committees that examined various issues brought to light by the lacrosse incident last spring, we take issue with the biased and inaccurate rhetoric espoused by some of these critics.
Firstly, we reject the characterization put forward by critics like Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson that the Lacrosse Committee report, that examined the past behavior of the lacrosse team, is a "stunning vindication" of the team (Washington Post, September 7, 2007).
On the contrary, the report very carefully details a pattern of behavior that the committee characterized as "socially irresponsible" that should "have been a cause for alarm." Dismissing this finding as trivial is a biased and unjustified misrepresentation of the facts.
Secondly, there is a recurring theme advanced by critics like Taylor and Johnson that the faculty at Duke and at other universities are increasingly a bunch of ideologues who care less about the their students and more about promoting their own extremist agendas.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Faculty at Duke, as at other universities and colleges, care deeply about students and are passionately committed to their personal and intellectual growth. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the daily life of a faculty member will quickly appreciate the time, effort and energy that faculty put into teaching, advising and mentoring students. To suggest otherwise, on the basis of isolated and selective incidents that occur over the course of complex events and are taken out of context, is nothing more than a tragic rush to judgment.
Professor of the Practice of Law
Duke School of Law
Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
Folks, it is very hard for me even now, nine hours after I first read the Coleman-Kasibhatla letter, to provide some reasoned commentary and to express how I feel.
When the Duke students who played on the Men's lacrosse team were subjected to obvious lies, targeted by some with threats and a “CASTRATE” banner, had their faces plastered on an anonymously produced “Vigilante” poster, were harassed on campus by some faculty and students, had reasonable cause to fear for their safety, and very few Duke faculty spoke out against the vilification and endangerment of the students, I was surprised, disappointed and disgusted.
I had the same reactions when almost every Duke faculty member said nothing in response to the threats shouted by racists at Reade Seligmann last May 18.
Ten or so days after that, when the students on the Women’s lacrosse team were viciously slimed by many in media for saying “Innocent,” I was disappointed and disgusted by the failure of just about every member of the Duke faculty to say anything on the women students’ behalf.
But I was no longer surprised. As a body, the Duke faculty by late May 2006 had made it clear that it was at best indifferent to one group of students in grave jeopardy and another that had been viciously slimed.
There were, of course, some honorable exceptions to the indifference. Everyone who’s followed the Duke Hoax knows Professor Coleman is one of them.
And then there were those faculty, many more than the honorable exceptions, who could never be termed indifferent.
Professor Houston Baker comes to mind. He called for the expulsion of the white members of the Men’s lacrosse team right at the time now disbarred Durham DA Nifong was calling them “Hooligans” and ridiculing them for following the advice of their parents and attorneys. Both Baker and Nifong were praised at the time by many faculty members.
Duke’s faculty Group of 88 could never be called indifferent.
Who will forget that just days after Duke students were cautioned by Vice President Moneta to be extra vigilant for their safety in the wake of rumors of possible drive-by shootings, and just days before President Brodhead, NCCU’s Chancellor Ammons and Durham’s Mayor Bell felt compelled to place full-page newspaper ads calling for public calm, the faculty Group of 88 felt strongly enough themselves to place a full-page ad in The Chronicle?
Among other things the 88 did in their ad was to thank the very people who had helped heighten the danger to Duke students. As far as I know, only one of the 88 has ever apologized for the ad which it's now widely agreed made an already dangerous situation more dangerous.
Now today in The Chronicle we have the Coleman-Kasibhatla letter telling us faculty at Duke “care deeply” about students.
And in the same letter the Professors castigate KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor, two of the people who have been most diligent and effective in speaking out for Duke students and exposing the investigative and legal travesties of Mike Nifong and others.
Meaning no disrespect by ignoring Professor Kasibhatla about whom I know almost nothing, I was absolutely shocked to see Professor Coleman had signed such a letter.
That’s why it is still hard for me to say much about the letter now. But I’ll say more soon.
If you have not already done so, I urge you to got to the Chronicle site using this link which will take you to the letter and the comment thread.
The thread is lengthy and, like most lengthy threads, it’s a mixed bag. But there are some outstanding comments there.
One of those outstanding comments is from KC Johnson @ 11:02 AM; another is from Stuart Taylor @ 1:04 PM; and a third is from AMac @ 1:14 PM.
I left a brief comment on the thread. I meant it as a “toe in the water” first response. I’ll end this post with it:
I wish Professor Coleman had told us why the Duke faculty he praises so highly was, with very few exceptions, publicly silent when a Duke student, Reade Seligmann, was subjected to threats, including death threats, from racists last May 18.
Some of us believe had Seligmann been black and the threatening racists white, a great many Duke faculty would have spoken out loudly and passionately condemning the racists and offering their support to Seligmann and his family.
I don't agree with those on this thread who have attacked Coleman personally. I think he's a man of great integrity.