Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Duke Prof OK With Rove's Treatment

The following letter from Michael Munger, Chair and professor in Duke's Political Science Department appears in today's Chronicle. My response, which I left on the comment thread, follows Munger's letter here.

Munger's letter:

To the editor:

Reading the description of the Dec. 3 "Conversation with Karl Rove" event in both The Chronicle's lead editorial and some other letters and posts, I feel we must have attended different events.

This event was as close to flawless as you are going to get with a controversial speaker. I was proud of the protesters: lots of very angry people at Page Auditorium at Duke last night. But no one prevented other people from hearing, or listening, in any serious way.

It was sometimes an unfriendly atmosphere, and maybe even disrespectful. Sure, there were signs and some harsh shouts. But no one is guaranteed a friendly, or respectful atmosphere.

You get a hearing, and nothing more. Mr. Rove got that. And the protesters got to make their point, also.

A number of conservative students said they were "embarrassed" at the protests. Bull puckey.

The audience was restrained, and "respectful" in the formal sense of not exercising the heckler's veto. The protests may upset you, but that's part of academic discourse.

Let's give the administration credit. A major conservative speaker came to campus, gave a lengthy talk and was not shouted down or even seriously interrupted. That would not have happened at most of the schools we consider to be our peers.

Michael Munger
Chair and professor
Department of Political Science


My response:

Professor Munger's letter surprised me.

I was always taught you didn't shout slanders about murder and treason at a professor or speaker in a classroom or lecture hall because, among other things, that disturbed the "academic discourse."

But Munger says the protestors didn't prevent "other people from hearing, or listening, in any serious way."

How can students and others shouting slanders in class at a professor or at a speaker while he/she presents and answers questions be anything other then disruptive?

To those of us critical of the protestors in the hall Munger says, "Bull puckey;" and adds: "protests may upset you, but that's part of academic discourse.


How often are Duke professors treated in classrooms, at conferences and during speaking engagements and their book promotion tours the way Rove was treated Monday night?

How does Munger think most of them would react if they, some of whom like Rove are political and controversial, were treated the same way in classrooms and other venues?

Munger wants to give "the administration credit [because a] major conservative speaker came to campus, gave a lengthy talk and was not shouted down or even seriously interrupted. That would not have happened at most of the schools we consider to be our peers."

Munger is wrong when he says Rove wasn't "seriously interrupted."

The shouted slanders were serious interruptions; no less so because conservative speakers are often even more seriously harassed and threatened on American campuses.

Professor Munger’s wish to commend the administration because Rove wasn’t shouted down and could finish his speech is very revealing. So is his assertion that that “would not have happened at most of the schools we consider to be our peers."

Munger is revealing how he views the level of academic tolerance and the free exchange of ideas on campuses today.

It’s sad and very troubling that Munger believes, not unreasonably, Rove’s ability to finish his speech is something that could not happen on some campuses.

It’s also sad and very troubling that Munger praises those who harassed Rove while dismissing their critics with “Bull puckey.”


Ralph Phelan said...

A major conservative speaker came to campus, gave a lengthy talk and was not shouted down or even seriously interrupted. That would not have happened at most of the schools we consider to be our peers.

"We're not Columbia yet. Give us time."

Anonymous said...


I agree with you that Prof Munger's remarks were bizarre at best.

Here is Chair of a high level department defending "murder" and "slander" remarks as entirely appropriate verbal remarks made toward an invited speaker.

If such assaults were used by students toward a professor, the immediate action who be the removal of said students from the lecture followed by an "F' grade.

The fact that this man holds a chair at Duke indicates the level of bias that infects the institution.


Ralph Phelan said...

"When I took Poly Sci I disagreed with the professor during each and every class and ended up not getting kicked out (and received an excellent grade). Most of the grading in these courses depends on ones ability to defend the arguments they are making. You can disagree, just have defendable reasons."

Did they have serious grade inflation, or are you just very badly out of practice?

Mungowitz said...

The "we aren't Columbia...just give us time!" line made me laugh, I have to admit.

I guess it is a matter of degree. There were no more than three or four shouts, in 75 minutes. These shouts were brief. Offensive, yes, but brief.

The audience laughed, applauded warmly, and seemed to enjoy the presentation.

I had dinner with Karl Rove afterward, with just a few other people, and we all agreed it was surprising that people were so civil.

Now, maybe you are right to say that my standards for civility are too low. I'll leave you to judge that for yourself.

But the comparison to a classroom is silly. If I had had Karl come to my classroom, you can bet that I would have shut any protesters up immediately. And anyone who shouted insults would have been punished.

A public lecture is different. Protests and shouts are part of the show, as long as they are not too intrusive. And these protests and shouts were NOT, in my opinion, intrusive at all.

As for the questions, Karl ate people up. He is not without rhetorical resources of his own, and of course (remember THE WEDDING SINGER?) Karl had a MICROPHONE.

just a thought said...

Did they have serious grade inflation, or are you just very badly out of practice?

No grade inflation. This isn't an academic argument because posters on this board (including yourself) are not tracking points made and referenced with counterpoints made and referenced. Also, the posters on this board have so far been quite hostile to my point of view and references. I have never had a professor be this hostile; they tend to argue using points instead of personal attacks to maintain an academic debate. Regardless of viewpoint they commonly play “devil’s advocate” to oppose the class viewpoint and help the students learn to criticize the ideas put forward by each side of a debate.

Anonymous said...

Prof Munger:

"A public lecture is different."

I guess I am having a hard time seeing the difference (except to say that there is seemingly no penalty for verbal abuse at a public lecture.)

When a listener cries "murderer" at the speaker at a public lecture, what is the accuser trying to achieve?


Mungowitz said...

Oh, I think one should question folks' JUDGMENT in yelling stuff like that. The protesters, yellers, and slanderous question askers discredit themselves.

One of the exchanges went like this:

1. Questioner goes on and on about how Rove is a murderer and a liar.

2. Karl says this is slander, there is no basis for it, and the questioner is a lunatic.

3. The audience applauds.

The point is that this is NOT a classroom. It is a free-speech forum where people of different views get to argue. And Rove didn't need armed thugs to protect him, because he is quite skilled in a debate, even a mean-spirited debate.

As for the shouts, sure, I wish there had been none. But there just weren't many, and they were not disruptive.

The context of my letter may matter. Some people at Duke had called for the shouters to be brought up on charges of violating the honor code. I think that is wrong, and said so. That was my point: no criminal charges should be brought against people who shouted "liar!"

If you ask me where the line is, what WOULD have been enough to trigger police action, then I agree that that is an interesting question. I'd say, if someone had stood up and started shouting, in the middle of one of Mr. Rove's statements, and continued for more than just a few seconds, they should have been removed from the hall. THAT would have been disruptive.

Shouting "murderer" shows strong disapproval. Clapping and cheering (which is what most people did, most of the time) shows approval. Both are within the rather LARGE bounds of behavior allowed in a forum like this.

Just a Thought said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Prof Munger:

"Shouting "murderer" shows strong disapproval."

I would agree. The lack of any rules of decorum encourage such abusive conduct.

If the student learns that this type of communication is accepted, he/she will be headed for a unfortunate reaction in another forum.