The Rot At Duke — And Beyond

National Journal

You might think that a university whose students were victims of the most notorious fraudulent rape claim in recent history, and whose professors — 88 of them — signed an ad implicitly presuming guilt, and whose president came close to doing the same would have learned some lessons.

The facts are otherwise. They also suggest that Duke University’s ugly abuse in 2006 and 2007 of its now-exonerated lacrosse players — white males accused by a black stripper and hounded by a mob hewing to political correctness — reflects a disregard of due process and a bias against white males that infect much of academia.

In September, far from taking pains to protect its students from false rape charges, Duke adopted a revised "sexual misconduct" policy that makes a mockery of due process and may well foster more false rape charges by rigging the disciplinary rules against the accused.

Meanwhile, none of the 88 guilt-presuming professors has publicly apologized. (Duke’s president, Richard Brodhead, did — but too little and too late.) Many of the faculty signers — a majority of whom are white — have expressed pride in their rush to judgment. None was dismissed, demoted, or publicly rebuked. Two were glorified this month in Duke’s in-house organ as pioneers of "diversity," with no reference to their roles in signing the ad. Three others have won prestigious positions at Cornell, Vanderbilt, and the University of Chicago.

(Disclosure: I co-authored a 2007 book on the case, Until Proven Innocent, with historian KC Johnson of Brooklyn College and the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. His scrupulously accurate blog details the events summarized here.)

The two stated reasons for the revised sexual-misconduct rules, as reported in the student newspaper, The Chronicle, almost advertise that they were driven by politically correct ideology more than by any surge in sexual assaults.

"The first was… fear of litigation, as expressed by Duke General Counsel Pamela Bernard," as Johnson wrote in his blog, Durham-in-Wonderland. "Yet the policy Duke has developed seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen. The second factor was a development that those in the reality-based community might consider to be a good thing: Over a three-year period, reported cases of sexual misconduct on college campuses as a whole and at Duke specifically (slightly) declined."

But for many in academia, Johnson explains, "these figures must mean something else — that a plethora of rapes are going unreported." Indeed, Sheila Broderick, a Duke Women’s Center staff member, told The Chronicle without evidence that Duke had a "rape culture." And Ada Gregory, director of the Duke Women’s Center, said that "higher IQ" males, such as those at Duke, could be "highly manipulative and coercive."

The revised policy requires involving the Women’s Center in the disciplinary process for all known allegations of sexual misconduct and empowers the Office of Student Conduct to investigate even if the accuser does not want to proceed.

Duke adopted a revised "sexual misconduct" policy that makes a mockery of due process and may foster more false rape charges.


Duke’s rules define sexual misconduct so broadly and vaguely as to include any sexual activity without explicit "verbal or nonverbal" consent, which must be so "clear" as to dispel "real or perceived power differentials between individuals [that] may create an unintentional atmosphere of coercion" (emphasis added).

The disciplinary rules deny the accused any right to have an attorney at the hearing panel or to confront his accuser. The rules also give her — but not him — the right to be treated with "sensitivity"; to make opening and closing statements; and to receive copies of investigative documents.

The revised policy, among other things, shows that Duke is still in the grip of the same biases, indifference to evidence, and de facto presumption of guilt that led so many professors and administrators to smear innocent lacrosse players as rapists (and as racists) for many months in 2006 and 2007. The centerpiece was the full-page ad taken out by the "Group of 88" professors, as critics call them, in The Chronicle on April 6, 2006, about three weeks after the woman claimed rape.

This ad stopped just short of explicitly branding the lacrosse players as rapists. But it treated almost as a given the truth of the stripper’s claims of a brutal gang rape by three team members amid a hail of racist slurs. It praised protesters who had put lacrosse players’ photos on "wanted" posters. It associated "what happened to this young woman" with "racism and sexism." It suggested that the lacrosse players were getting privileged treatment because they are white — which was the opposite of the truth.

And in January 2007, after the fraudulence of the stripper’s rape claim and of rogue Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong’s indictments of three players had become increasingly evident, most of the 88 also signed a letter rejecting calls for apologies while denying that their April 2006 ad had meant what it seemed to say.

Among the most prominent signers of both the ad and the letter were Karla Holloway, an English professor, and Paula McClain, a political science professor. They also slimed the lacrosse players in opaquely worded, academic-jargon-filled individual statements full of innuendo.

This disgraceful behavior apparently did not trouble Duke’s Academic Council, which in February 2007 made McClain its next chairwoman — the highest elected position for a faculty member.

And just this month, the university’s in-house organ, Duke Today, heaped special attention and praise on Holloway and McClain and featured their photos in a gushing five-part series titled "Diversity & Excellence," focusing on Duke’s efforts to hire more black faculty members.


Academia’s demand for more "diversity" may interact with the small supply of aspiring black professors who are well credentialed in traditional disciplines.


None of the five articles mentioned the roles of Holloway, McClain, and most of the African and African-American studies faculty (the vast majority of whom signed both the ad and the subsequent letter) in smearing innocent Duke students — not only the lacrosse players but also the many others whom the letter fatuously accused of fostering an "atmosphere that allows sexism, racism, and sexual violence to be so prevalent on campus."

The three Group of 88 signers hired away by other leading universities are Houston Baker, Grant Farred, and Charles Payne.

Vanderbilt was so proud to have signed up Baker, a professor of English and African and African-American studies at Duke, in April 2006 that it prominently featured a photo of him on its website for months. This was shortly after Baker had issued a March 29, 2006, public letter pressuring the Duke administration to dismiss the lacrosse players — whom he deprecated 10 times as "white" — and all but pronouncing the entire team guilty of "abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white, male privilege" against a "black woman who their violence and raucous witness injured for life."

For such conduct, the official Vanderbilt Register admiringly characterized Baker as Duke’s "leading dissident voice" about the administration’s handling of the rape allegations.

In June 2006, Baker falsely suggested that Duke lacrosse players had raped other women. In a pervasively ugly response to a polite e-mail from the mother of a Duke lacrosse player, he called the team "a scummy bunch of white males" and the woman the "mother of a ‘farm animal.’ "

In 2007, Cornell proudly lured another of the 88, Grant Farred, with a joint appointment in African studies and English.

This, after the following events: In September 2006 and before, Farred produced such faux scholarship as a nonsensical monograph portraying Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets’ Chinese center, as representing "the most profound threat to American empire." In October 2006, Farred accused hundreds of Duke students of "secret racism" for registering to vote against Nifong, who was subsequently disbarred for railroading the indicted lacrosse players. In April 2007, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declared the players innocent. Then Farred smeared them again, as racists and perjurers.

Cornell elevated Farred this year to director of graduate studies in the African-American studies department.

Also in 2007, Chicago gave an endowed chair to Charles Payne, who as Duke’s chairman of African and African-American studies had inappropriately authorized use of university funds to pay for the Group of 88 ad.

The fact that these five people of questionable judgment have subsequently won glorification by Duke or advancement to other prestigious positions may reflect the interaction of academia’s demand for more "diversity" with the small supply of aspiring black professors who are well credentialed in traditional disciplines. These factors, amplified by politically correct ideology, have advanced many academics who — unlike most African-Americans — are obsessed with grievances rooted more in our history of slavery and racial oppression than in contemporary reality.

Try imagining a white male professor who had smeared innocent black students enjoying a similar path of advancement in academia today.

This article appeared in the Saturday, December 19, 2009 edition of National Journal.