Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Duke University and prejudicial faculty

Michael Nelson in the October 5 issue of The Chronicle Review has an excellent essay on the Duke U lacrosse fiasco entitled STEREOTYPE, THEN AND NOW.  And one of the constituencies that on the whole embraced stereotypes and groups labels in determining guilt or innocence was the Duke faculty.

As Nelson notes-

“As for Duke’s faculty members, they either rushed to condemn the students (speaking as the so-called Group of 88) or stood by silently for months while their colleagues did. On April 6, 2006, shortly after some protesters banged pots and hoisted banners (the largest read “CASTRATE!!”) outside the lacrosse captains’ house and others hung “Wanted!” posters around the campus with photos of team members, the Group of 88 ran a full-page ad in the student newspaper. The ad thanked “the protesters making collective noise … for not waiting and making yourselves heard.” So much for critical thinking based on weighing evidence.

A week after the Group of 88’s ad appeared, one of its authors, the literature professor Wahneema Lubiano, wrote an essay describing the students on the lacrosse team as “almost perfect offenders” because they are “the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus.” Her colleague Houston Baker had already weighed in on March 29 with an open letter to Duke’s provost, Peter Lange. Baker demanded that Duke order the “immediate dismissal” of the students and coaches of the lacrosse team because they embodied “abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken, white male privilege loosed amongst us.”

Of course, Duke professors routinely evaluate students in terms of course grading.  So theoretically they are experienced professionals when it comes to evaluating students, evaluating students in an objective and dispassionate manner.  If such be the case, when it comes to evaluating students and others concerning more weighty matters, matters than can lead to freedom or imprisonment, one could expect/hope that said professors would be even more objective and dispassionate in their evaluation of the accused students.  But we know such was not the case at least in general terms.  We also know that the President of Duke remained in office after functioning as a cheerleader for faculty and others in his condemnation of the accused students and the lacrosse team.  President Brodhead did not resign just as none of the faculty who engaged in muckraking behavior resigned, and to my knowledge none of these faculty have recanted or have recused themselves from grading members of groups they have openly condemned.

Of course, professorial voluntary recusal is unheard of in the academic world.  If faculty, such as the Duke faculty, were ordered to recuse themselves, they would be up in arms and undoubtedly would have great support throughout the academic world.  Forced recusal in the academic world is not politically correct except for the exceptions, eg, professor dating a student in ones class.  Then recusal is OK because prejudicial grading cannot be tolerated.  What utter hypocrisy!  Prejudicial grading is widely tolerated in the academic world and faculty hardly ever recuse themselves because given the hierarchy of professorial values, grading is not in the upper echelon. 

I wish to make it clear that I believe recusal should be a viable option for the ethical professor but recusal from above, forced recusal does not represent engaging in an option.  I wish that more professors would seriously confront the possibility that they are at risk of prejudicial grading.  On the other hand, it has been argued that “The only way to ensure impartial grading is never to learn yours students names.”  I doubt that any of us academics would want to embrace the impersonality of nameless students which in such a highly impersonal environment would also probably mean that the faculty remain nameless as well. Nameless faculty evaluated by other nameless faculty who were hired to educate and grade nameless students.  No romance here.  No love.  Anonymity would be the norm although some of the nameless might embrace such an environment in their search for anonymous  sex.

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
© Copyright 2007


October 5, 2007 Posted by | Duke University, ethics, grading, higher education, recusal, sexual politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

On Larry Craig

Hendrik Hertzberg in his Talk of the Town New Yorker column, “Offenses” cogently summarizes the key aspects of the Craig case in the following terms-

“The story, combining as it does the libidinal and the scatological, has been a comic bonanza. Craig and his associates have proved coöperative in that department. Their contributions include the Senator’s explanation for playing footsie with the cop in the neighboring stall (“I have a wide stance”), his greeting to reporters at the press conference after the news broke (“Thank you all very much for coming out”), his spokesman’s dismissal of the whole business (“a he said/he said misunderstanding”), and the nickname of the Idaho governor, who will appoint a politically if not affectively identical Republican to take Craig’s place if he does get around to quitting (C. L. “Butch” Otter).

Besides snark, the overriding theme of public discussion of the Craig case has been hypocrisy. “I’m not gay,” the Senator insists, and if gayness is an identity as well as an innate predilection he may be right. He is, however, evidently homosexual. Yet he supports permitting job discrimination against homosexuals, opposes letting them serve in the military, favors a constitutional amendment forbidding them to marry, and voted for an Idaho ballot measure that proscribes gay civil unions. He is like the many politicians who have smoked marijuana themselves but oppose legalizing it even for medical use. Hypocritical? Yes. But, in both cases, the fundamental moral problem is not the inconsistency between private actions and professed beliefs. The problem is the professed beliefs.

If Craig has been (as he once described Bill Clinton) “a nasty, bad, naughty boy,” there is little evidence of it in the police report of his arrest. The report, written in a style somewhere between “The Naked Gun” and “Guy Noir, Private Eye” (“At about 1200 hours, I was working a plain-clothes detail involving lewd conduct in the main men’s public restroom of the Northstar Crossing”), describes a profoundly unshocking sequence of events. After exchanging stares with the seated officer through the crack of the stall door, Craig entered an adjoining stall, sat down, and tapped his foot. In response, the cop wrote, “I moved my foot up and down slowly.” Craig touched the side of his foot to the side of the cop’s. Then he swiped his fingertips three times along the bottom of the stall divider. Then he got arrested.”

October 5, 2007 Posted by | Larry Craig, sexual politics | Leave a comment


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