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.

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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

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

1 Comment »

  1. Those professors are in some way – criminally liable.
    – They could have incited a riot.
    – They could have encouraged violence against the three accused players – who turned out to be innocent.
    – They certainly slandered them.
    – *Most important – Duke University had to shell out millions of dollars to pay the claims brought against it by the three players. Shouldn’t the cost be borne by the 88 professors? ( I heard somewhere – dont know where – that each player received 25-30 million each)
    – These professors should be fired. Tenure is a joke. It’s nothing more than a “jobs program.” Besides look what tenure does to these people. It forces them to hide out in academia and it has stunts their growth and infantilizes them. *Good luck Duke. You’re going to need it with these people on the faculty.

    Comment by Brian | November 7, 2008 | Reply


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