January 05, 2007

Recontextualizing the Argument

Yeah, sorry I'm doing consecutive posts on the lacrosse thing, but it's like watching a slow-motion train wreck and I'm fascinated. And extremely glad that I don't have to handle Brodhead's p.r., but that's another story.

So yesterday the first civil suit was filed against a prof accused of deliberately failing 2 lacrosse students in "retaliation." The fact that the university changed the students' grades after the semester means it might not look too good for the prof.

Then today I was treated to an extremely long-winded op-ed from one of the authors of an ad that appeared in the student newspaper at Duke after the party--signed by 88 Duke profs--that's full of weeping and lamentation about the fact that hey, the world isn't a very nice place.

The op-ed is, well, long. And manages to do the thing that only the rarest of op-eds can do: make everything worse. There's puling of the high-minded "We had no IDEA that we'd make things worse" variety:

The ad we signed explicitly was not addressed to the police investigation or the rape allegations. The ad focused on racial and gender attitudes all too evident in the weeks after March 13. It decried prejudice and inequality in the society at large. "It isn't just Duke, it isn't everybody, and it isn't just individuals making this disaster," the ad insisted."

There's the retreat to moral high ground of the "I'm a brave professor saving the world 'cause God knows no one else on the planet is aware of racism! Or sexism! Or that strippers can actually be hired--of either gender--pretty damn easily! And I'm gonna shoehorn every social cause I can think of in here, because I'm an english professor who wants you to know that a bunch of stupid drunk jocks are a METAPHOR for all this stuff!" :

We are in the midst of a social disaster where 18 percent of the American population lives below the poverty line and a disproportionate number of those are African-American. We live in the midst of a social disaster where 30 percent of our students do not graduate from high school (making the U.S. No. 17 in the world). We live in the midst of a social disaster where women's salaries for similar jobs are substantially less than men's (and, as of this year, starting to go down again, not up). We live in the midst of a social disaster where we do not have national health care or affordable childcare. And we live in a situation where a group of white athletes at a prominent university can get drunk and call out for a stripper the way they would a pizza.

And finally, the coup de grace - the "Now I'm going to name-call everyone who disagrees with what we did and paint them as mentally unstable, or worse--violent--or EVEN WORSE: REPUBLICANS, so that no one can actually address the argument itself without suffering the taint of my mischaracterization, plus it makes me seem even braver! In literary terms, that's what we call 'creating a foil!'" paragraph:

On the other hand, most of my e-mail comes from right-wing "blog hooligans." These hateful, ranting and sometimes even threatening folks don't care about Duke or the lacrosse players. Their aim is to make academics and liberals look ridiculous and uncaring. They deliberately misrepresent the faculty and manipulate the feelings of those who care about the lacrosse players in order to foster their own demagogic political agenda. They contribute to the problem, not to the solution.

Wow, bitter much? No one is making you look ridiculous. You're competent professionals, and I'm sure you're more than capable of accomplishing that all on your own.

See? I still have faith in the professoriate.

But why, why, WHY, is it always the English profs? Sigh.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at January 5, 2007 12:54 PM

"Their aim is to make academics and liberals look ridiculous and uncaring." Seems to me the group of 88 did that on their own before we had even heard of them. You're right, they don't need any help looking ridiculous.

Posted by: Mike at January 5, 2007 05:30 PM

"But why, why, WHY, is it always the English profs?"

'Cause English has become the profession you go into when you don't have the rudimentary logic skills to become an ambulance chaser after your BA ;-).

Sorry, BAW, couldn't resist. Bad chemist, bad!

Posted by: John at January 6, 2007 09:47 PM

Because then-President Keith Brodie, M.D. decided in 1986 to hire Stanley Fish. The English department at Duke has been screwed up since. Brodie's full time attention was given to getting Duke Hospital North built, and dropping a ton of money on the English department. No one has ever understood why he selected the English department. But if you want to learn about queer theory it's the place to be.

Posted by: locomotive breath at January 8, 2007 07:14 AM

LB -

Oh, I know all about the Fishing of the Duke English dept.

My advisor at Davidson--one of the smartest women I've ever met, and a Shakespearean scholar--warned me far, far away from both Duke and UNC-CH when I was considering grad schools. She said something along the lines of Chapel Hill is the home of the dinosaur, and Duke's English Dept. is simply silly. I took her recommendation, and got a solid post-grad education.

I'm just sad that all those other english departments followed in Duke's footsteps. It hasn't done the discipline or the level of scholarship any favors at all.

Posted by: BAW at January 8, 2007 09:15 AM

When I took freshman English at Duke it was two large classroom lectures a week, write a paper, and then have it ripped to shreds one-on-one at a recitation with a faculty member or grad student. I still remember the lectures of George Williams, who was the Shakespeare guy at the time. It was Joyce and "The Dead" and Conrad and "The Heart of Darkness", among others.

I know that several years later they threw that whole system out. They had their reasons but I suspect it was because it was too labor intensive and the faculty didn't want to be bothered. I shudder to think what they're being taught now.

Posted by: Locomotive Breath at January 9, 2007 11:16 AM

I do love the way Ms. Davidson throws all the troubles of the World into her pot. A classic example of 'blobthink'.

Posted by: PersonFromPorlock at January 9, 2007 08:37 PM