KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor in ‘The Washington Post’

By September 7, 2007

As a Duke alumnus, I followed the developments in the Duke Lacrosse “rape” case with a good deal of interest and no small amount of embarrassment. Today, Professor KC Johnson (a good friend of FIRE) and National Journal reporter Stuart Taylor Jr., authors of the new book Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case have an article in The Washington Post that explains why I had good reason to be embarrassed about the behavior of my alma mater’s faculty and administration, if not the students who attend it.

In the article, Taylor and Johnson write scathingly of the Duke faculty and administration’s rush to judgment: 

This shameful conduct was rooted in a broader trend toward subordinating facts and evidence to faith-based ideological posturing. Worse, the ascendant ideology, especially in academia, is an obsession with the fantasy that oppression of minorities and women by “privileged” white men remains rampant in America. Its crude stereotyping of white men, especially athletes, resembles old-fashioned racism and sexism. 

Can this trend be reversed? The power of extremist professors will continue to spread unless mainstream liberal academics, alumni and trustees stop deferring to them and stop letting them pack departments with more and more ideologically eccentric, intellectually mediocre allies.

What Taylor and Johnson are describing here is one of the main problems with having an academic environment in which it is very important for the members to have “correct” views about various topics. While Duke does not have a speech code for its students, and my experiences with its professors were quite positive, there is no doubt that in the aggregate, its faculty does not reflect the diversity of thought that actually exists across America, or even among Duke’s student body. This appears to have led to the same “groupthink” problem that tends to affect any group of ideologically like-minded people—certain assumptions become taken as a given, rather than just as assumptions that can still be disproved by the evidence.

Johnson and Taylor identify Duke Law Professor James Coleman as the hero of the situation because he questioned the rush to judgment and came out with a report that described the facts about the lacrosse players as he and his committee found them rather than simply finding a way to fit the actual situation into the prevailing story. They are right—Professor Coleman deserves a great deal of credit for his actions. Unfortunately, the fact that Coleman deserves such recognition simply for doing what we would hope that everyone would do in a situation where lives and reputations were at stake says a lot about the bias and injustice that currently prevails in too much of academia.

Schools: Duke University