More Shameful Behavior at Duke University

December 18, 2007

FIRE co-founder Harvey Silverglate is quoted in a recent article written by University of North Carolina–Wilmington Professor Christopher Halkides on the Duke University lacrosse case. The article, which is available here, discusses Duke Professor Steven Baldwin’s travails as a rare voice of reason among the school’s faculty. In the fall of 2006, at the height of the campus’s upheaval, Professor Baldwin courageously wrote an op-ed piece for the Duke Chronicle in which he criticized those of his fellow faculty members (and there were many) who had presumed the guilt of the accused lacrosse players and publicly damaged their reputations.

Tellingly, yet another shameful episode came out of Professor Baldwin’s efforts. Towards the end of his op-ed, he had written that the aforementioned faculty members deserved to be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. Somehow, this created a controversy. The Director of Women’s Studies, Professor Robyn Wiegman, said that Professor Baldwin’s words were “the language of lynching” (though many have disputed this assertion, and with good reason). A group of faculty members even went to University President Richard Brodhead to ask that Professor Baldwin be fired.

Ultimately, Professor Baldwin wrote a letter to the Chronicle apologizing for his choice of words. This is most unfortunate. As Harvey is quoted as saying in the article

[I]t is unbearably sad that Professor Baldwin, having used a perfectly apt metaphor for how the unapologetic faculty members should be treated, then saw fit to kneel down at the altar of political correctness and issue the ritual apology.”

Just as significantly, the controversy over Professor Baldwin’s choice of words served to take the focus away from what should have been the central issue all along: the Duke faculty’s unconscionable treatment of the accused students. To quote Harvey once again:

[The faculty] kept silent about their outrageous conduct toward three students, and instead proceeded to torment the professor who showed the moral courage to seek to call them on it.”

Thus, the self-serving faculty essentially sidetracked the discussion in order to protect their own interests and reputations. It seems that there is no end to the wrongdoing that they are capable of.

Schools:  Duke University