Financing a Farce

Why don't university donors speak up against the sorry state of humanities education?

A news story the other day gave me pause.  Duke University, reported the Durham Herald-Sun, has launched a fundraising campaign from which it plans to raise three and a quarter billion dollars.  The campaign, which “already has taken in about $1.325 billion during its planning, or silent, phase over the last two years” and will run until June 2017, is meant to “benefit each of the university’s 10 schools and...other university programs” and to pay for “major upgrades to...athletics facilities.” Rick Wagoner, chair of Duke's Board of Trustees, told a meeting of donors: “We asked the question: What kind of future do we envision for Duke? What resources do we need to achieve that future?” And Duke President Richard Brodhead boasted that the university seeks to “define a new model of education....You know the thing about Duke is that it has only begun to be what it can be.”

Brodhead, let it be remembered, is the same fellow who was president of Duke back in 2006, when a black stripper accused white Duke lacrosse players of rape.  Though the stripper's story was dubious from the start, several dozen humanities professors, including 80% of the faculty of the African and African American Studies Program (AAAS), joined in a campaign to paint her as a victim and the athletes as racist brutes.  Brodhead's response?  He sided with the mob – smearing the athletes, forcing their coach to resign, and piously pontificating about the evils of racism.  Thanks to his cowardice, to the faculty's ideology-driven rush to judgment, and to an unscrupulous prosecutor who was clearly out to railroad innocent young men, the players' lives were almost destroyed.  Their exoneration made national headlines.

Brodhead and many others at Duke could've learned from that disgraceful experience.  They chose not to.  Brodhead, who had repeatedly “cast...aspersions on the lacrosse players’ characters” (as KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor, Jr., put it in their book on the case), reacted to their exoneration by rewarding the professors who'd tried to destroy them, recommending full departmental status for the AAAS.  As former Duke basketball star Jay Bilas summed it up at the time, “From the beginning, President Brodhead abdicated his responsibility as Duke’s leader to stand up for fairness and truth. Instead, President Brodhead chose the path of political expediency. He failed to effectively counter factually inaccurate and inappropriate statements about Duke and its students, failed to forcefully speak out against procedural irregularities, and failed to take appropriate action in response to repeated attacks upon the due process rights of Duke’s students....Brodhead’s mishandling of the challenges presented has proven him incapable of effectively leading Duke into the future.”

I mention this episode at length not because I mean to single out Duke and Brodhead, but – on the contrary – because it is beyond doubt that many other college presidents, if confronted with the same situation, would likely have conducted themselves exactly as Brodhead did.  His shameful abandonment of those lacrosse players, and his readiness to echo the damning rhetoric of their  critics, reflected a mentality that's deeply rooted in all too many American universities.  In today's Orwellian academy, there's no longer any such thing as blind justice – certainly not colorblind justice.  Morality comes down to questions not of right and wrong but of race, sex, and class.  To put it a slightly different way, evil comes in three forms: racism, sexism, and classism.   Hence the innocent can be guilty, the guilty innocent.  Of the several dozen Duke profs who coldbloodedly convicted the lacrosse players without a trial, few if any expressed remorse afterwards.  Even though those athletes turned out to have done nothing wrong, their detractors on the faculty felt morally pure because, in the larger battle against racism, sexism, and classism, they'd been in the right.

To spend time in the company of the purveyors of “identity studies,” as I did in preparation for my book The Victims' Revolution, is to inhabit a lockstep subculture in which this morally repulsive way of thinking is ubiquitous.  Teachers who are experts in only one subject – grievance-mongering – train students to become experts in the same thing.  Young people who came to college thinking of themselves as individuals leave four years later thinking of themselves as members of one or more oppressor or victim groups.  Kids who might have been given a rich and rewarding education are instead, quite simply, brainwashed.

Reading those comments Brodhead and Wagoner made to their donors, I couldn't help wondering: who exactly are all these deep-pocketed men and women, and why are they so eager to hand over so much dough to Duke?  When Brodhead talks about Duke's “new model of education,” and when Wagoner waxes eloquent about the “kind of future...we envision for Duke,” how aware are these donors of the grim reality behind these pretty phrases?   Again, I don't mean to single out Duke here, for it's far from alone in its ambition: as the Herald-Sun noted, USC and Columbia are currently aiming to raise $6 and $5 billion respectively, while Stanford “recently completed a $6.2 billion campaign, and Yale...raised $3.9 billion.” Interestingly enough, these institutions happen to be among those that are the most seriously poisoned by the kind of toxic mentality that almost destroyed those lacrosse players' lives.

It's Columbia professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, for example, who has taught white feminists that if they speak up against honor killing, forced marriage, spousal abuse, and other crimes against women in the Islamic world, they'll be guilty of a racist offense – namely, trying to “save the brown woman from the brown man.” It was two daughters of Yale – Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler – who gave the American academy that jargon-heavy but intellectually lightweight concoction known as Queer Theory, and it was Yale that, when handed a fat check by gay playwright Larry Kramer's rich brother to offer responsible, objective instruction in gay history, established a program that, to Kramer's outrage, served up the same inane courses in “Gender Transgression,” “Queer Ethnographies,” and the like that you can find in “Queer Studies” programs on campuses across the country.

Larry Kramer's brother realized his money was misused.  How many benefactors of Duke, Yale, and other such institutions understand exactly where their cash is going?  One assumes that among these generous folks there are plenty of rich white males – the ultimate oppressors, according to the system of power “analysis” that, in the eyes of so many members of the Duke faculty, made those lacrosse players automatically culpable.  If these donors are aware of what's going on in humanities classrooms at places like Duke, why, one might respectfully ask, are they so eager to give staggering sums of money to ensure their own continued demonization by bogus “educators” who consider them the enemy?

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