Now what about those Duke professors

Posted: Jun 18, 2007 12:00 AM
Now what about those Duke professors

We know about Mike Nifong, and it looks like he's going to get his comeuppance. Yet the question remains: Why would a seasoned prosecutor like Nifong flout the rules in so many ways in the Duke case? Why would he publicly describe the Duke lacrosse players as "rapists" before that had been established in a court of law? Why would he suppress DNA evidence that the defense was entitled to see? Why, in short, did he go so far before the facts were in?

One of Nifong's public comments provides a clue. He says he wanted to protect the town of Durham from the reputation of being a place featuring "a bunch of lacrosse players from Duke raping a black girl." From this we see that Nifong suffers from delusions of grandeur. He sees himself as the Custodian of Durham's Reputation. He views his job as the White Protector of the Black Race. If he simply saw himself as a prosecutor doing his job in a difficult situation--with competing claims and counterclaims--he wouldn't have made such an ass of himself.

Nifong seems to be suffering from Recovering Southerner Syndrome. This is the ailment, first named on this blog, in which Southerners feel so guilty about slavery and segregation that they perform undignified backward somersaults to prove that they are "not really Southern." When they encounter something Southern--like white Southern frat boys at a party--their mind immediately conjures up images of segregated water fountains and they draw their swords and go into Crusader Against Racism mode. Viewed in this way, Nifong saw himself as a kind of white knight slaying the dragons of Southern bigotry. Nifong was not alone in this: dozens of Duke professors reacted to the incident in exactly the same way.

The only problem was that the facts didn't bear them out. The Duke players apparently weren't planning a rape or a lynching; they were merely misbehaving in the manner of "boys gone wild." That’s not how gentlemen are supposed to behave, but it isn’t discriminatory and it isn’t illegal. So the presumption of white bigotry was entirely wrong in this case. The world is different now and the old civil rights models don't necessarily apply. I suspect that MIke Nifong is not the only fellow who is going to learn this lesson the hard way.

So Nifong is going to resign, and maybe get his license taken away too. Now what about the mau-mau artists at Duke, influential figures on the faculty, who whipped the campus up into a racial hysteria? What happens to the people who helped to create a mob mentality against students, rendering their lives miserable for more than a year, when their guilt was never established, never even probable, and now they have been shown to be innocent?

From the time the first reports of sexual assault at Duke University surfaced, these intellectual vigilantes went to work. Houston Baker, a professor of English and Afro-American Studies, issued a public letter condemning the "abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence and drunken white male privilege loosed among us." He seems to have simply presumed the students guilty.

Shortly after that, 88 members of the Duke arts and science faculty--the so-called Gang of 88--signed a public statement praising campus demonstrators who had distributed a "WANTED" poster that branded the lacrosse players as "rapists." The Gang of 88 didn't use that term, but its statement referred to "what happened to this young woman." Ignoring calls to wait for the evidence, the gang instead went into full social-justice gear.

"What is apparent every day now is the anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be objects of racism and sexism, who see illuminated in this moment's extraordinary spotlight what they live with every day...We're turning up the volume in a moment when some of the most vulnerable among us are being asked to quiet down while we wait. To the students speaking individually and to the protesters making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard." In other words, Go vigilantes go!

Now it is time to hold these folks accountable. I know it’s too much to expect that these politically correct vigilantes have their teaching licenses taken away. But perhaps it’s not too much to ask that they be officially reprimanded by the university.