Thursday, September 20, 2007

Right even when they're wrong

I didn't follow the case of the Duke University lacrosse players last year. Not for any particular reason other than lack of time and I don't like lacrosse. If you didn't either, there's all the essential information in this review in The Economist of Until Proven Innocent by Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson.

The article notes how well the case seemed to fit the PC trope of racist white America, which helps to explain the behaviour of the media as well as that of the faculty of Duke University.

Radical students stomped around the campus banging pots and demanding justice (one sign recommended castration). And a crowd of radical professors pronounced the students guilty as sin. Some professors used the “rape” to illustrate lectures on racial and sexual repression. Several gave invective-laden interviews to the press. On April 6th 2006, 88 faculty members took out a full-page advertisement in the college newspaper condemning the lacrosse players. In April 2007, all charges were dropped.

Did the fact that they were wrong make the good professors reflect on their behaviour? Did the evidence influence their judgement at all? Did it, hell.

Even after it was clear that the athletes were innocent, 87 faculty members published a letter categorically rejecting calls to recant their condemnation. And one professor, proving that some academics are as far beyond parody as they are beneath contempt, offered a course called “Hooking up at Duke” that purported to illustrate what the lacrosse scandals tell us about “power, difference and raced, classed, gendered and sexed normativity in the US.”

Undoubtedly, if pressed they would respond, like Charles Enderlin to the charge that the al-Durah footage was faked, that even if it was, "the image corresponded to the reality of the situation" and therefore was justified. You see, lies for the Greater Good aren't lies, they're an instance of l'engagement.

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