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Duke Divinity Crisis: The Documents Are Out

A source at DDS sends me the original e-mail exchanges that have caused the current crisis. Here they are, chronologically presented:

1. On Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 9:21 AM, Anathea Portier-Young  wrote:

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

On behalf of the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee, I strongly urge you to participate in the Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training planned for March 4 and 5. We have secured funding from the Provost to provide this training free to our community and we hope that this will be a first step in a longer process of working to ensure that DDS is an institution that is both equitable and anti-racist in its practices and culture. While a number of DDS faculty, staff, and students have been able to participate in REI training in recent years, we have never before hosted a training at DDS. Those who have participated in the training have described it as transformative, powerful, and life-changing. We recognize that it is a significant commitment of time; we also believe it will have great dividends for our community. Please find the registration link below. Details about room location will be announced soon.

Duke Divinity School will host a Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training on March 4 and 5, 2017, 8:30—5 pm both days. Participants should plan to attend both full days of training.

“Racism is a fierce, ever-present, challenging force, one which has structured the thinking, behavior, and actions of individuals and institutions since the beginning of U.S. history. To understand racism and effectively begin dismantling it requires an equally fierce, consistent, and committed effort” (REI). Phase I provides foundational training in understanding historical and institutional racism. It helps individuals and organizations begin to “proactively understand and address racism, both in their organization and in the community where the organization is working.” It is the first step in a longer process.

ALL Staff and Faculty are invited to register for this important event by which DDS can begin its own commitment to become an anti-racist institution.

Workshop capacity is 40 participants. Registration is FREE to DDS employees and students.


Snacks, breakfast, and light lunch will be provided. A 7:30 am liturgy will precede the Sunday training for those who wish to participate. Child care can be made available upon request.

2. From Paul Griffiths:

Sent: Monday, February 06, 2017 4:26 PM
To: Anathea Portier-Young
Cc: Divinity Regular Rank Faculty; Divinity Visiting Other Faculty
Subject: Re: Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training–March 4-5

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

I’m responding to Thea’s exhortation that we should attend the Racial Equity Institute Phase 1 Training scheduled for 4-5 March. In her message she made her ideological commitments clear. I’ll do the same, in the interests of free exchange.

I exhort you not to attend this training. Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual. (Re)trainings of intellectuals by bureaucrats and apparatchiks have a long and ignoble history; I hope you’ll keep that history in mind as you think about this instance.

We here at Duke Divinity have a mission. Such things as this training are at best a distraction from it and at worst inimical to it. Our mission is to thnk, read, write, and teach about the triune Lord of Christian confession. This is a hard thing. Each of us should be tense with the effort of it, thrumming like a tautly triple-woven steel thread with the work of it, consumed by the fire of it, ever eager for more of it. We have neither time nor resources to waste. This training is a waste. Please, ignore it. Keep your eyes on the prize.


Paul J. Griffiths
Warren Chair of Catholic Theology
Duke Divinity School

On the thread, a couple of DDS professors said that they were actually looking forward to the training. Then the Dean weighed in:

3. From Elaine Heath:

On Behalf Of Elaine Heath, Ph.D.
Sent: Monday, February 06, 2017 8:24 PM
To: Ray Barfield; Mary Fulkerson
Cc: Paul J. Griffiths; Anathea Portier-Young; Divinity Regular Rank Faculty; Divinity Visiting Other Faculty
Subject: Re: Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training–March 4-5

Dear Colleagues,

First, I am looking forward to participating in the REI training, and I am proud that we are hosting it at Duke Divinity School. Thea, thank you for your part in helping us to offer this important event. I am deeply committed to increasing our school’s intellectual strength, spiritual vitality, and moral authority, and this training event will help with all three.

On another matter: It is certainly appropriate to use mass emails to share announcements or information that is helpful to the larger community, such as information about the REI training opportunity. It is inappropriate and unprofessional to use mass emails to make disparaging statements–including arguments ad hominem–in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree. The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution.

As St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, regardless of how exquisite our gifts are, if we do not exercise them with love our words are just noise.


Elaine A. Heath, Ph.D.
Professor of Missional and Pastoral Theology
Divinity School
Duke University

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Do you see “racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry” in Griffiths’s message to his colleagues? Of course not, because it is not there! Objecting to this training as a waste of time is not racist, sexist, or bigoted in any way!

The next e-mail makes this very point.

4. From Thomas Pfau:

On Behalf Of Thomas Pfau, Ph.D.
Sent: Tuesday, February 07, 2017 12:20 PM
To: Ray Barfield; Mary Fulkerson; Elaine Heath, Ph.D.
Cc: Paul J. Griffiths; Anathea Portier-Young; Divinity Regular Rank Faculty; Divinity Visiting Other Faculty
Subject: Re: Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training–March 4-5

Dear Colleagues:

Until now, I have never inserted myself into discussions internal to the DDS faculty, mainly because mine is a secondary appointment, and because my administrative obligations in Arts & Sciences are plentiful enough. Having greatly enjoyed and benefited from the opportunity to offer upper-level seminars in the Divinity School (and also advising some of the doctoral and MTS students in it), I do greatly care about the intellectual health and generosity of spirit that for much of my time here has characterized the Divinity School.

So it is with deep care and enduring concern for an institution that over the years has become something of an intellectual asylum for me that I am now writing to offer a few thoughts on the email exchange below. My principal hope is to help us avoid slipping into merely polarizing views, with the steadily diminishing analytic yield that such a development typically entails.

When I read Paul Griffiths’ email, I found myself fundamentally in agreement with his observations, and my agreement was not one of mere opinion or conjecture but very much steeped in first-hand experience as Director of Undergraduate Studies and Director of Graduate Studies in two departments and, currently, as department chair. For all these responsibilities have repeatedly brought me into direct contact with initiatives like the one about which Paul expresses such strong reservations. While other colleagues may have a less jaundiced appraisal of these efforts, it is demonstrably true that initiatives of the kind that prompted the present discussion have of late been proliferating at Duke to a degree s that one may well regard with concern and misgivings for multiple reasons. As I read Paul Griffiths’ note, I took him to demur not at the goal that the proposed training is meant to advance, viz., to ensure practices free of bias and mindful of equity. Rather, he challenges the assumption that, merely for the asking, faculty ought be to give up significant chunks of time for the purposes of undergoing “training” in these areas.

Now, given the recent change in leadership in the DDS, it might be appropriate to offer some broader institutional perspective here.
Having worked at Duke for a long time for twenty-six years now, I have witnessed first hand a dramatic increase demands made on faculty time by administration-driven initiatives fundamentally unrelated to the intellectual work for which faculty were recruited by Duke. A seemingly endless string of surveys, memos, and “training sessions” is by now a familiar reality for most faculty, and it is an altogether inescapable entailment (as I well know) of chairing a department or program, serving on a hiring committee, or chairing a review.

So if faculty members choose to say in public (as Paul Griffiths has just done) what so many are saying in private, one might at the very least want to listen to and engage their concerns, especially if one holds sharply opposed views. Any academic unit, DDS included, can only flourish if differences of opinion on any variety of subjects are respected and engaged on their intrinsic merits. Having reviewed Paul Griffiths’ note several times, I find nothing in it that could even remotely be said to “express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry.” To suggest anything of the sort strikes me as either gravely imperceptive or as intellectually dishonest. Instead, if a faculty member raises serious doubts about the efficacy and methods of an initiative aimed at combating racial and other kinds of bias – and about the ways in which such training manifestly encroaches on the time faculty need to pursue their primary mission of teaching and research – then this view ought as a matter of course be respected as a legitimate exercise of judgment and expression. And while Paul Griffiths casts his criticisms in harsh terms, it would be nothing less than politically coercive and intellectually irresponsible to imply that his statement amounts to an “expression of racism.”

If DDS wishes to remain a vibrant intellectual community, then all kinds of different perspectives must be engaged analytically and in good faith, as propositions and judgments warranting earnest scrutiny rather than facile condemnation. To tar communications such as the one that Paul Griffiths has shared with the faculty as politically retrograde, let alone to contemplate institutional sanctions, is to take an alarmingly illiberal approach that, ironically, will end up confirming at least some of Paul Griffiths’s criticisms regarding the proposed initiative. Those struggling to grasp the difference between honest engagement and institutional censorship ought to revisit Herbert Marcuse’s account of “repressive tolerance.”

So I hope that in the matter at hand and on similar occasions, all concerned parties, and the leadership of DDS in particular, will allow calm reflection and intellectual engagement to prevail.


Thomas Pfau

Thomas Pfau
Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of English
Professor & Chair of Germanic Languages & Literatures
Member – Duke Divinity School Faculty

5. This led to Paul Griffiths’s following e-mail to his colleagues, which he authorized for wide distribution. I have taken the names of other Duke professors out of this excerpt:

Subject: intellectual freedom & institutional discipline at Duke Divinity School

Dear Faculty Colleagues,


Intellectual freedom – freedom to speak and write without fear of discipline and punishment – is under pressure at Duke Divinity these days. My own case illustrates this. Over the past year or so I’ve spoken and written in various public forums here, with as much clarity and energy as I can muster, about matters relevant to our life together. The matters I’ve addressed include: the vocation and purpose of our school; the importance of the intellectual virtues to our common life; the place that seeking diversity among our faculty should have in that common life; the nature of racial, ethnic, and gender identities, and whether there’s speech about certain topics forbidden to some among those identities; and the nature and purpose of theological education. I’ve reviewed these contributions, to the extent that I can (some of them are available only in memory), and I’m happy with them and stand behind them. They’re substantive; they’re trenchant; and they address matters of importance for our common life. So it seems to me. What I’ve argued in these contributions may of course be wrong; that’s a feature of the human condition.

My speech and writing about these topics has now led to two distinct (but probably causally related) disciplinary procedures against me, one instigated by Elaine Heath, our Dean, and the other instigated by Thea Portier-Young, our colleague. I give at the end of this message a bare-bones factual account of these disciplinary proceedings to date.

These disciplinary proceedings are designed not to engage and rebut the views I hold and have expressed about the matters mentioned, but rather to discipline me for having expressed them. Elaine Heath and Thea Portier-Young, when faced with disagreement, prefer discipline to argument. In doing so they act illiberally and anti-intellectually; their action shows totalitarian affinities in its preferred method, which is the veiled use of institutional power. They appeal to non- or anti-intellectual categories (‘unprofessional conduct’ in Heath’s case; ‘harassment’ in Portier-Young’s) to short-circuit disagreement. All this is shameful, and I call them out on it.

Heath and Portier-Young aren’t alone among us in showing these tendencies. The convictions that some of my colleagues hold about justice for racial, ethnic, and gender minorities have led them to attempt occupation of a place of unassailably luminous moral probity. That’s a utopia, and those who seek it place themselves outside the space of reason. Once you’ve made that move, those who disagree with you inevitably seem corrupt and dangerous, better removed than argued with, while you seem to yourself beyond criticism. What you do then is discipline your opponents. The contributions to our common life made by, inter alia, Chuck Campbell, Jay Carter, and Valerie Cooper exhibit these tendencies. I call them out too. I hope that they, together with Heath and Portier-Young, will reconsider, repent, make public apology to me and our colleagues for the damage done, and re-dedicate themselves to the life of the mind which is, because of their institutional location, their primary professional vocation. That life requires openness, transparency, and a willingness to engage. I commend all these things to them, and hope devoutly that they come to see their importance more clearly than they now do..

I’m making public the following narrative of these disciplinary proceedings under the pressure of three closely-associated thoughts. The first thought is that several more or less inaccurate versions of these events are already in circulation among us in the form of gossip; full and accurate disclosure is always better than gossip. The second thought is about responsibility. I’m happy to take full responsibility for my contributions to our common life at Duke Divinity. Those contributions have all been public, as is this message. But responsibility requires publicity. Heath’s and Portier-Young’s disciplinary proceedings are not public: they’re veiled, and accompanied by threats of reprisal if unveiled. I’d like them to take responsibility for what they’re doing, and so I’m making it public. The third thought is about the kind of confidence in speech (and writing) whose opposite is fear. Duke Divinity is now a place in which too many thoughts can’t be spoken and too many disagreements remain veiled because of fear. I commend a renunciation of fear-based discipline to those who deploy and advocate it, and its replacement with confidence in speech. That would be appropriate not only to our life together in a university-related Divinity School, but also to our life together as disciples of Jesus Christ.

the disciplinary actions

What follows, under (1) and (2), is a bare-bones factual account of the disciplinary procedures to date, together with two attachments. It may be useful to know that there’s a good deal of recent literature on the nature of university-based disciplinary proceedings like the ones I’m about to describe. I recommend, from quite different angles, Jon Krakauer’s Missoula (2015), and Laura Kipnis’s Unwanted Advances (2017). These books, with distinct agendas, agree that there are deep moral, legal, and procedural problems with university-based Title IX disciplinary procedures. These include, but aren’t limited to, their attempt to control speech and conduct by stifling expression; and their contempt for due process. It may also be useful to know that I’m not alone among Duke Divinity faculty in currently being, or having in the recent past been, subjected to discipline along these lines. I call upon those involved to share the details with us.

(1) Discipline initiated by Heath against Griffiths. In February 2017, Heath contacts Griffiths and asks for an appointment in which she’ll communicate her expectations for professional conduct at Duke Divinity. There’s back-and-forth by email about the conditions for this meeting, and agreement is reached for a four-way meeting to include Heath, Randy Maddox (Dean of Faculty, as support for Heath), Griffiths, and Thomas Pfau (as second for Griffiths). That meeting is scheduled for 3/6/17. Shortly before that date Heath cancels with no reason given, and then in short order asks for a new meeting on the same topic, this time with new criteria as to who can be present that rule out Pfau’s participation. Griffiths responds to this change in conditions by saying that he’s happy to meet, but now, given the changes, only under the condition that the meeting should be a one-on-one free exchange between himself and Heath. There’s email back-and-forth about this between Griffiths and Heath, all copied to Maddox. No agreement is reached about conditions for meeting: Griffiths and Heath each have conditions unacceptable to the other. Standoff. No meeting has occurred at the date of this writing. In a hardcopy letter (PDF attached) dated 3/10/17 [see below — RD], Heath initiates financial and administrative reprisals against Griffiths. Those reprisals ban him from faculty meetings, and, thereby, from voting in faculty affairs; and promise (contra the conditions stated in his letter of appointment) to ban him from future access to research or travel funds. Heath’s letter contains one material falsehood (item #1 in her letter; the accurate account is here, in this paragraph), together with several disputable interpretive claims. More reprisals are adumbrated, but not specified, in the letter. There that disciplinary procedure for the moment rests.

(2) Discipline initiated by Portier-Young against Griffiths, via the University’s Office for Institutional Equity (OIE). In early March, Griffiths hears by telephone from Cynthia Clinton, an officer of the OIE, that a complaint of harassment has been lodged against him by Portier-Young, the gravamen of which is the use of racist and/or sexist speech in such a way as to constitute a hostile workplace. A meeting is scheduled for 3/20/17 between Griffiths and representatives of the OIE to discuss this allegation. Griffiths requests from the OIE a written version of the allegation, together with its evidentiary support, in advance of the scheduled meeting. This request is declined by Clinton on behalf of the OIE, as appears typical for these proceedings. Griffiths then declines the 3/20/17 meeting, and sends a written statement to the OIE, which is attached [see below — RD]. The OIE will, it seems, now draw up a report and submit it to the ‘responsible persons’ in the case, which may include either or both of our Provost, Sally Kornbluth, and our Dean, Elaine Heath. (This may already have happened.) Those persons will then take whatever disciplinary actions they see fit, which may range from nothing to dismissal, with intermediate possibilities. There that disciplinary procedure for the moment rests.

​With sincere good wishes to my colleagues, and in hope of better things, fuller transparency, more exchange, an increase in love, and, as always, more light: in lumine tuo videbimus lumen —


6. I published the No. 5 letter a couple of days ago, but I did not then have the documents to which Paul Griffiths referred. Now I do, and I publish those texts below. 

In this one, I present a photocopy of the hard copy letter that Dean Heath sent to Prof. Griffiths, but broken into two images — this, to prevent Prof. Griffiths’s home address from being shown here, on this website:

Here is the second piece of correspondence cited by Griffiths in his No. 5 letter. It is written by him, sent to the university’s Office for Institutional Equity:

Thanks for your reply. I regret that you won’t provide further details of the complaint before our meeting scheduled for the 20th.

I’ve reviewed the written record of my interactions with the complainant over the last twelve months or so, together with what I can reconstruct in memory of spoken interactions in faculty meetings and suchlike.

That review has led me to the conclusion that I’ve done nothing other than express, with as much clarity, force, consistency, and precision as I can, argued opinions about the governance, priorities, purposes, and future of Duke Divinity School. I find nothing to repent of in those interactions, and nothing that can reasonably be considered harassment according to the definition provided in your office’s document outlining policies and procedures. Much less can anything in them be considered harassment based on considerations of race or gender, which I understand from our telephone conversation to be the gravamen.

The complainant’s allegation, so far as I understand it from your brief report, is illiberal, anti-intellectual, and shameful. It is, on the face of it, an attempt to constrain speech by blunt force rather than by free exchange. I’m entirely happy to stand on the record of my exchanges with the complainant, and with other colleagues. I’m confident that any reasonable judge of those exchanges will see them for what they are. I will not, however, further defend anything I’ve said against the kind of complaint you’ve communicated to me. I therefore won’t participate further in the procedure initiated by the complainant and pursued by your office. To do so would be inappropriately to dignify a procedure that has no place in the life of a university. And so I won’t attend the meeting scheduled for the 20th.

I understand that you must do your job as you have to and as you see fit. I hope you’ll see that I’m doing mine as I have to and as I see fit. This is a matter of conscience for me, as it ought to be for anyone committed to the fundamental values of university life.

That’s where the story stands now.

As I see it, Prof. Pfau is right: there is nothing remotely racist, sexist, or bigoted about Paul Griffiths strongly criticizing the anti-racism training. He might be wrong in his judgment about the training — I don’t think he is at all, but he might be — but at real universities, a professor has the right to be wrong. To subject Prof. Griffiths to this absurd disciplinary process on such ideological premises is an outrage. It is, as he calls it, “illiberal, anti-intellectual, and shameful.”

Good on Paul Griffiths for making this public (and by the way, I have not been in contact with him; he did not send me anything.) Duke Divinity School must be held to account — and future students there should know what kind of institution it has become under its current leadership before committing themselves to it.

UPDATE: According to a source close to Griffiths, he has resigned, effective at the end of the 2017-18 academic year.

UPDATE.2: Commenter “Recent DDS Grad” says:

I’m a recent graduate of DDS, and while this story saddens me, it doesn’t really surprise me. I agree with others that Dr. Griffiths should have thought better of sending such an incendiary email, but I can understand why he did, because I thought the environment at DDS concerning racism was totalitarian and oppressive. I am a white female, and I was second-career student with about 15 years of experience in the corporate world. What I saw was way worse than the corporate world. While I was there, the university had a series of escalating incidents of racism. I found it hard to believe that Duke University had more overt racists than anywhere I’ve ever lived, including some really redneck places. In a discussion about the racist incidents with some other Div School students, I said that perhaps the way we were responding to the incidents was hurting rather than helping, because after every incident the black students would make public announcements about how hurt and afraid and rejected they felt, and then everyone would hatch plans to re-educate the whole university on issues of racism. I suggested that instead perhaps we should respond to the perpetrators like we would a bully, with strength and confidence and even defiance, to show them they didn’t have power over anyone. You would have thought I had suggested we start a chapter of the KKK. They made it clear I was a horrible person in denial of the harsh realities of racism for suggesting such a thing, and I learned to keep my mouth shut. It appears to me that what’s going on is that they’re playing roles in a perverse drama, in which everyone so enjoys their own role that they don’t want the drama to end. The Bullies enjoy seeing how others react to their bullying; the Victims enjoy having everyone rush to their side to reassure them of their worth; and the Saviors enjoy the moral high ground of condemning the Bullies and comforting the Victims. I was so glad to get away from all that.

Please don’t publish my name. I don’t need more people thinking I’m a horrible person.

Readers, I know the name of this commenter, and verified that she graduated from DDS.

UPDATE.3: This just in from a Duke Divinity School student, whose identity I have verified, but who asks for anonymity:

Rod, I just wanted to thank you for publishing what you did. The story being told about Paul Griffiths was completely one-sided but the documents you’ve put up on TAC have restored some parity to the situation. Shining a bright light on this is the only chance there is of preventing Duke from going completely down the drain. Even if it does collapse into a cesspool, at least everyone else will be warned of what’s coming.

It blows my mind how insane my classmates have gotten over this. They’re whipped up into a frenzy over it and shouting down people who try to explain the difference between on the one hand critiquing the particulars of an anti-racist training program and on the other hand actually engaging in racist behavior. Duke is a shitshow and unless things change, I won’t be recommending anyone to attend (except perhaps to study New Testament—though I’m still not even sure).

230 Comments (Open | Close)

230 Comments To "Duke Divinity Crisis: The Documents Are Out"

#1 Comment By RoDanCapital On May 10, 2017 @ 1:14 pm

My Institution provided neither snacks, breakfast and lunch, nor the prayer/liturgy essential to sustain one through such vacuous workshops. Everything was done online: the Individual would mindlessly click their way (note the politically correct appellation here given the possible diversity in gender for such Individual) through a material that was neither read nor internalized and would return to the equally inane academic or administrative tasks.

The (jubilant) Institution would then click a box and brag in the Media about whatever the politically correct topic was and would extol the multiple gains, in alignment, compliance, enlightenment etc. now undoubtedly present. For without such training(s), academics and staff alike would be nothing more than uneducated savages.

What strikes me as most disingenuous – to remain within the politically correct realm of euphemisms – here is that individuals and programs who supposedly support diversity (of opinion) effectively squelch it with impunity and without any recourse.

#2 Comment By Bob Pepi On May 10, 2017 @ 1:30 pm

I no longer have the respect that I once did for Duke as a premier university. I will no longer recommend it to students who ask me about post secondary education.
Quite a shame what is happening to former houses of intellectual strength

#3 Comment By Jaye ryan On May 10, 2017 @ 1:59 pm

I d rather be held hostage by ISIS than to be forced in to this diversity training re education camp by these bitter harpy Divinity School women

#4 Comment By Robert Levine On May 10, 2017 @ 2:26 pm

re: Phil Rengert

Sending an email to everyone on a mailing list is fundamentally different from one sent to an individual. So trying to frame it as bullying a junior faculty member is pretty lame but I am sure they would try it anyway. It is really a form of debate.

I find the sending of the email to the group to be more hostile and bullying in nature than if he had sent it to her alone. The most effective bullies do their bullying in public – as our current president so amply demonstrates.

As for not meeting his dean on her terms, he is also exactly correct. Usually these things are structured to build evidence for dismissal while denying the accused a fair shake- specifically by making sure he has no access to minutes, notes, or recordings.

DDS would be on very shaky legal grounds if they denied him the right to take notes. But I agree with you – such meetings are tilted towards the employer. That doesn’t change the fact that, as an employee, he is subject to discipline for refusing such a meeting. That’s black-letter employment law. The fact that you and I don’t like it doesn’t change that fact. Even a tenured university professor can act in such a way as to meet the legal definition of “insubordination.”

re: Nicholas Stix says:

I’m not aware of any “environment very similar to a university” that isn’t a (college or) university, and certainly not an orchestra.

A tenured university professor enjoys an independence, both by contract and custom that no orchestra musician, not even a first fiddler, ever enjoys.

I’ve been outed! But, having worked in universities and orchestras both, I think I’m more qualified than are you to say whether or not they’re similar. And they are.

In almost every full-time American orchestra, musicians enjoy very strong employment protections and, after a probationary period, receive tenure. We do a lot of our work on our own. The workplace is a small community that’s worked together for years and years. And the principal musicians, at least, enjoy a surprising amount of artistic freedom, while all the musicians enjoy a degree of freedom to speak their minds about how the workplace is run that is far beyond what most American workers enjoy, and comparable to the kind of freedom that university faculty enjoy.

Your comment leaves no doubt that you are completely hostile towards Paul Griffiths’ position. Said hostility has nothing to do with “labor law,” and everything to do with the politics of racial totalitarianism.

Actually I’m not “hostile” to his position. I suspect my attitude towards such training would be rather dismissive as well. But I wouldn’t go around using insulting language towards my colleagues and my bosses in public and not expect some blowback from both. And I wouldn’t feel that my beliefs were so special that everyone was obligated to simply sit back and absorb whatever language I chose to express them.

And accusing people you don’t know of “racial totalitarianism” is both rude and ill-informed.

#5 Comment By David Fried On May 10, 2017 @ 2:53 pm

I’m an employment lawyer, and I just have one suggestion: If you find yourself in such a situation, whether at a university or within a corporation, do not refuse a request to meet with the Dean or equivalent authority, and do not try to impose preconditions. If you do, you have immediately changed the subject, which is now your insubordination. The authorities now have a neutral ground to discipline or terminate you. IN fact, the first thing I tell my clients is: while you are under attack, don’t be 15 minutes late, or order a pair of shoes online, or take a pencil home. Adopt a carefully bland tone in all your interactions. Document all conversations with those in authority with a polite e-mail saying “Dean, we just had a conversation in which you asked me to do x. Here is what I understand x to mean. Please confirm my understanding. ” You get the idea. But my clients rarely listen to me, because they, like Prof. Griffiths, prefer boundless self-righteousness to a bit of playacting. A two day seminar on racism is a waste of time and a serious imposition. I wouldn’t have gone, but I might have appealed to my job description or the union contract, rather than the triune god.

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 10, 2017 @ 8:17 pm

I d rather be held hostage by ISIS than to be forced in to this diversity training re education camp by these bitter harpy Divinity School women

If that were a real choice, I think you might choose differently.

The lawyerly advice is sound, but I suspect there might be something in the campus regs that allows Griffiths the right to have a second or an advocate or a witness, and it wouldn’t hurt to stand on that. Now if there were a union contract, he would have a right to representation. Having served briefly as a shop steward (in a transportation unit, not a college campus) I know how management can manipulate having someone in an office alone. (Isn’t it funny how people who think they are “left” don’t have a clue about the rights of labor v. management? Not that a professor is simply an employee — at least in theory.

#7 Comment By VikingLS On May 10, 2017 @ 11:06 pm

“I know how management can manipulate having someone in an office alone. (Isn’t it funny how people who think they are “left” don’t have a clue about the rights of labor v. management? Not that a professor is simply an employee — at least in theory”

Siarlys the mainstream left is overwhelmingly dominated by the management class and their fellow travelers, but you know that.

#8 Comment By David Fried On May 11, 2017 @ 11:04 am

@Jenkins: You are right that an employee who is a union member has a right to have a representative present at a disciplinary meeting. A few professors are union members; most are not. In any event, the university has put itself seriously in the wrong by threatening Griffiths’ funding and right to participate in university/faculty governance. If I were representing him, that would be my focus.
Another attorney who posted here evidently works for management, but I agree with him that the background to these fights is rarely presented accurately in the press. I recently advised a potential client to be very wary of ideological bystanders who wanted to hold his coat while he fought.

#9 Comment By Tx On May 11, 2017 @ 1:09 pm

Rod, I enjoy reading your stuff, but I’m still unclear as to why we should care at all what happens at Duke Divinity School.

DDS appeals to a very small proportion of the populace: liberal, modernist protestants, whose “form” of Christianity is already dead, even if they don’t know it. Some of the even more modernist and progressive among them pride themselves on the fact that they don’t reproduce themselves (“we limit our own carbon footprint!”).

Young people searching for the truth in Christ don’t seek out the liberal modernist bastions. Places like DDS or Princeton Theological Seminary may have held sway back in the day when mainline Protestantism was the de facto faith of the movers and shakers in America, but it’s not anymore. Liberal protestant cathedrals in big cities are empty. Yes, they have huge endowments, but they have no parishioners. What used to be grand protestant cathedrals are now community centers.

DDS is run by liberal feminists who publish books comparing Christ to the “Twilight” series. Come on, man. They are farcical.

If anyone wants to waste their time and money going to DDS, we can’t stop them, but why do those of us who are serious Christians even care what they do?

I surmise that the Dean of DDS would say that my “type” of Christianity (Orthodox Christianity) is archaic, irrelevant, oppressive with respect to our sexual desires, has services that are too long, anti-intellectual, etc. In other words, she doesn’t give my faith the time of day.

So why should I care what she or those at DDS writes, thinks, or does?

Not to mention that any real North Carolinian would never be caught dead going to Duke. Real North Carolinians know that Duke is a carpetbagger’s school for those who couldn’t get into the Harvard, Yale, or Princeton (that is how it started: copied after Princeton; Read Duke’s history). Real North Carolinians find their authentic university experience at Chapel Hill.

[NFR: What’s happening at DDS is emblematic of something happening in universities across the country. That’s why it matters. — RD]

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 11, 2017 @ 1:59 pm

I recently advised a potential client to be very wary of ideological bystanders who wanted to hold his coat while he fought.

Always good advice… no matter what the ideology of the would-be coat holders.

VikingLS… nothing dominated by the management class is “left,” although the self-absorbed avante garde managers probably don’t know that. Most of them are liberals, although some might qualify as “left wing infantile disorders.”

#11 Comment By John Dixon On May 12, 2017 @ 11:27 am

‘The concept of “fighting words” as a basis for employment discipline is well-established in employment law, and his use of terms like “bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty” and “illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies” might well qualify as such in an academic environment. I have no idea whether or not DDS has a written standard of professional conduct for faculty, but, if it did, I’d be surprised if such intemperate language – especially when directed against a younger faculty member – couldn’t be considered a violation. I have no doubt that basic collegial courtesy is expected of tenured faculty in most institutions, and Griffiths’ email is notably lacking in that respect.’

Perhaps Levine should hold himself to a higher standard than labour law. If Tommy Curry can advocate killing whites, maybe there is hope for Griffiths. I understand that lawyers have to work with concepts such as “the truth is no defence” but even so, isn’t it rather pharisaical of Levine to claim that describing Auschwitz as a “death camp” is fighting words? When Griifiths used the term “amen-corner rah-rahs” he showed himself to be a gentleman. When Heath rendered him to the mob she showed herself to be, shall we say, a master of modern procedure. When Levine backed her he showed himself to be a good judge of traitors. If you don’t doff your cap to Gessler’s hat on a pole, you’ll find it nailed to your head? Stipulating “fighting words” allows the wolf to speak of the harshness of the lamb. If Heath can’t stand the heat, she better get out of the kitchen (and the Kirche). Beat Griffiths on the court, not in court.

#12 Comment By Buck Wheaton On May 12, 2017 @ 3:34 pm

Duke, like all institutions, must choose between truth and the post-modernist mirage of “justice”, however they define it at a given moment. Any institution that turns its back on truth cannot stand for long.

#13 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 12, 2017 @ 7:21 pm

The concept of “fighting words” is a very narrow exception to the general First Amendment principle that congress (and other government jurisdictions) shall pass NO LAW infringing Freedom of Speech. It is not infinitely elastic to accommodate anything that might make some person somewhere upset.

Historically, it covers words that serve no other purpose but to insult a person’s character (not their work product, not their politics, their character) or casts aspersions on their mother’s sexual experience. “Fighting words” are generally those universally recognized as profane. If the hypothetical “reasonable man” would be expected to respond with violence, and if a good 90 percent of the population all agree, then we can talk about “fighting words.”

Griffiths did not call Heath a whore, or a b***h or imply that the identity of her father is very much in doubt, nor imply that she had known either of her parents in the Biblical sense… that’s the level of outrage necessary to meet the standard of “fighting words.” People have been known to throw a punch because someone says “I voted for Trump” or “I voted for Clinton,” but the one who throws a punch goes to jail for that, and the one who merely made the statement generally does not, unless a melee ensues.

#14 Comment By Joan Towles On May 17, 2017 @ 6:09 pm

After reading the comments, I have a few thoughts. We live in a nation with inherent traditions which have evolved over time. Our nation has had successes and setbacks and, we are not embracing and encompassing everyone’s ideals. We shouldn’t judge our forefathers or re-write our history based on leadership in a different time, a different culture, all which made our country a United States. Colleges reflect the values of the intellectual community from generation to generation. Even our Honorable Chief Justice Roberts mentioned and struggled with the issue of the intention of our Constitution. This document must not be altered by the trends of its citizens.
Obviously, there has been some sort of change at Duke Divinity School which has possibly created an upset of the existing faculty of the school. I liked several comments made regarding the issue of re-education of Professors at Duke Divinity School. One, we do not know the full story here. Second, the objecting Professor is in a no-win situation with regard to the expectation to attend these seminars as the new faculty member has been placed in a position of authority over him. Third, the trustees and financiers are the real decision makers on issues of hiring at the institution. Fourth, the college objectives may not be achieved if the reputation of the school becomes one which is leaning in one politic direction. My advice would be to place someone in an opposing position with the same authority as the new professor. Also, a formal apology to the resigning Professor and, an explanation as to the new Professor regarding fairly representing all views. I send my thoughts and well wishes to this fine institution.

#15 Comment By Ken Demario On May 21, 2017 @ 8:26 pm

I have no connection to DDS or any of the parties involved. I came across this thread while reading The Weekly Standard on line and found the discussion engaging (and not hysterical).
Professor Griffiths states in his initial letter that Professor Portier-Young made her political commitments clear and that he will do the same. Her stated commitment is to help make DDS an anti-racist institution. His commitment is less clear. He derides the planned racial equity training as “bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty,” cock-sure in his certainty. His stated aim for DDS seems to be solely a rigorous study of Christianity’s deity, undistracted by current social ills, including racism, however extensive or minimal a threat to the health of American society he deems it to be. He is free to take that position. He should not be surprised when his put-down of his colleague’s anti-racist efforts elicits the kind of response it did.
As a concerned citizen, I am well aware that the issue of institutional racism (whether and how extensive it is) is at the center of campus life throughout America’s colleges and universities. I think it’s real and extensive, but ironically more evident because the lot of Black Americans has improved. They are present in greater numbers and more vocal on campuses than ever and more aware of the barriers still facing them. White Americans are challenged to face up to the racist legacy of centuries of slavery and Jim Crow, – to see both the more blatant evidence, such as intentional, unprovoked police violence against Black people across the country, finally rendered undeniable by such evidence as shocking cell phone videos, and more subtle forms of condescension, so second nature to white people, as to require guidance to well-meaning people willing to see them. The goal of racial equity training is to heighten one’s ability to empathize with those historically denigrated and understand the affronts that would be intolerable, if one were the object rather than perpetrator of such behavior.
There are without doubt some accusations or perceptions that are inaccurate or disproportionate. But if white people would recognize the reality and persistence of racist stereotyping in everyday life, they would be less inclined to deny the existence and extent of institutional racism by grasping on to the few excesses. Well conceived racial equity training would contribute to this process.
Professor Griffith’s characterizations of the training are uncivil and contemptuous, and inappropriate discourse in a debate among academic colleagues. (After all, Senator McConnell banished Senator Warren from the floor for merely quoting critical published statements about then Senator Sessions during his confirmation proceedings.)
Indeed, Portier-Young’s group email was an invitation, not an order.
Griffiths’ group response and subsequent communications suggest he was more interested in making himself appear the martyr in some grand First Amendment cause celebre than in registering a reasoned determination that the racial equality sessions were not worth his time. The inference that he does not consider anti-racism an important goal at DDS is hard to avoid, a view which is, of course, his right to hold. I find a commitment to a policy of anti-racism to be a legitimate concern and priority for DDS to make as a shaper of the society in which it participates.
The escalation of events between the DDS administration and Griffiths strike me as jockeying for position to seize the higher moral ground, at least for PR purposes, to no useful end.

#16 Comment By Dupin On May 21, 2017 @ 10:37 pm

It looks to me like Duke is taking a page out of the cult’s playbooks.

No difference of opinion allowed. Facing star chamber courts if such differences are articulated and a form of excommunication imposed. It looks like me that the good folks at Duke might want to remove the Jehovah’s Witnesses from their “cults” courses because they’ve given up all moral authority to criticize them by acting just like them.

#17 Comment By Jim On May 22, 2017 @ 6:05 pm

Thank god someone is standing up to this. It’s not just the faculty that being driven crazy. They’re tormenting the students as well.

#18 Comment By Michele Schiesser On May 23, 2017 @ 6:55 am

I must point out that by sending a mass e mail announcing mandatory attendence at the diversity workshop and adding commentary about the evils of racism, the dean was herself creating a hostile work environment by insinuating her faculty were racists with out any proof whatsoever.

#19 Comment By Donna On May 23, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

Joan Towles: To whom are you referring when you say the “new” professor?

“as the new faculty member has been placed in a position of authority over him.”

Dr. Portier-Young has been faculty at DDS since I was a student there (2005). Dr. Griffiths came to DDS shortly thereafter, in 2008, I believe.

The “newest” person in this story is the Dean of the Divinity School, Dr. Elaine Heath. She is the only person “in a position of authority.”

As a DDS graduate, I am saddened by this incident, and the behavior of all of those involved. The fact that this has gone public and has become “news” across the country deeply saddens me as the reputation of an institution that I hold most dear is dragged through the mud.

#20 Comment By Garland Byron On May 23, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

This was fascinating reading. I’m a physician of 47 years and I had always thought the infighting at Academic Medical Centers was vicious and bloody. I had no idea that the divinity schools were the same. The subjects of contention change over the years but the human responses are still the same. This seems to be the case of a relatively new dean, a change in direction in a department, older faculty having some significant difficulties with the change,rightly or wrongly. Some newer faculty flexing their muscles and sending out invitations to stimulate some new thought but inappropriately rendering the innocence of the invitation questionable by intimating that all need retraining or re-indoctrinating and then getting pushback and fiery responses from older faculty. The Dean is insecure and feels threatened and responds to the pushback with her own threats and ultimatums and then the conversations rapidly deteriorate into trenches being dug, recriminations tossed and weapons cleared for action. One would wonder if the Dean had considered the Retraining Porfessor a protege or may be even a recent hire of the dean. The Dean certainly responds in that fashion. Having been an executive of a large clinic and having been involved in the removal of physicians, black and white, male and female for a variety of reasons over the years, it is is easy to see what the outcome would be. Throw in gender, race, conservative and progressive thought and you have an explosive mixture. This will continue. There was excellent legal advice in the letters also and I commend those authors. Consider someday the complications of firing a brilliant minority physician who could never understand where good judgement stopped and foolhardy risk started and whose wife was an attorney. Now that was an education that is way beyond postgraduate studies.

#21 Comment By Jacobin Girondin On May 25, 2017 @ 2:24 am

Well, I have slogged through the E-mails and comments, as well as the Observer account. Bud Collins, the sophisticated tennis commentator, used to describe such rhubarbs as “a tempest in a pisspot.” Ditto for this one, I’d say. Griffiths was right to resign, just to get the hell out of that madhouse on steroids as fast as he could. The one thing that stands out the most about the whole fracas is how Dean Heath could have logically characterized Griffiths’s E-mail to the faculty as including “racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry and an ad hominem argument.” As I recognized immediately, and Prof. Pfau and others pointed out, there was simply nothing in Griffiths’s E-mail that even remotely resembles racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry. But, putting that gross falsification by the Dean aside, much worse, of a nakedly stupid character, is her claim that there was an ad hominem argument in what Griffiths wrote. An ad hominem argument is one “against the man [or person].” To make such an argument, one would have to name or at least identify somebody then attack that person on grounds totally extraneous to the matter in dispute and exclusively germane to that person. Griffiths indicated no one and attacked no one on personal grounds. What this shows is that Dean Heath is a deranged hysterical of minimal intellectual development who reacts with canned knee-jerk stereotypes like racism, sexism, etc. to everything with which she disagrees. That such a travesty of an intellectual could become the dean of a university school speaks woeful volumes of despair for what has happened to education in America. It is gone, gone, gone. Dean Heath, to remain at Duke, would have to be given a mop and bucket and told to go clean the school’s toilets—if it were really a school, which it isn’t.

#22 Comment By William M Harrison Jr On May 25, 2017 @ 2:19 pm

It is a tragic shame when I read this arrogant betrayal of our U S Constitution, First Amendment, and other Old and New Testament free speech rights guaranteed to all,and by a Duke University Divinity School professor. She should be ashamed
William M Harrison Jr

#23 Comment By Lisa @ NatureImmerse On June 8, 2017 @ 7:43 pm

at The American Conservative. This highlights a series of exchanges between campus staff and might be amusing if not so ridiculous. Essentially, people completely lost their minds when someone dared suggest that a scheduled diversity training would be a waste of intellectual time. If you want to see smart people bicker with big words, this one’s for you.

#24 Comment By Joseph O’Leary On June 12, 2017 @ 1:46 am

This is what happens when there is no proper vetting of academic credentials (I refer to Dean Heath). The academy falls into the hands of over-heated activists who have no idea of what academia means.

#25 Comment By Roy Hollingsworth On June 17, 2017 @ 11:05 am

As for me, I get a kick out of watching the liberals devour each other. When one of them takes a position based on what being a “liberal” really means, or ought to mean, he is eaten alive by his own fascist comrades. Just as it is in most socialist revolutions, it’s about power, dude, not any rational philosophy or benevolent social vision.

It can be stopped at these so-called institutions of higher learning in only one way: by parents refusing to pay for their kids’ schooling there.

#26 Comment By R.C. On June 29, 2017 @ 1:15 am

It is, sadly, very old news that Duke — I don’t confine it to the Divinity School — is no longer a safe place for the life of the mind.

It is primarily the social contacts and prestige which one can acquire on “Southern Ivy” campuses (and at the traditional Ivies, too) which prevents their marketplace value from collapsing to zero.

So long as a student believes that he can keep his mouth shut for a few years and skate through the dissenter-crushing gauntlet of leftist ideologies without being found out and labeled a heretic, he will do it, for the sake of those contacts and the associated academic prestige.

But just let any serious marketplace alternative emerge quickly enough, and the Universities of the U.S. will collapse towards financial bankruptcy faster than they can reinstate their obliterated intellectual life.

#27 Comment By Fancy On February 17, 2018 @ 4:43 am

It’s high time we start spearheading changes in our constitution so as to address such matters in a proper manner.

#28 Comment By Chris Lynch On March 13, 2018 @ 9:07 am

I have sympathies for both sides, here. Professor Griffiths’ contempt for the intellectual poverty of the roots of such training is palpable.

Yet how ironic that a professor in his position should invoke “the Triune God” yet so obviously bypass the opportunity to take advantage of this bit of Jesus’ wisdom:

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.”

Matt. 5:25

In fact, everyone involved would have been well-served by this advice–even the “winners” of this sorry conflict, who now have this affair as an ugly scar on their reputations. There were undoubtedly opportunities along the way for someone in authority to call “timeout” and get the principals to lay down their weapons and talk face to face, or for a friend of Griffiths to get him to see how understandable it was that his colleague (and her Dean) could take offense.

If I were teaching a workshop in professional etiquette, this would be my choice for a case study in What Not To Do, for all three of the principals.

In this hypothetical course, Day 1 would be about choosing an appropriate channel for communication, e.g.
* phone/email/face to face/memo
* up the chain of command?
* laterally, copying your boss? Not copying your boss?
* laterally, copying the other person’s boss?
* your office? Their office? Hallway?

First commandment, for me: Thou shalt not “Reply All” to company broadcast emails. Just. Don’t. Ever.

What a sad business.

(BTW, I have no connection with Duke.)

#29 Comment By Athanasius On March 16, 2018 @ 12:48 am

I graduated from DDS in 2015. The environment is incredibly hostile to those who do not bow to Leftist identity politics. Jesus is just a paltry mascot for vociferous cultural Marxism. For instance: a friend of mine, who is conservative and white, simply (and accidentally) referred to his black, female professor by her first name. He instantly apologized. But, to her, he just expressed his deeply harbored racism. He was accused of bigotry and kicked out of her class. He broke down. It hurt him.

I felt a great deal of antipathy directed toward me for holding to a Biblical view of sexuality and marriage. Christianity is simply not welcomed. Many of us in the conservative minority felt targeted, pressured, and unwanted. Terribly sad that a seminary so fails in its mission to nurture, engage, inquire, and ultimately glorify Jesus.

#30 Comment By mark abrams On May 25, 2018 @ 4:16 pm

Ken Demario,
Begging the question is a powerful logical fallacy, but no fallacy should be deployed quite so blatantly as this:

“But if white people would recognize the reality and persistence of racist stereotyping in everyday life, they would be less inclined to deny the existence and extent of institutional racism by grasping on to the few excesses. Well conceived racial equity training would contribute to this process.”

Here it is an earlier guise:

But if witches would recognize the reality and persistence of Satan’s evil in everyday life, they would be less inclined to deny the existence and extent of black magic by grasping on to the few excesses of the inquisition. Well conceived sermons would contribute to this process.