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Update On Duke Divinity Crisis

A reader from within Duke Divinity School sent the following. The reader, whose identity I verified, asked for anonymity to protect himself/herself from retribution there:

Earlier this semester, an email went out to DDS faculty about racial sensitivity training. Griffiths wrote an excoriating reply, saying something to the effect that the program was intellectually vapid and beneath the level of discourse an elite theological school should be having. A whole wave of emails ensued from various faculty. Valerie Cooper, mentioned in Griffiths’ note, then decided it would be appropriate to spend a session in two of her classes (“Pentecostalism” and “White Apocalypse”) showing students these emails and using it as an opportunity to tell everyone how much racism she had to deal with from some of her white male colleagues. While she blacked out Griffiths’ name in almost every instance, people could tell from the style and diction that these were emails from Griffiths. Though if it weren’t clear enough already (and it was) she forgot to black out his name on the last page. It was the very nadir of professionalism.

Prof. Cooper, by the way, published the following response to my Friday post about the controversy, in which I characterized Prof. Griffiths’s accusers as SJWs. She welcomes the term:

[UPDATE: The screen grab a reader sent was from Prof. Cooper’s Facebook page, which I have just learned (from her) is private. She has asked me to take down the image. I have just done so. — RD]

If merely objecting to “racial sensitivity” training at a university is enough to get you subjected to a star chamber disciplinary process as a counterrevolutionary, and if objecting gets you branded an enemy of the people, such that all the professional standards and pursuit of justice at Duke get cut down in an effort to capture and punish the white devil — if these things are true, then Duke Divinity School is no place for scholars.

All of this needs to come out, documents and everything.

UPDATE: Powerful comment by Treehugger:

Wow. I offer two snapshots into two very different times (which perhaps provides some insight on why some of us who studied this stuff years ago have been slow to appreciate the ugly turn…..):

First snapshot: As an undergrad in the mid-90s, I marched into office hours for a course on some slice of Western thought/philosophy, newly armed with the notion that dominant discourse effectively erases the roles and narratives of women and minorities, and proceeded to complain that the reading list consisted of only white men. My complaint was met with annoyance and exasperation, but the prof did something else: he asked me what, or who, specifically, should be on the reading list and what then should be replaced – and why. In other words, he treated my complaint as an argument, something within, and not outside the bounds of reasonable discussion, and by doing so (as I realized in that moment) took my own conviction more seriously than I had taken it myself. I was speechless, and embarrassed. The prof said I could think about it and come back. So I did – I studied the syllabus to try to see where I’d wedge the one or two “replacements” that I’d mustered, and I had to appreciate the thoughtfully-considered, tight set of readings. I went back and admitted to the integrity of the syllabus, and shared what I’d come up with anyway, and this time the exchange focused on what those authors substantively have to offer, and in relation to what contexts or themes. Thinking back, maybe I owe this professor an even greater debt of gratitude than I realized in his commitment to pedagogy, his stubbornness in the practice of reason; because maybe I was at risk of that dangerous turn, that reactive and self-certain retreat from honest dialogue and toward (non-)intellectual closure. What stuck with me is that reason abides – full stop. Reason is the great equalizer — available to anyone and all of us and asks only that we take it up in good faith, that we make the case. This, to me, is what I always thought worth protecting.

Notice the difference when what matters, what is taken seriously, is the value and quality of ideas. I can almost hear today’s SJW’s explaining that I was merely “subjugated” by the force (the violence!) of hegemonic discourse and institutional power structures. I know these arguments front-to-back and back again (I think warriorsplaining is getting as tedious as mansplaining!). I wonder if these days that prof would be drummed out for not immediately apologizing for the “harm” caused by his syllabus.

The second snapshot: fast forward to current times. (I prefer to keep the circumstances here somewhat vague and provide details only as needed to make the point.) I recently had a first-hand view of an interview situation on a campus, which meant I was exposed to university culture for the first time in almost two decades. The fear and confusion over how to always and everywhere display “diversity and inclusion” is apparent.

The interview involved a prospective faculty member, and during the process, a dean of diversity swept into one of the interviews, barely looked up from her blackberry, confessed to not reading any of the candidate’s materials (including a required submission specifically addressing “diversity and inclusion”), and asked, as if reading from script: “how will you contribute to diversity and inclusion, including through pedagogy and course materials, and have you taken professional development or other enrichment courses on diversity and inclusion?” (I don’t necessarily blame the dean, who is a faculty person themselves and likely was thrown into the center of a hyperventilating administrative mess.)

But when I heard the question, I was thinking in my head, what in the world is all of that verbiage supposed to mean? Of course I actually did understand – or rather, I understood the assumptions that gave rise to the bureaucratic requirement that it be asked. I also knew (as we all did, including the dean and the candidate), that there was nothing serious or honest about the inquiry. The moralistic tone, the supposed call for reflexivity, paradoxically shuts down conversation because everyone knows what is really going on – the ritualization and institutionalization of ideological litmus testing. Everyone knows what must be done, what the candidate must utter (whether sincerely or not) so that the right boxes can be checked on some evaluation form. Does it matter at all what the candidate genuinely thinks or has experienced in respect of diversity and inclusion? (After all, “diversity” is a common policy at universities, but it can mean many different things, depending on one’s experience and vantage point.) But genuine diversity — or perhaps we should say an “inclusive” view of diversity — doesn’t matter. What matters is that one answer in an acceptable way.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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