Monday, July 28, 2008

Richard Brodhead: The Duke of Disdain

Some background on one of the men behind the near-lynching of the three innocent Duke university lacrosse players. Richard Brodhead was President of Duke at the time. He spoke and acted precipitously against the players, presuming their guilt before they had a chance to defend themselves in court . The account below is by famous Melville scholar Hershel Parker. Parker shows that Brodhead was a mainstream product of the politically correct culture that pervades American universities and that the lacrosse players were not the first who were victimized by Brodhead's disregard for truth and justice. Brodhead is still President at Duke, despite compensation to the players costing Duke heaps -- said by some to be $18 million. Duke obviously considers his behavior to be satisfactory

History is replete with records of those in high office who display a haughty contempt toward folk of a lower standing, but in the twenty-first century a reservoir of disdain is not what you expect in an American university dean or president. Yet Richard H. Brodhead as Dean of Yale College and after 2004 as President of Duke University has repeatedly allowed disdain to color both his writings and his treatment of living human beings. In the years after 23 June 2002, when he defamed me as a scholar while obliterating all record of my hard-working mentors and other scholars in his New York TIMES review of the second volume of my biography of Melville, I have become something of an authority on Brodhead's disdain.

Perhaps the best way of seeing Brodhead's habitual disdain in its unforced, free-flowing form is to look at it when it is not directed at living persons such as the Yale instructor James Van de Velde, me and my older colleagues, or Duke lacrosse players and their families and the lacrosse coach. I point first to Brodhead's The School of Hawthorne (1986), where the reader trips hard against this remarkably invidious and quite gratuitous comment: "Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a once-admired poet more forgotten now than even the word 'limbo' can suggest, found his poetical vocation while reading Longfellow." As someone who knows first hand just how much pain Brodhead's snide innuendo can inflict, I wince at the disdain in this sentence as I retype it. Poor Aldrich! Not even lying in limbo--still more forgotten than that! Yes, popular writers fall out of favor, and may become neglected, but here Brodhead's elitist contempt is grotesquely misapplied.

How misapplied? Brodhead is egregiously slurring a man he should have been studying. While preparing a book called The School of Hawthorne a genuine scholar at Yale (since 1953 something of an oxymoron) would have inched down the aisles of the Sterling Memorial Library and compulsively read old novels. A scholar would have seized on that very Thomas Bailey Aldrich's The Stillwater Tragedy. Aldrich, a proud member of the school of Hawthorne, opens The Stillwater Tragedy with a passage written in loving homage to Hawthorne's set piece in The House of the Seven Gables on the passage of a night and morning while a corpse awaits discovery. Aldrich and other writers lost beyond limbo in Brodhead's opinion (writers including Harriet Beecher Stowe in her remarkable New England novels) ought to have been given at least a few pages in any book entitled The School of Hawthorne. Ignorance and arrogance compound the foulness of Brodhead's habitual disdain. It's not smart to make fun of someone you ought to have recognized as highly relevant to your survey of Hawthorne's possible influence on several dead white men.

Disdain was at work in Brodhead's treatment of the Yale instructor James Van de Velde who had the misfortune to be a teacher of a student who was murdered. In an article on 6 June 2006 Michael Rubin explained: "On December 4, 1998, senior Suzanne Jovin was found stabbed to death and left at an intersection in a neighborhood adjacent to the Yale campus which housed many Yale professors and graduate students." Brodhead, acting for Yale, was obsessed with avoiding adverse publicity. Rubin continued, "When Jovin was murdered, justice took a backseat to damage control. Within days New Haven police and Yale officials publicly fingered political scientist James Van de Velde, Jovin's senior essay adviser." As Rubin explains, "Yale administrators did not care that there was neither evidence nor motive linking Van de Velde to Jovin. Her body had been found a half-mile from his house. Just as at Duke, Brodhead spoke eloquently about the principles of due process, but moved to subvert it. Citing the New Haven Police Department's naming of Van de Velde among 'a pool of suspects,' Brodhead cancelled Van de Velde's spring-term lecture, explaining that 'the cancellation of the course doesn't follow from a judgment or a prejudgment of his hypothetical involvement in the Jovin case.' As at Duke, Brodhead insisted that due process would prevail. Despite Van de Velde's stellar student reviews and distinguished record, Brodhead then let his contract lapse. Van de Velde left New Haven, his career in shambles."

Brodhead himself was an eminently safe man, hitherto almost untested, having been an undergraduate at Yale, graduate student at Yale, assistant professor at Yale, and successively promoted until he became Dean of Yale College. What's wrong with that? In Brodhead's case, as far as academic work goes, it meant that he never learned how to learn to do research. He learned how to be a critic, not how to be a scholar, a person who actively adds to knowledge. The New Criticism had been dominant at Yale since 1953, when Charles Feidelson replaced Stanley T. Williams, the teacher of the great Melville graduate students of the 1940s. After Feidelson, scholarly research all but died at Yale, where one critical dissertation after another was written and accepted in partial fulfillment of the PhD degree. The original New Critics of the 1940s, including some who taught at Yale, had been trained as scholars, but the Yale English Department became a place where those who had never done scholarly research taught those who would never do scholarly research, and would be distrustful and hostile toward it. Even aside from the disaster of having each Yale generation farther and farther from real scholarly work, it's always bad for a school to hire its own, bad for the department and the one who is hired. All his academic life Brodhead had been the wealthy curled darling of Yale (to allude to one of Brodhead's favorite plays, Othello).

Van de Velde was a non-ideologue with world-experience who was intruding upon safe, conventional Yale behavior. As Rubin says, Van de Velde had been "a former White House appointee under George H. W. Bush and a member of the U.S. Naval Intelligence Reserves." He did not fit in: "Most Yale professors lean to the left of the student body; few in the political-science and international-relations departments have real-world experience. Van de Velde was the subject of personal jealousy and political animosity. Many faculty members -- including Brodhead -- looked askance at his desire to emphasize practical policymaking over theory." In the American Spectator for 19 June 2006 Clinton W. Taylor, one of Van de Velde's students at Yale, supplemented Rubin's account.

Indeed, Van de Velde was a forceful, splendid misfit at Yale, "certainly an anomaly." Van de Velde was no cosseted, genteel junior appointee such as Brodhead had been in the 1970s. His bearing was military, Taylor specified, as befitted a lieutenant commander in Naval Intelligence. According to rumormill blogger Patriotlad (9 August 2001), Van de Velde's "schedule was all work, study, and working out." Taylor specified that Van de Velde was "in good shape and knew martial arts." He was a marathon runner, according to the New York TIMES (19 June 2001), and not a slacker: 4 hours 10 minutes in a San Diego race. Van de Velde knew how to take care of himself physically, that's clear, but he was not equipped to deal with a dean who (as Rubin says) was eager to allow "public relations to trump principle."

Now there is news. Here is Rubin again 10 December 2007 in "Richard Brodhead's Second Chance?" (National Review Online): "Years before the Duke lacrosse case, while still dean of Yale College, Richard Brodhead punished Yale lecturer James Van de Velde for a crime, it turns out, he could not have committed (the DNA evidence exonerated him). Absent the hard work of a figure like KC Johnson, Brodhead never bothered to apologize to a man whose career he ruined for the sake of short-term public relations. Now it seems an independent commission will start from scratch its investigation of the Jovin murder at Yale. As the Yale case proceeds, it will be interesting to see whether Brodhead has learned any lessons from his Duke fiasco. He might begin with a formal, public apology to James Van de Velde." Brodhead, we know, is not good at apology. When he finally makes an attempt at one we see that he thinks he needs a committee to tell him, next time, what he might say. Anyone not on that Duke committee could tell him he might be better off not to act with instinctive disdain when human lives are involved. In a 12 December 2007 article in the YALE DAILY NEWS Rachel Boyd wrote about a new Jovin Investigation Team "charged with solving the Yale senior's murder by bringing fresh eyes to a crime that may have needed a more thorough effort from the start." Boyd dropped in the mention of an extremely important development: "And just yesterday [11 December 2007] after more than a year of judicial silence, a federal judge resurrented Van de Velde's claims against Yale and the New Haven Police Department." This story is not over.

Brodhead's trashing of Van de Velde's reputation was followed in 2002 by his trashing of mine in the Times review already cited. Not knowing how to do archival research, he regarded me as maniacal, comparing my supposed singlemindedness to that of crazy Captain Ahab, calling me a "demon researcher," and then explaining that I merely surmised some of the events I said really happened. I had surmised that Melville completed a prose book in 1853 and had been the only one ever to surmise that Melville completed a book of poetry in 1860. Plainly, I had devoted years of work to a flawed project and could be wondered at but not trusted. Because both books have been lost, they never existed.

The truth, of course, was that I built in the first case, the novel Melville tried to get Hawthorne to write, on work done by Yale scholars of the great 1940s crew, starting with Hayford, who in 1946 showed that Melville had worked on a book in early 1853, continuing with Davis and Gilman, who in the LETTERS (1960--a book cited by Brodhead in his own book on Hawthorne and Melville) showed that Melville had finished the book, and going on with Sealts, who in 1987 mustered more precise dates for Melville's bringing the completed manuscript to New York to offer to the Harpers. Since 1960, everyone knew that Melville had finished a prose book in 1853. In 1987 I discovered the title, The Isle of the Cross, and the day of completion (or something very close to it), 22 May 1853. In 1990 I had published an article about it in the then-respectable Duke journal, AMERICAN LITERATURE. There was absolutely no doubt in the minds of the great living Melville scholars in 1987 or thereafter, as long as they lived, that I had put a copestone on the monument they had been erecting since the 1940s.

Brodhead's denial of POEMS (1860) is even weirder to try to explain, since everyone had known about it since 1922 and since Melville's memo to his brother Allan on the publication of his verses had been printed then and reprinted often, as in LETTERS (1960) and CORRESPONDENCE (1993). Is it credible that anyone could have published on Melville and been called a "Melville scholar" and not know about POEMS? Not known that the manuscript had been turned down by at least two publishers? The evidence was quoted right there in the biography Brodhead was reviewing. I think that the only way of understanding what Brodhead did in his review of my biography is to recognize in him a pervasive, corrosive character flaw, a disdain for people unlike him which drives him to hasty wrong judgments. In his experience, his own kind had rallied behind him, closing ranks against Van de Velde. He would be safe in smearing me, knowing that no one living had done the sort of archival work I had done in my attempt to carry on the work of Hayford, Sealts, and the great Jay Leyda, all dead by 2002.

Brodhead's disdain of real scholarship as opposed to criticism may have been mingled with suppressed jealousy. Who knows? It is not the sort of thing that can be explained rationally. What kind of person spreads falsehoods that could be challenged the next day? I didn't challenge, thinking that the New York TIMES would never make an apology. In fact, Brodhead was home free: Andrew Delbanco and Elizabeth Schultz, two other critics who had never done archival research on Melville, repeated his accusations that I had made up the two lost books Melville wrote.

Brodhead was not only trashing me. He was denying that Hayford, Davis and Gilman, and Sealts ever lived and labored. He was denying that Meade Minnigerode, Willard Thorp, Jay Leyda, and many others ever lived and labored. All of these were worthy men and some of them were very great scholars: Jay Leyda was magnificent. All the toil that had gone into trying to describe Melville's career was obliterated in Brodhead's saying that I merely surmised what generations of scholars had been learning about. Brodhead disdained what he was not trained to do and not equipped to do. He should have told the New York TIMES BOOK REVIEW editor that he was not equipped to review a scholarly biography. But Brodhead does not know when to admit that he is not qualified for a job. Otherwise he would not have accepted the presidency of Duke University.

"Richard Brodhead's Test of Courage" is the title of Chapter 10 in Stuart Taylor, Jr., and KC Johnson's remarkable book, UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT: POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AND THE SHAMEFUL INJUSTICES OF THE DUKE LACROSSE RAPE CASE (2007). Brodhead's casual trashing of Van de Velde's reputation in 1998 and his casual trashing of my reputation in 2002 was followed in 2006 by his trashing of the reputations of Michael Pressler, the lacrosse coach, and lacrosse players at Duke. Taylor and Johnson say of Pressler on 144: "It had not yet really hit the coach that his career and reputation had been ravaged--not for anything he had done wrong, but to suit the agendas of others." Brodhead distinguished himself by rushing to judgment, once again, and to the wrong judgment. NEWSWEEK on 10 September 2007 linked Brodhead as equal partner with the corrupt and now disbarred District Attorney: "Brodhead and Nifong had an almost willful disregard for the facts." The title of the article? "A Rush to Judgment."

Brodhead's disdain for the students is clear in UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT p. 92, where Taylor and Johnson describe the audience Brodhead granted to the four team captains and two Duke representatives as well as the lawyer Robert Ekstrand: "The captains decided beforehand that Dave Evans, the most eloquent among them, would handle most of the talking. Evans spoke with emotion during the meeting about how much Duke meant to him and how badly he felt that the party had caused so many people so much pain. [Faculty representative Kathleen] Smith was crying. Brodhead's eyes filled with tears. He said the captains should think of how difficult it had been for him. They needed to be held accountable for their actions, which had put him in a terrible situation." Taylor and Johnson quote the lawyer: "Ekstrand felt his blood starting to boil. Here, he thought, is a comfortable university president wallowing in self-pity in front of four students who are in grave danger of being falsely indicted on charges of gang rape, punishable by decades in prison."

Brodhead, having shed hot tears of self-pity, went on to trash of the reputations of the lacrosse players in the notorious 20 April 2006 comment to the Durham Chamber of Commerce: "If our students did what is alleged it is appalling to the worst degree. If they didn't do it, whatever they did was bad enough." They were bad actors. Some lacrosse players had hired a stripper to dance for them and some lacrosse players had drunk some alcohol. They all played a contact sport--a game that required a helmet. They were like a swarm of muscular younger Van de Veldes! They were all fit objects of general disdain and the worst culprits among them should have faced trial and punishment. Trustee Steel, the man who hired Brodhead, was content that three lacrosse players would be sentenced to jail for two or three decades since if they were proved innocent they would win their freedom on appeal. Rather than trying to protect Duke students from false accusations and false prosecution, Brodhead handed them over to the wolves, as he had tossed Van de Velde to the New Haven wolves.

One of the great news stories of the twenty-first century is the way a handful (and then a hoard) of Internet bloggers looked at the evidence, saw that it exonerated the lacrosse players, and forced it on the attention of the nation. A sad undercurrent in it is the depiction of the character of Richard Brodhead, the man who never knew how to say he was not equipped to take a job offered him, a man when he had a chance to do right instead suffered what Taylor and Johnson call "a moral meltdown" (UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT, p. 137).

Now the Daniel Blue Committee has praised Brodhead's leadership. The Duke of Disdain has free rein to rush to new judgments and trash reputations anew. Who will be the next victim of his "pride, haughtiness, opinion, and disdain"? That's 1 Henry the Fourth. Perhaps now we should look beyond Shakespeare to Jeremiah 48:29 on "loftiness," "arrogancy," "pride," and "the haughtiness of his heart." We have to fear that whatever disdainful judgment Brodhead next rushes to will be "bad enough" to savage a reputation or two.


Mississippi Looks to Raise Bar in Classroom

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds says it's not that Mississippi students aren't smart, it's that the bar is set too low. So with the new school year, the department of education is looking to raise student achievement and not only increase test scores. But lift up the entire state with them. "We're on too many lists where we're number 50 and we're also on too many lists where we're number one and we shouldn't be," said Dr. Bounds.

So Dr. Hank Bound and the state department of education will take a drastic step to changing that. They'll raise expectations in the classroom which they believe will increase student achievement. "Every time we've raised the bar in the past the students have met that challenge," said Brad Johns, high school math teacher.

McLaurin High School math teacher, Brad Johns helped create the new curriculum for the state. Johns and Hattiesburg schools superintendent, Dr. Annie Wimbish see students and teachers meeting this challenge. Classroom instruction will no longer be basic recall of information, but using the information to problem solve. "And we haven't always been integrating that type of instruction in our courses," said Dr. Wimbish.

The new test was taken this past spring. The results were down from previous years. The majority of students showed either basic or proficient knowledge of language arts and math. Only two thirds of students passed the English two and Algebra I tests. The numbers are about what state educators expected. "Without pain there is no gain and with this pain we will get great gain in Mississippi," said Blake Wilson, President, MS Economic Council.

Bounds says the gains will be fewer drop outs, career and college ready students, and better results on national exams. "We will be uncomfortable for a while but that's okay... we're going to figure out how to meet the needs of boys and girls," said Dr. Bounds.

The state department of education says the first year of a new standardized tests usually sees the lowest results. The goal of the new testing is to reach the national average by 2013.


Australian teachers strike over decaying government houses

The Torres Strait is a long way from the State capital and most of the people there are black, so who cares? -- apparently. Houses are provided by the State government to teachers who are sent to teach in remote areas

Teachers living in leaking, mouldy and flea-infested houses could be pulled out of their schools for their own safety if a strike in the Torres Strait, Cape and Gulf scheduled to take place over the next two weeks is unsuccessful. Around 500 teachers from 28 schools will be involved in the 24-hour stop-work action to protest against the State Government's chronic neglect of teacher housing in remote areas.

Hundreds of reports of leaking roofs, electrical faults and mouldy living conditions have reached the Queensland Teachers' Union and it is a problem which president Steve Ryan said must be addressed swiftly and properly. "We've literally got teachers living in houses that are falling down, where doors are missing and broken, termites are taking over and up to one third of air-conditioning units are broken," Mr Ryan said. "If we cannot get the funds required to fix these uninhabitable properties - which the Auditor-General estimated to be around $37.2million - then we will be forced to take more drastic action and withdraw teachers from their schools. "Obviously this will adversely affect students and our teachers do not take these actions lightly, so this shows how huge the problem is."

Mr Ryan said he had hoped one-hour stop-work meetings held in April would force the state government to take notice of the situation but that the 2008/2009 Budget announced in June failed to deliver the funding levels required to provide adequate housing, falling short by $20.2million. "We cannot wait until next year's budget to get this funding. There is such a backlog of work to be carried out that by then these houses will have fallen down," Mr Ryan said. "Our plan is that the government takes this strike seriously and sees some sense."

A report by the Auditor-General's found that the sub-standard living conditions directly resulted in difficulties securing and retaining staff, consequently "affecting the ability to provide services in remote and regional areas".


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