Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Richard H. Brodhead: Troth and Consequences"

"Richard H. Brodhead: Troth and Consequences"

I am reposting this from Sunday, March 13, 2011 because of Judge Beaty's decision on April 1st to let the charges of "obstruction of justice" and "constructive fraud" to go ahead against President Brodhead. This article will make more sense than ever in the light of my new article on "Constructive Fraud." As we have seen over the last few years, there are disturbing recurrent patterns in Brodhead's literary criticism, treatment of employees, treatment of scholars, and treatment of students.


Long-festering resentments may lie behind the reckless rush to the wrong judgments which Brodhead displayed toward James Van de Velde, Hershel Parker, and Coach Pressler and the falsely accused lacrosse players at Duke.

In "The Education of Richard Brodhead: Continuity and Change over Dean's 40 years at Yale" (Yale HERALD, 20 February 2004), Matthew Ferraro said farewell to a fixture who would soon become President of Duke University. Behind closed doors, Brodhead reflected confidentially on the years after his arrival as a freshman in 1964. Brodhead had "experienced the uncertainty of the '70s as a young untenured, if popular, professor, but stayed on despite offers from other universities." He had felt constrained by the emphasis on poetry and European writers: "He calls his decision to study and teach mostly novels in his adult life 'my own act of revolt.'" [Brodhead did not, of course, revolt to the point of rethinking how novels were studied in the 1960s and early 1970s, only as perfect New Critical artifacts.] After he completed his PhD, at Yale, Brodhead "won a choice appointment to the Yale junior faculty and began teaching," but "not everything was rosy." There were "disappointments." Brodhead remembered the 1970s "as an 'incredibly dispiriting time.'" Because of inflation, faculty salaries fell 30% in buying power, and "chances at professional advancement at Yale did not look particularly promising in a department that had not tenured anyone in years." To Ferraro, behind those closed doors, Brodhead spoke with unusual candor: "It was not fun. And you might say it was particularly not fun to be an untenured professor in a university where it didn't seem like anyone would ever get promoted."

During the 1970s, Brodhead said, he was offered tenured positions at two other universities but turned both down. His patience, or passivity, ultimately paid off: "In 1980, Brodhead was awarded tenure after an excruciatingly complex process. 'That was, you can say, the beginning of a new phase of my life' he said." Ferraro passes over Brodhead's intriguing comment on the "excruciatingly complex process." It was excruciating to Brodhead, presumably, but we are not told how it was complex. "Brodhead was surprised" at being granted tenure, Ferraro says, without explaining why he was surprised. Even tenure did not make Brodhead comfortable: "Despite being tenured, however, he was not yet a full professor. Unhappy with his department, he seriously considered an offer to 'rebuild a notable English program somewhere else,' he said. He met with then-Dean Howard Lamar . . . who convinced him to stay." Lamar told Ferraro: "Of course he had no reason to worry, but I couldn't tell him that." Lamar, said Brodhead, "led me to understand that I was in a troth, and he led me to see that life might be better sometime, and soon after it was." Brodhead was named a full professor in 1985.

Brodhead had stayed on, despite a humiliatingly slow and “complex” process by which Yale decided to grant him tenure but to leave him for some years "in a troth," living on hints that the lover would take him as a bride in a legitimate public marriage. Meanwhile, the lover, Yale, could make overtures to or entertain overtures from any young, alien, trendy, and disturbingly nubile candidate on the annual marriage market. In the end, patience, passivity, deference, hunkering down and keeping his nose clean, had paid off, and Brodhead soon became chairman of the English Department and then Dean of Yale College. Everything was all right at last?

No, the "excruciatingly complex process" during which, untenured, Brodhead taught alongside his tenured teachers, many of whom were less popular with students than he, had scarred Brodhead. He had kept his mouth shut too often and too long for him to be easy with himself and his colleagues even when tenure was finally granted him without promotion to full professor. Perhaps no one can understand just how he felt. I can understand better than most. At Northwestern I took my MA and PhD in four years, as Brodhead did at Yale (Ferraro marveled at the speed!). After two years at Urbana as an assistant professor I was hired back at Northwestern, still as an assistant professor. Nominally teaching half time while working half time on the new Melville Project at the Newberry Library, I worked full time on the Melville Project, taught passionately, and picked up a few dollars from teaching novels to the Glencoe Literary Ladies. On the Melville Edition I had weighty responsibilities but no authority. That was the mid-1960s, the high triumph of the New Criticism, which stressed final product instead of process. The dominant textual theory, which also stressed final product, was perfect in the cases of simple correction but, I found, could not apply to authorial revision. I began asking questions about the creative process, but had no one to talk to until the Faulkner scholar James B. Meriwether came back to Chicago. In the years since his last visit we had worked our way to similar conclusions, I on Melville, he on Faulkner. We talked for hours about the creative process and sober second thoughts, and the next day I started looking for a job. The chairman had reneged on a promised raise, confident that I was trapped. To be free to rethink the dominant literary and textual theories I could not stay on where I had been a graduate student. When the chairman offered a raise and tenure, he was too late.

What if Brodhead had taken one of his offers and gone away from Yale in the 1970s? What if he had encountered faculty members who were unlike him, perhaps even some men (or women) from a lower social class? What if he had been forced to stand his ground on principles and define intellectual turf worth defending? What if he had encountered students who were not male, white, and wealthy, as his first students at Yale were? What if rather than enduring the "excruciatingly complex" process of becoming tenured at Yale he had taken earlier tenure elsewhere and had knocked about a bit, learning to deal with people quite unlike the adolescent buddies from Andover who proved to be his lifelong friends?

Had he left Yale, Brodhead might not have given rein to the demeaning and ultimately damning psychological quirks that are in the process of destroyed his reputation. For his reputation IS being destroyed. He settled with three formerly indicted Duke lacrosse players for a figure cited variously as between $18,000,000 and $30,000,000. He is being sued for his rush to judgment at Yale (James Van de Velde's lawsuit, naming Brodhead, having been reinstated in December 2007). He was sued by Michael Pressler, the Duke lacrosse coach he fired, for violating terms of their agreement, and Duke settled with Pressler. He is being sued by three unindicted lacrosse players. He is being sued by more than thirty lacrosse players and family members for charges involving criminal conspiracies. Damningly, he had exhibited the "extraordinary moral meltdown" described in the Taylor-Johnson book, UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT (p. 122). Brodhead will never regain a high reputation, not after the long delayed DISCOVERY PROCESSES are pushed through—and this is all aside from his strange search for an “intermediate explanation” of Dr. Anil Potti’s false claim to have been a Rhodes Scholar and the faked science with which he was treating real human beings with cancer until late in 2010.

Meanwhile, Brodhead's reputation as a scholar is being examined by a man he defamed in the New York TIMES on 23 June 2002. There he called me a "demon researcher" who showed "a single-mindedness worthy of a Melvillean hero," presumably Ahab, the captain of a doomed ship. After years of archival work I had merely "surmised" the existence of two lost books of Melville's. In fact scholars had known much about one of the books since 1960 and all about the other book since 1922. Brodhead's own academic "work" disintegrates at a skeptical touch, sometimes grotesquely, as when I pointed out that Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a man he jeered at for losing his reputation, ought to have been featured as a star pupil in THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE (along with such women as Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote novels influenced by Hawthorne).

Brodhead had coasted to a high reputation as he had coasted through life. But something bad happened during those years of waiting, of being "in a troth." Brodhead soured. Later, when chances arose, he rushed precipitously to the wrong judgments, as if eager to punish the innocent. Brodhead fired James Van de Velde at Yale when the inept New Haven police let it be known that they had questioned him in the murder of a student. All the evidence pointed away from Van de Velde, but he had been the student's adviser, and police had questioned him. That was enough for Brodhead.

In the 1 April 2001 Hartford COURANT Les Gura described Van de Velde as a top student and athlete who graduated from Yale in 1982, then took his doctorate in international security studies from Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. In Van de Velde's "top secret government security clearance as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve," he took "government and education positions in the U.S. and abroad for the State Department." After real-life adventures such as Brodhead had never known, Van de Velde went back to Yale in 1993 as dean of Saybrook College. "In the spring of 1997," Gura reported, "he took a leave from Yale on a Navy assignment to help monitor the status of peace in Bosnia from a base in Italy." At the time of his firing, Van de Velde was a lecturer in Yale's political science department. "With his training and combined government and education backgrounds," he was preparing to become "a television commentator on foreign affairs who also could find time to be a college lecturer."

Van de Velde had remained an athlete, a proficient even in martial arts which required the use of face masks or helmets. He was regularly described as a "handsome" man. He was flexible, adaptable, resourceful, variously competent, not a timid, cosseted man trying to believe he was really "in a troth." Was he, to Brodhead, unbearably manly? Wielding his new power, Brodhead recklessly fired him. Van de Velde told Gura,"my life is destroyed yet there is nothing I have ever done that I feel ashamed of."

As for me, I was a "demon researcher" and Brodhead, like most of his New Critical teachers, had no idea what research was. In a 1984 book, FLAWED TEXTS AND VERBAL ICONS, I had challenged both the New Criticism and the dominant textual theory and incidentally had pointed out Brodhead's coldness in closing his eyes to Melville's agony in enlarging PIERRE, cheerful that he was left a New Critical text to toy with. Did he know how unlike him I was, a Depression Okie and Texan, forced to drop out of high school, a railroad telegrapher for seven years until I left Texas on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship? Was I someone who could be easily sacrificed, kept from a Pulitzer in 2003 after being one of two finalists in 1997? For I was sacrificed by Brodhead, Andrew Delbanco, and Elizabeth Schultz, critics who declared that I was not to be trusted, when the evidence of my statements was right there on the pages of the book they were being paid to review. My health suffered for five years. I did not sleep one night without feeling the pain from the false accusations. In 2007 I began speaking out, and never lost sleep over the lies again. During all the nine years from 2002 until today, the Brodhead-Delbanco-Schultz reviews have been blazoned on the Internet., freshly defaming me every day. Not one of these critics has apologized.

At Duke, we know, Brodhead once again rushed to the wrong judgment, firing the admirable lacrosse coach and prejudicing the public against the falsely accused lacrosse players by saying that whatever they did was "bad enough." As at Yale, his victims were young, healthy, and handsome men, some from families more wealthy even than those of Brodhead and his friends at Andover and Yale. Again, they were athletes in a sport which involved bodily contact and the wearing of helmets. All of them were academic achievers, and some were brilliant. Do Homeric or Shakespearean memories haunt Brodhead, so that he sees himself as Thersites in contrast to Hector or Achilles?

Seeking to understand Brodhead's strange antipathy to brilliant handsome young athletes, I can best compare him to Radney in MOBY-DICK, so irrationally determined to pulverize Steelkilt, his superior in brains and physique, or Claggart, so jealous of the handsome and innocent Billy Budd. Did the "incredibly dispiriting" 1970s enrage Brodhead so that when he gained power he used it arbitrarily against those of whom he was fiercely jealous--usually men younger, brighter, more resourceful, and far more athletic than he was? The man who fired Van de Velde, led a trio of character assassins against me (for a non-scholarly would-be biographer and another Melville critic echoed Brodhead false accusations about merely “surmising” two lost Melville books), and turned his back on the Duke lacrosse coach, the players, and their parents--this man should never have been granted the power to inflict harm. Brodhead was already damaged goods. The lawsuits against Brodhead, Duke, and Durham have been unconscionably delayed. Van de Velde’s suit against Brodhead and Yale is reinstated but unconscionably delayed.

Now in 2011 it is clear that Duke, Potti, and others will be slapped with malpractice suits by the cancer patients who underwent actual treatment based on phony science—the cancer patients or surviving members of their families. Dr. Anil Potti faked his resume and mislead his colleagues into signing papers in which he faked science. He and his colleagues published papers in respected journals which purported to show how to select cancer treatment by analyzing an individual patient's genomic information--boutique analysis and treatment available only at Duke! Biostatisticians at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center tried to warn the Duke administration that Potti's results could not be duplicated, but the administrators sat on the information. Luckily, sciences are still more honest than literary criticism, so the Texans persisted, and in the last months Potti and his colleagues have renounced their own papers, including one in NATURE MEDICINE and one in the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE. Some weeks ago now, long after evidence was clear that Potti had faked his credentials and was every day treating real cancer patients with faked science, Brodhead wistfully hoped that there could be some “intermediate explanation” for Potti’s difficulties. That phrasing will be remembered by those whose cancers advanced while they were being “treated” by faked science. Where will the culpability end? Where will the human suffering end?

At least, science still (in the end) seems to be held to a high standard. Literary reviewing, literary criticism, is held to no standard at all. Has Brodhead ever thought of renouncing one of his publications, asking, for example, the New York Times to mark one of his reviews as withdrawn because untrue? No, Brodhead learned how to write conventional literary criticism very early but he learned no standards for scholarship at Charles Feidelson's Yale. Does he reflect on the parallels between faked scientific expertise and faked expertise in literary scholarship now that Potti is exposed? Did he see himself at risk when he tried to deflect examination of Potti's bad publicity? There will be some sort of punishment for Potti, and certainly punishment for Duke as a result of the actions of Potti and his associates, but there is no punishment for a reviewer who in the New York Times fakes knowledge of scholarship, who passes himself off as competent to review a book based on archival research and on the whole course of research on Herman Melville.

But will there, after all, as DISCOVERY proceeds in April 2011, be punishment for Richard H. Brodhead's "constructive fraud" in one case and "obstruction of justice" in another? Think about Brodhead's position as President of Duke University, the judge having decided that "conspiracy" charges would be too hard to prove but deciding that there is ample evidence for DISCOVERY to proceed on the charges of "constructive fraud" and "obstruction of justice." Will emails be located after 5 years time? Have a few honest faculty members at Duke saved emails from the start, such as the one which urges everyone to get their stories straight? Can even a figurehead function in such a perfect storm all brought down by his own behavior on his own head?

Posted by Hershel Parker at 8:37 PM

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