Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Has Brodhead been the least successful president in Duke's history?"

A topic posed by the moderator on the 2 September 2012 LieStoppers board:

Has Brodhead been the least successful president in Duke's history?

Think about it:

When did Duke take the greatest hit to its reputation? And why? And wasn't Brodhead directly responsible for this?
(Imagine the high standing and respect the university would have if it had instituted its own disciplinary proceedings
and then backed its students once the proffered evidence of their innocence.)

When has the university taken the greatest hits to its endowment?

When has the university suffered the embarrassment of hosting an anti-semitic hate fest (which most other schools would have shunned)?

When was the last time the university attracted really great scholars in the humanities? (Admittedly, it continues to do well in science; but that is hardly under the influence of the university president).

Then recall the contrasting treatment of Katie Rouse and the lacrosse players.

Then there is the Potti scandal--along with 100+ patients who have reportedly had great difficulty in finding out
details of what they may be facing.

Then there is Kunshan--not Wuhan, not BeiDa, but Kunshan. (An office building constructed in China for 70 students, at a cost
of $50 million or more so far...)

Then there is the lax scandal--a scandal of the Board of Trustees and the President (and the Law School and the Faculty)

What Duke president has ever racked up a series of accomplishments like this?

And what is at the heart of most of these failings, is not simple ineptitude;

they are missteps which IMHO appear to be the result of failings in the character of the man.

Each one of them points up a wrong moral decision--decisions to take the wrong road where
other men--who would have found the choice easy, even automatic--would have taken the right road.

Comment by Hershel Parker:
SOME of it IS simple ineptitude. The one thing a New Critic is supposed to be is a close reader, but Brodhead three times in THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE reads a famous declaration of Melville's flat out bassackwards, even while building his chapter on his reading.

Some of it is innate, or so habitual that it is almost innate--a disdain for anyone not in his clique or not approved by his clique. His contemptuous comment on the reputation of the poet Thomas Bailey Aldrich in THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE was wholly uncalled for, but worse than that, it called attention to his ignorance. He plainly had not read much in late 19th century fiction to see just who was imitating Hawthorne. He had never read Aldrich's famous THE STILLWATER TRAGEDY which opens with a loving imitation of a memorable scene in THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES. Disdain for the alien scholar-athlete Van de Velde lay behind his cruelty at Yale. Disdain for me as "demon researcher" lay behind his lying about me in the New York TIMES in June 2002. Disdain for physically and morally powerful men lay behind his firing of Michael Pressler.

When you are trained to ignore facts about biography (as decades of students at Yale were trained in the time of Charles Feidelson), you absorb those lessons. I called Brodhead in 1984 for being blind to human agony, Melville's agony. Was it any surprise that he applied the lessons of literary criticism to the larger world when he gained power as a Dean and a President? Think about how he WOULD NOT LOOK at exculpatory evidence Reade Seligmann's parents wanted to show him. Was it any surprise when he said to Ed Bradley that the facts kept changing? He had been taught to ignore facts about biography--such data was always irrelevant to literary criticism, he had been told. Of course the facts had not kept changing, but Brodhead has never learned to deal with hard facts. Think how he ignored all the decades of scholarship by factually-minded scholars when he implied disdainfully that I had invented Melville's 1860 "POEMS," that only I in my "black hole" had imagined the volume.

Brodhead never had a core character. He could imitate his New Critical masters very well. He could race to catch up once he found that multiculturalism was hot (and claim to have been a multiculturalist sooner than the record shows him to have been!), but was his heart in multiculturalism, or was he playing catchup after being only a New Critic so long? I don't think there was a solid core, so when Taylor and Johnson talk about his "moral meltdown" (137) I don't think there was a very big puddle on the cushion of his chair.

1 comment:

  1. This is a subsequent comment posted on LieStoppers by abb:

    There is no question that the university's reputation has been significantly degraded during Brodhead's tenure. And it was his fault.