Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Damage Done by Richard H. Brodhead and the New York TIMES &c.

These images were posted 10 February 2013 on LieStoppers by Quasimodo on the thread "Is this the end for Brodhead," in reference to the slow accumulation of evidence about Richard H. Brodhead's Kunshan Kampus as a financial and cross-cultural disaster for Duke--this on top of other disasters, most notably the Potti scandal and the treatment of the Lacrosse coach and Lacrosse players at Duke. This is a good time to re-post a piece on Brodhead's academic adventures.

"That truth should be silent I had almost forgot"--Enobarbus in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, back in Rome after having been too long in Egypt.---------

Re-posting from April 2, 2011
In the 23 June 2002 NEW YORK TIMES Richard Brodhead, then Dean of Yale College, identified me as a threatening anomaly. Weirdly, he claimed to know me better than I knew myself: "Many years ago Hershel Parker set out to write the biography to end all biographies about Herman Melville, a book in which everything that could be known about the writer would be pieced out and put on record." I remember very well what I set out to do. What Brodhead so smugly asserted was only a fantasy which satisfied something in him.

For Brodhead this imaginary "Hershel Parker" was not just a "researcher" (an occupation in itself offensive to his delicate critic's sensibilities) but a "demon researcher" with "a single-mindedness worthy of a Melville hero." The single-minded Captain Ahab was yanked out of his whaleboat by the whale line around his neck, the harpoon at the other end impaled in the fast-swimming Moby Dick.

Around my neck were two whale lines, according to Brodhead, my "surmises" about two now lost books Melville had written but which, Brodhead slyly hinted (while outright lying about my relation to other Melville scholarship), I had simply fantasized. In Brodhead's fantasy, my own fantasy episodes were, after all my years of work, my substitute for documentable episodes in a writer's life. Saying "If this is true"; "If this is so" Brodhead fantasized a history of my career in which he glorified himself for being the one to expose my wishful fantasies.

I was wholly innocent of Brodhead's sly insinuations and accusations that THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS were only surmised, only figments of my imagination. Since 1960 scholars had been sure Melville finished a book in 1853 (although it was 1987 before I found the title), and everyone had known about POEMS since 1922. Other reviewers (critics, like Brodhead, not scholars), Andrew Delbanco and Elizabeth Schultz, repeated the lies, and all three of their reviews went glittering up on the Internet.

What motivated them, these three people with high reputations as Melville critics? Appallingly malicious ignorance or appallingly arrogant malice? Is the question academic? Is there any other way of accounting for their suggesting or implying that I made up THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS?

[Delbanco in 2002 was already priming himself to publish a biography of Melville; happily, between savaging me in 2002 and publishing the book in 2005 he learned that THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS were lost but had been real, and dropped their titles into his book, with no reference to his having said that I merely surmised them. Would I make up such a story about the learned Mr. Delbanco? Could anyone?]

To judge from the conventional dead-end New Critical HAWTHORNE, MELVILLE, AND THE NOVEL, a 1950s book published in the 70s, or from THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE, a 1950s book published in the 80s, Richard H. Brodhead has not experienced a particularly rich imaginative life. Certainly, trained by New Critics to avoid biographical information, he displays no interest in the inner lives of his writers.

Nevertheless, Brodhead indulged in fantasies about me, and the record suggests that he indulges in fantasies about other males who enter the academic world with training and interests different from his own. "Indulge" may not always be the right word, for some of his fantasies seem laced with fearful jealousy.

Brodhead had a grudge, for in FLAWED TEXTS AND VERBAL ICONS (1984) I described him as writing bloodless, heartless New Criticism where all that counts is a body of words to practice criticism on. He had been, I thought, strangely blind to Melville's agony. I must have seen Brodhead at a conference in Pittsfield in 1991, for a now cryptic note in my diary contrasts a brilliant woman with "the idiotic Brodhead." Perhaps my contempt for him showed then. Or did he writhe in jealousy at my being a star of a vigorous panel in which I excited the audience with tidbits from my work on the biography? Here was a skill alien to him, the hated skill of biography, now suddenly popular—perhaps even more popular in the Pittsfield audience then dreary New Critical readings. Had he missed the boat, after all?

Or did his jealousy have something to do with personal appearance, as it does with his treatment of James Van de Velde, Michael Pressler, and the lacrosse team at Duke? In 1991 I was 55 already, with snow-white hair--but a full head of it. I was 190, 6' 3", and I had run three to six miles almost every day for the previous fourteen years. I looked healthy, for an old guy, despite lung damage from early tuberculosis, and came across, the record of the session shows, as a man passionately committed to what had become a magnificent adventure.

Reading the printed record now, I think I must have projected unprofessional exuberance and a vibrant, even reckless vitality simply from the joy of sharing with a big audience of old friends and strangers some of what I had been finding in my solitary researches. Obviously I was a man who had lived his life. I had not spent the 70s, say, in cowering down, keeping my nose clean, hoping for ultimate tenure, consoling myself with the tantalizing suggestion that I was in a “troth.”

Is the pattern that Brodhead sets out to destroy vibrant, passionate men more intellectually daring and more physically daring than himself? The handsome, muscular Yale instructor James Van de Velde was a non-ideologue with world-experience who had intruding upon Brodhead's safe, conventional Yale. He had been a White House appointee, and he had been in the U.S. Naval Intelligence Reserves. In the NATIONAL REVIEW 6 June 2006 Michael Rubin explained that Van de Velde became "the subject of personal jealousy and political animosity" at Yale. In the AMERICAN SPECTATOR for 19 June 2006 Clinton W. Taylor called him "certainly an anomaly."

Van de Velde was a bodybuilder and an expert in martial arts, including dangerous sports which demanded helmet or face mask. After the incompetent New Haven police named him to the press as someone they had questioned about the murder of one of his students, Brodhead arbitrarily fired him. Could any rational person, given the timeline of the slain student's last hours and Van de Velde's history and behavior, have taken him seriously as a suspect? Something about Van de Velde's muscular physique, I suspect, and something about his probing intellect, combined to set off fearful jealousy and lurid imaginings in Brodhead. In fantasies did he provide Van de Velde with a knife and send him ravening out into the streets? Vibrant and powerful as he had been, Van de Velde was slow to rebound from the loss of his career and his reputation, but his lawsuit against Yale and Brodhead is now reinstated and ongoing.

When Duke lacrosse players were accused of raping and sodomizing a black stripper, Brodhead was not for a moment realistic and dispassionate. His reaction suggests that he had already regarded the lacrosse players with irrational disdain. They all played a contact sport--a game that required a helmet--and yet were academically superior. It was not fair: they were like a swarm of muscular brilliant younger Van de Veldes come back to torment him! For Brodhead the lacrosse players were all fit objects of general disdain, and the worst culprits among them should have faced trial and punishment.

Look at some of his statements: "Physical coercion and sexual assault are unacceptable in any setting and have no place at Duke." "Racism and its hateful language have no place in this community. I am sorry the woman and her friend were subjected to such abuse." "There is a body of behavior that's already established, and it's there for us to deal with, and every day we learn more about it. It's just time to take action on what's there before our eyes."

Brodhead trashed the reputations of the lacrosse players in his 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." The lacrosse players were "bad actors" according to Brodhead's spokesman John Burness. They were fantasy villains storming out in their helmets raping and plundering and even urinating from precipices rather than real Duke students whom Brodhead should have been protecting 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.

Michael Pressler, the lacrosse coach, was by any rational definition a man's man, and as a coach was absolutely dedicated and honorable. He was middle-aged in 2006, married, the father of two daughters, but, as an admirer said, he had been the kind of young man you pray that your daughter will bring home. His reputation was spotless. After forcing Pressler to resign, Brodhead spoke contemptuously to John Burness, calling Pressler's replacement a "Mensch," the day to Pressler's night. Pressler sued Duke for breaking the terms of settlement. Brodhead's co-defendant Burness was rebuked by a judge, already, for repeating Brodhead's remark to a journalist, and the judge even wondered aloud from the bench how anyone could be so stupid. Duke settled with Pressler (dollar amount not announced.)

The substitute coach seems to be a decent man, but he is simply not of Pressler's stature, and to slur Pressler this way reveals something troublingly irrational about Brodhead.

What was swirling about in his murky fantasy world when Brodhead told Burness that Pressler was decidedly not a Mensch? Why, the word "Mensch" coming from the mouth of Richard Brodhead is like the word "chastity" coming from the mouth of the false accuser of the lacrosse players.

The rational world knows better. Bryant University in August 2008 gave Pressler an extension to make his contract run 7 years from now. As President Machtley said, "Coach Pressler is not only a highly successful coach, but an accomplished and respected educator." Then in September 2008 came the news that Pressler was named head coach of the U.S. men's team for world competition in 2010 at the Federation of International Lacrosse Championship games. Was Brodhead, sued by Pressler for breaking the settlement, in touch with reality enough to understand just how the rest of the world sees Michael Pressler? Or is he still mired in his lonely fantasy biography of Pressler?

Something strange goes on in Brodhead around powerful younger men like Van de Velde and Pressler or powerful old men like me, and something even weirder goes on when Brodhead confronts scholastically brilliant helmeted youths.

As Dean of Yale College and President of Duke University Brodhead, like Melville's Radney, was in a position to strike out against those he fantasized about as Steelkilts, men "very significantly his superior in general pride of manhood," and to try to destroy their reputations, which meant destroying their lives.

Many of his victims, including Van de Velde and me, have felt, at times, that our lives were ruined because of the lies; some of the lacrosse players have said they felt the same way. Even Pressler endured a dark period, jobless, his reputation besmeared.

After five years of private agony at the savaging of my reputation, I began speaking out, and now Brodhead is a defendant in more ongoing significant lawsuits than any university president in American history. Duke has already settled with three lacrosse players for an amount rumored at between $18,000,000 and $30,000,000--all because Brodhead out of his irrational jealous loathing of brilliant young helmeted athletes could not bring himself to protect them? What his slurs of the non-indicted lacrosse players may yet cost Duke and Brodhead himself! What a cost Brodhead and Yale may yet pay for Brodhead's fantasies of James Van de Velde! You have to wonder if other murky fantasy biographies are swirling around in Brodhead's brain now, involving still other people with natures and powers superior to his. At night does he pore over and over a lurid library of his fantasy biographies? One would not want to live in his head.

Thus far this piece is from something I wrote in 2007. One would not want to live in Brodhead’s head in April 2011, now that he knows that Judge Beaty has found strong evidence that he was guilty of obstruction of justice and constructive fraud—evidence strong enough to move two cases toward the potentially devastating DISCOVERY process.

In 2004 Duke needed someone who had a lifelong history of dealing deftly with tough, gnarled issues whether aesthetic, intellectual, social, or political. Duke needed someone capable of rising up in extraordinary circumstances and by God doing the right thing, right then, out of experience, powerful instinct, or innate majesty of soul. Instead, Duke got Richard H. Brodhead. And now all the world knows what he is.

And in January 2013 MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE  confirms and elaborates some of what I wrote here. Will apologies follow, at long last?

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