Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dogma vs Data at Duke University

While reading up on the Duke University Lacrosse Case, in which several white students were (wrongly) accused of raping an African-American woman, I came across an interesting side story. Soon after the allegations were made, 88 Duke professors placed an ad in The Chronicle referring to the circumstances surrounding the allegations as a "social disaster" and quoting primarily anonymous individuals citing racism and sexism in the Duke community. The advertisement concluded, "We're turning up the volume [...] To the students speaking individually and to the protesters making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard," and "These are the students shouting and whispering about what happened to this young woman." 

What is most interesting is the distribution of support for this document among different departments. At one end of the spectrum, the majority of faculty in departments focused on race and gender signed the document and a significant portion of other liberal arts departments did so too. At the other end NO faculty member in engineering, chemistry and the hard sciences signed it. In fact, 17 members of the economics department signed a document expressing support for the students. I believe this speaks a great deal about the general approach towards social, political and economic life and knowledge itself of different departments. Not surprisingly, professors in fact and data driven fields would be very reserved about passing judgement against students until all the facts and data were on the table. And conversely, more ideological driven departments viewed this incident through their ideological lenses and passed judgement based on their guiding narratives (white oppressor vs minority victim), before they possessed all of the fact. Shame on them for abandoning the democratic principle of affirming the innocence of the accused until they are proven guilty.

"The department with the highest proportion of signatories was African and African-American Studies, with 80%. Just over 72% of the Women's Studies faculty signed the statement, Cultural Anthropology 60%, Romance studies 44.8%, Literature 41.7%, English 32.2%, Art & Art History 30.7%, and History 25%. No faculty members from the Pratt School of Engineering or full-time law professors signed the document. Departments that had no faculty members sign the document include Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Genetics, Germanic Languages/Literature, Psychology and Neuroscience, Religion, and Slavic and Eurasian Studies."

"Seventeen faculty members of the economics department sent a letter showing support for the players on January 6, 2007, saying, "We regret that the Duke faculty is now seen as prejudiced against certain of its own students," and telling the players that they are more than welcome to enroll in their courses."

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