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Just Another Radical Obama Appointee

Cathy Davidson, nominated for the National Council on the Humanities, is another in a long line of highly questionable Obama appointees.

by
Jay Schalin

Bio

January 3, 2011 - 12:00 am

Just what we need — another new Obama appointee with a controversial past and radical inclinations.

Several weeks ago, the president announced his intention to make three appointments to the National Council on the Humanities. One of them is Cathy Davidson, an English professor at Duke University. Davidson’s curriculum vitae includes some very impressive-sounding credentials: past president of the American Studies Association (ASA), past editor of the American Literature journal, and vice-provost of Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke.

But one thing she probably won’t voluntarily mention at her confirmation hearing is that she was a member of Duke University’s “Group of 88.” These faculty members became known across the nation when they tried to exploit the infamous Duke lacrosse team scandal to make a political statement about race relations and white privilege.

In that incident, three lacrosse team members were accused of rape by a stripper hired to dance at a party. Her allegations seemed questionable from the start and were eventually proven false, but not before the team’s season was canceled, the coach was fired, and the three accused players left school in a cloud of suspicion.

The 88 faculty members signed an open letter titled “What Does a Social Disaster Sound Like?” which depicted the school as a hotbed of racism and suggested that the “results of the police investigation” were secondary to the “anger and fear of many students who know themselves to be the objects of racism and sexism.”

Nearly a year later, in January of 2007, Davidson published an op-ed in the Raleigh News & Observer that tried to finesse the group’s original intent without backing off from the original’s condemnatory tone. By that time, it had become obvious that the lacrosse players were innocent, which she begrudgingly noted. But much of her language appeared to suggest that their innocence was irrelevant; she discussed, among other similar statements, “the glaring social disparities implicit in what we know happened on March 13 [the night of the alleged rape],” and “Duke again came to symbolize the most lurid and sexualized form of race privilege.”

“Will future rape victims dare to step forward after such a spectacle?” she continued as if there really were a rape victim. “Will African-Americans with legitimate grievances be willing to demand justice in the wake of this public debacle?”

The op-ed was hardly out of character for Davidson. While much of her scholarly writing is not political, some of it reveals that she views the world through a prism of gender and race grievances, and that the U.S. holds no special place in her heart.

In a “presidential address” to the 1993 American Studies Association convention, she derided American exceptionalism — the idea that the U.S. is a special nation due to its founding on principles of liberty and equality under the law — as “exceptionally ignorant of anything other than the Puritan tradition founded on Plymouth Rock.”

She then stated that “[p]ost-colonialism is the theory” to follow, rather than American exceptionalism. Post-colonialism, or anti-colonialism, as it is also known, “is the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America,” according to author Dinesh D’Souza. Therefore, the theory goes, the industrialized West is indebted to the rest of the world for past injustices.

Post-colonialism also happens to be the underlying philosophy of President Obama, D’Souza said in his latest book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage.

Another indication of Davidson’s political biases in the ASA was a caution to society members that they “probably should not take a job at any university where everyone is a married, white, heterosexual male — even if you too… are a married, white, heterosexual male.”

The National Council on Humanities’ primary function is to advise the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities on which grants to give. Last year, the NEH handed out $171 million for scholarly grants in the humanities. Davidson’s ASA address provides some insight into her likely tendencies for dispensing that money. She applauded the ASA convention’s inclusion of presentations on:

Turkish pants and Tiffany hoods; Japanese Elvis impersonators; Shamu the Whale; the lesbian subject in Arab culture; … the “white” problem in American studies; Pueblo figurative ceramics; low-rider cars in northern New Mexico; Haitian Rara celebrations; American Orisa worship; Spiderwoman Theatre; … “The Boyz in the Hoods: Academy Bashing as a ‘Popular’ Culture” and another on “Discourse and Dat Course: Postcoloniality and Afrocentricity.”

Her recent academic efforts tend toward a similarly juvenile mix of pop culture, political correctness, and anti-intellectualism. A recent Raleigh News & Observer article described her class “Your Brain on the Internet,” in which her students graded each other. The experiment produced a predictable result — every student got an “A.”

This sort of fatuous approach to scholarship hardly represents the judicious mindset desired for somebody who will decide how to spend millions on intellectual pursuits. With her lack of ability to discern real scholarship from superficial nonsense and her radical tendencies, it is hard to imagine somebody who will perform the position’s duties less responsibly than Davidson.

But that obviously did not dissuade President Obama. He appears to have a radical agenda and naturally appoints people who will further that agenda.  Just a few of his high profile appointments with radical ties or views include: Van Jones, who was briefly Obama’s special advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Energy and Environment Czar Carol Browner; Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Health Care Czar Donald Berwick, and many more.

Davidson should therefore feel right at home in Washington. Perhaps if people like her are controlling the purse strings and influencing our national culture, Congress should consider cutting off the endowment’s funding.

The author is Senior Writer at the J.W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.
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