One of the central players in the scandal was Houston A. Baker, Jr. A former president of the Modern Language Association, Baker has built his career through a carefully orchestrated fabrication of race scandals and juvenile cultural relativism. (Choosing between Shakespeare and Jacqueline Susann, he once wrote, is “no different from choosing between a hoagy and a pizza,” adding that “I am one whose career is dedicated to the day when we have a disappearance of those standards.”) Soon after the lacrosse scandal broke, Professor Baker called for “immediate dismissals of those principally responsible for the horrors of this spring moment at Duke. Coaches of the lacrosse team, the team itself and its players, and any other agents who silenced or lied about the real nature of events.” He joined the other members of the Group of 88 in signing a “thank you” letter to campus radicals who had distributed a “wanted” poster of the lacrosse players and publicly branded them “rapists.” After the more serious charges against the three students were dropped in December, the mother of another member of the team emailed to ask if he would reconsider his comments. Professor Baker’s response is illuminating:
LIES You are just a provacateur [sic] on a happy New Years [sic] Eve trying to get credit for a scummy bunch of white males! . . .
I really hope whoever sent this stupid farce of an email rots in. . . . umhappy [sic] new year to you . . . and forgive me if your [sic] really are, quite sadly, mother of a “farm animal.”
Houston Baker was the George D. and Susan Fox Beischer Professor of English at Duke. How proud the Beischers must have been! In the aftermath of the Duke scandals, Baker decamped to a distinguished professorship at Vanderbilt University. What does that tell us about the state of American academia?
Nothing good. But Richard Brodhead and the Group of 88 were not the only ones out of control. There was also former District Attorney, now the disgraced and disbarred former District Attorney Michael Nifong. In a disgusting spectacle of prosecutorial abuse, Nifong suppressed evidence about the case, cynically bartering the lives of three white lacrosse players in his populist bid to win reelection in racially divided Durham.
The second suite of attention-grabbing headlines came on April 11, 2007, when Roy Cooper, the North Carolina attorney general, announced that he was dropping all charges against the three Duke lacrosse players who had been indicted for kidnapping and raping Crystal Mangum. As Mr. Cooper stressed, he was dropping the case not because there was insufficient evidence—often a euphemism for “probably guilty, but we can’t prove it”—but because the three players were completely innocent of the charges that had recklessly been brought against them. Mr. Cooper went further: not only had there been “a tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations,” but the case also showed “the enormous consequences of overreaching by a prosecutor.”
The story of this tawdry melodrama at Duke deserved an entire book, and it got a very good one in Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case by KC Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College, and the journalist Stuart Taylor. They show in horrifying detail how “many professors and, to a lesser extent, administrators at one of the nation’s finest universities chose to grind their radical political axes at the expense of both their own students’ well-being and the academy’s traditional fidelity to due process.”
Many of people suffered because of the Duke farce. But what of Professor Bakers and his preening, activist colleagues? What of the Group of 88? Only one member apologized. The rest issued a statement that categorically rejected all “public calls to the authors to retract the ad or apologize for it.” I’ve often had occasion in the space to allude to Glenn Reynolds’s contention that higher education in this country is experiencing a dangerous and unsustainable bubble. What happened at Duke, up to and including the grisly aftermath of the conviction of Crystal Mangum for murder, is part of that story of hyperinflation. Travesty finally met tragedy. But the Group of 88 and their enablers sail blithely on. For now.
**CORRECTION** In the original posting, I had misidentified Michael Nifong. He was District Attorney for Durham County.