Red-Faced at Duke · 08 March 2006

By Ben Johnson -

By Ben Johnson -03/09/06

The academic freedom campaign could not have paid for a better publicity stunt than the one three leftist professors at Duke University gave it for free Tuesday night. In this case, a cross-dressing feminist professor and her cohorts tried to talk 20 students - male and female - into stripping during the middle of David Horowitz's speech. With one move, they stripped away any pretense that certain academic departments are anything other than political parties - complete with street theater aimed at undermining their critics.

The Speech

For weeks, Students for Academic Freedom activist Steve Miller laid the groundwork to bring David Horowitz to Duke. He tirelessly canvassed the university, distributed flyers, and networked with any organization that might have an interest in hearing the lifelong civil rights activist and leading critic of university abuses. During the day, Duke President Richard Brodhead met with Miller and Horowitz, saying his university had no need to adopt an Academic Bill of Rights to protect students from faculty misbehavior.

Then Horowitz spoke.

Miller's hard work had paid off, as campus police estimated the crowd at 800 out of a student body of 6,400. "It was more than any student sponsored event in recent history," Miller said. Only university-sponsored events - such as Harry Belafonte's speech on Martin Luther King Day, or Colin Powell's visit - attracted larger audiences. By contrast James Carville had recently stammered to a crowd of only thirty. C-SPAN had cameras rolling, to broadcast the address at a later date.

In the audience a contingent of about 20 students, led by three faculty members, including the Professor Diane Nelson, the Director of Undergraduate studies sat themselves near the front of the auditorium. They were all wearing matching T-shirts reading, "Why didn't I make the list?" on the front, and on the back, "Intimidation, blacklisting, litmus testing, narcing on professors = academic freedom?" They sat as they thought: in one bloc.

Horowitz began his speech, by holding up his 450 page-112,000 word book and saying "I have in my hand here a book. Take a look. It's a book, not a list." But within moments, the disruptions began. "Whole departments at Duke are no longer scholarly enterprises," he said. "They have been transformed into political parties, whose message is that America is the Great Satan." On cue, the group of T-shirted protesters burst into loud orchestrated giggles. These continued at pointed moments throughout the speech as, for example, when Horowitz pointed out that professors at Duke make over $100,000 a year, work five hours a week in class, have four month paid vacations and lifetime jobs -- all at the expense of Duke students who pay $43,000 a year for the privilege.

The outbursts were clearly designed to break Horowitz's flow, but he brushed them aside with humor, observing at one point, "Apparently there are some people on mushrooms in here."

When their bouts of artificial derisory giddiness failed to have their desired effect, The Feminist Collective became more vocal, yelling rebukes at him. In a perfect Judo pivot, Horowitz turned the tables on his tenured hecklers and their obedient puppets: "Didn't your mother teach you manners?" According to one of two front page stories about the speech in the campus newspaper, The Chronicle, "This drew an ovation from the rest of the audience."

However, this adolescent protest was not the full extent of what the three professors led by the Director of Undergraduate Studies had planned: they intended to have more than a dozen students of both sexes strip partially naked on television.

Feminist Strippers Against Free Speech

According to the Duke student newspaper, the protest was the brainchild of Diane M. Nelson, Director of Undergraduate Studies and a tenured associate professor of "Cultural Anthropology." Hours before Horowitz was scheduled to speak, Nelson sent out an e-mail on the Duke network urging students:

They claim he will 'expose' academia…Here are some ways we will 'expose them.' I say we all wear jog bras (for ladies) and nothing (for boys) under our T-shirts and at a given signal pull them off.

No male students joined the Feminist Collective, and the females proved reluctant revolutionaries. Reportedly, they felt uncomfortable flashing their intellectual foe, so they decided to giggle him down instead.

When student Miller confronted Professor Nelson about her inappropriate behavior after the speech, Nelson lied: "We came to listen. We didn't come to disrupt him."

The Duke University Faculty Handbook makes very clear that Professor Nelson's behavior was a violation of university rules:

It is the policy of the university to protect the right of voluntary assembly, to make its facilities available for peaceful assembly, to welcome guest speakers, and to protect the exercise of these rights from disruption or interference…It recognizes that academic freedom is no less dependent on ordered liberty than any other freedom, and it understands that the harassment of others is especially reprehensible in a community of scholars. The substitution of noise for speech and force for reason is a rejection and not an application of academic freedom. A determination to discourage conduct that is disruptive and disorderly does not threaten academic freedom; it is, rather, a necessary condition of its very existence. Therefore, Duke University will not allow disruptive or disorderly conduct on its premises to interrupt its proper operation. Persons engaging in disruptive action or disorderly conduct shall be subject to disciplinary action, including expulsion or separation, and also charges of violations of law…Disruptive picketing, protesting, or demonstrating on Duke University property or at any place in use for an authorized university purpose is prohibited.

The statement continues:

As members of learned professions, faculty members of Duke University should remember that the public may judge their professions and their institution by their actions. They should also remember that in a deeper sense they cannot separate freedom as a member of the academic community from their responsibility as a privileged member of society. While the university will always protect freedom to espouse an unpopular cause, faculty members have a responsibility not to involve the university. Hence, when speaking, writing, or acting in the capacity of a private citizen, they should make every effort to indicate that they are not spokespersons or representatives of the university.

The Handbook indicates consequences for those who violate these guidelines, can be severe:

The university may terminate the appointment of a full-time academic staff member having a term appointment prior to the expiration of the appointment, or may terminate the appointment of an academic staff member having continuous academic tenure prior to retirement, for misconduct or neglect of duty. (Emphasis added.)

It certainly appears Nelson and her academic assistants - History professor Jocelyn Olcott and University Writing/Women's Studies lecturer Caroline Light - have violated this policy.

More importantly, these three academics vividly illustrate the sad polemical state of modern academia: professors instructing students not only which views to hold but how to express them, and how to disrespect their fellow students to disagree with them. The Daily Tarheel reported Light even applauded those students at Horowitz's speech who did as they were told. Each of these professors provided a perfect illustration of Horowitz's claim that political ideologues have inserted themselves into the heart of the modern university system. Duke is ranked fifth in academic quality among all American universities in the rankings by U.S. News and World Reports.

A History of (Intellectual) Violence

Caroline Light teaches the University Writing 20 class, in which, according to Miller, students discuss and learn to write essays about …the evils of capitalism. Light was one of the endorsers of the pro-Saddam, pro-terrorist International ANSWER's antiwar protest on January 18, 2003. Miller and other students say the fact that Light has no competence in economics, finance, or history does not cause her to shy away from describing the system's alleged shortcomings with great bluster and forcefulness.

Like Nelson, Jocelyn Olcott celebrates the works of Marxist women, in Olcott's case, Mexican radicals. Olcott, who is on leave at Duke this year, is a signatory of Historians Against the War's attack on the U.S. "occupation" of Iraq, which claims the war "violates international law" and "reaches toward domination of the Middle East and its resources." (Ironically, Olcott's academic career received a boost when she was awarded the Harrington Fellowship Award, which was established "in 1987 in memory of Texas oilman Donald D. Harrington by his wife, the late Sybil B. Harrington.") She has offered to act as a HAW speaker, using her "expertise" in the politics of Mexican extremists to proselytize American college students about the Bush administration's "imperialist" policies. Olcott gave $500 to John Kerry and $500 to John Edwards during the Democratic primaries.

Last year, both Olcott and Nelson signed a letter supporting Ward Churchill, who had incited a nationwide outrage by calling the victims of 9/11 "little Eichmanns" and saying that American deserved the attack. The statement asserts the act of university officials examining Churchill's "scholarly" body of work for "supposed evidence of 'fraud'" is "intolerable and must be reversed - immediately." If officials continued investigating whether Churchill lied about being an Indian and committed plagiarism, "the consequences for American society as a whole will be nothing short of disastrous."

The Director of Undergraduate Studies, Diane Nelson, naturally has the lengthiest resume in a career dedicated to using her academic position to advance extremist politics. Her principal scholarly work is an an "ethnography" of Guatemala entitled A Finger in the Wound: Body Politics in Quincentennial Guatemala, which is really a collection of testimonials by Guatemalan Marxists and terrorists whose agendas she wholehearedly embraces. even a glowing review described her book as "politically motivated." Promotional material describes the text in these words: "Her work draws from political economy, cultural studies, and psychoanalysis, and has special relevance to ongoing discussions of power, hegemony, and the production of subject positions, as well as gender issues and histories of violence as they relate to postcolonial nation-state formation."

Since the rise of South American communism, she has found a new focus: "In the summer of 2003, I began new fieldwork on this interest in Venezuela." This is the new scholarship: follow the revolution. And promote it.

Nelson currently sponsors a "House Course" at Duke called on "Black, White, and Shades of Gray: A Perspective on Race Relations." Guess what the perspective is. One of the texts is David Roediger's Towards the Abolition of Whiteness. The course also involves a nifty game with pipe cleaners.

Two months before the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Nelson compared the United States to Nazi Germany in comments reported in the student newpaper, and insinuated that an American attempt to liberate Iraq would justify a massive military retaliation by America's enemies in the Middle East. She also claimed Germany had launched a "massive unprovoked attack" on Austria. In fact, the Austrian Anschluss was bloodless, as a retired Duke professor corrected her. This marked one of many times Nelson would display her ignorance in the pages of the Chronicle.

Immediately after military hostilities began, Nelson led a student walkout of classes (a well-organized, leftist skip day) to protest the war in Iraq. She was one of four Duke faculty members to harrangue students at the rally.

Soon, she and other leftist lecturers found a unique way to promote their agendas: cross-dressing. Nelson co-founded Duke Radical Action Group (DRAGNet, get it?) According to co-founder of DRAGNet, Waheema Lubiano, a professor in the African and African-American Studies departments, who lacks any discernible academic credential for the tenured position she holds, the motivation behind DRAGnet's creation was specifically to move beyond simply supporting student political groups' agendas to shaping them and the campus landscape as well. Waheema Lubiano is a leader of the political party that has subverted the academic agendas of Duke:

A number of us have been involved in student-generated political events on campus. However, this summer Diane Nelson and I thought, "Why don't we try to hone a larger group of people who have political interests and want to be engaged in both support of student activities and from our own vantage points?"

As word leaked out that Duke may host the fourth-annual Palestinian Solidarity Movement conference, a pro-terrorist organizing session that has disgraced several universities over the years, these professorss told The Chronicle that DRAGNet "has taken a position of strong support for the conference." Soon, the pro-terror conference would take place there. (Nelson is also a member of DukeDivest, a group dedicated to financially boycotting companies that do business with Israel as a step in dismantling the Jewish state.)

Among the targets of the Director of Undergraduate Studies at Duke are Duke students themselves. In January, 2004, the Duke Conservative Union and the Duke chapter of Students for Academic Freedom embraced David Horowitz's academic freedom campaign. On Feb. 20, Nelson responded with a letter to the editor of the Durham Herald-Sun, calling the Duke Conservative Union "disingenuous" fanatics who were "following instruction on a Web site run by David Horowtiz on how to promote a neoconservative agenda." These conservate students, Professor Nelson informed the outlying community, "promote censorship…[and] political litmus tests for hiring." (The Academic Bill of Rights endorsed by the student explicitly forbids political litmus tests for hiring, promotes intellectual diversity and opposes censorship.) Moreover, "in a previous paid ad, they encouraged students to snitch on their professors."

Forget the third-grade name-calling, which labels those who believe professors should be as accountable as administrators and students "snitches" and "narcs;" Duke Chronicle columnist Nathan Carleton pointed out that the Duke Conservative Union had not published any such ad. It was just another professorial lie. In his words, "Nelson went into attack mode and did everything she could to poison the well against the Duke Conservative Union…she is intentionally smearing a group of students because she does not like their politics. For that, she should be ashamed." And disciplined by the Duke administration for violating its faculty code of ethics.

But the Director of Undergraduate Studies was not ashamed, and it would not be the last time she attacked conservative students in front of an audience.

Upon hearing of the Duke Conservative Union's 2004 voter registration study - which found, to no one's great shock, that Democrats outnumber Republicans in some Duke academic departments by 32-0 - Professor Nelson retorted that George Bush and John Kerry were virtually identical. Well, from a Communist point of view, why not? "Given this: I also want to know, where is the diversity? Where are the Greens, Labour, the Christian Democrats, the Socialists, the Communists, the Workers Party, the Black Panthers, the Puerto Rican independentistas [sic.], etc….?"

In February this year, Professor Nelson personally wrote a letter to the editor of the Duke Chronicle, co-signed by more than 50 other professors, to express her "profound appreciation" to members of a campus political campaign.

Now, she and two other faculty members are directing students - likely students in their own departments, over whom they wield authority and power - on which speakers to cheer or oppose, when to snap into a fit of disruptive hysterics, and how much of their bodies to bare on national television to make a political point.

Duke History

And sadly, Duke University has a long history of promoting a leftist political agenda under the guise of academia - not least of all, in Nelson's own department.

In March 2003, the Cultural Anthropology department took out an ad, signed by 39 professors, opposing the toppling of Saddam Hussein - paid for with department money. The ad read:

We wish to express our opposition to the bombing of Iraq, and affirm our solidarity with those students and student groups protesting the war. We consider this unilateral action by the U.S. government reckless, unjustifiable, and against the best interests of the international community, and urge the Duke community to find serious ways to engage in reflection and dialogue about this disturbing turn of events.

Taking out the ad violated university guidelines. The administration meted out the stifling punishment of making the department apologize. The purloined advertisement's signatories also had to chip in for the cost of the ad.

However, the most pernicious development is the masquerading of polemics as intellectual knowledge, indoctrination as education. In addition to the Writing 20 course cited above and numerous other ordinary-sounding courses with similar political content, the university features such flagrantly skewed courses as "Utopian Writing," "Collective and Collectivization," "Chicana Feminism," "Money, Sex and Power," "Frantz Fanon and the Network Society," "Marxism and Society," "Marxism and Fredric Jameson," "Socialist Realism," and "Sex and the Troubled Life of Feminism and Queer Theory."

A "house course" entitled, "Non-Violent Activism in Israel and Palestine," sponsored in the spring of 2004 by Rebecca Stein (a Duke faculty member who address the PSM conference), featured textbooks by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Bill Ayers, Phyllis Bennis, and the International Solidarity Movement. It "discussed a potential Spring Break trip to Palestinian Solidarity Movement, Seeds of Peace, Center for Global Peace (American Univ.), Arab-American Institute, State Dept., [or the] Washington Report on Middle East Affairs." The final week concludes by asking students to ponder, "What is "creative extremism?" and "When is violence justified?"

As the case of the North Carolina student who drove his vehicle through a crowd of students to punish the government of the United States demonstrates, ideas have consequences. Causing students to brood on the justifications for violence breeds violence, or at a minimum, a tolerance for violence. Causing students to ingest and regurgitate one side of any highly contentious issue breeds virulent ideologues, cocksure in their error because they have never been challenged by Truth (or even a disingenuous Devil's Advocate). And incubating an environment in which professors, in a position of authority and always subconsciously wielding the grading pen, may publicly laud or chastise any student or student organization for straying outside the instructors' political orthodoxy creates idiotic outbursts such as the one we saw Tuesday night, at once inane and chilling.

This author wishes to thank Steve Miller for his tireless efforts on campus with SAF and for his contributions to this article.

Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of FrontPage Magazine and author of the book 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving.