(The second installment can be read here.)
With all due apologies to Ralph, Scott, Timothy, Miriam, and the rest of the good folk at Cliopatria, I've got to say: keeping K.C. Johnson on the roster does the rest of the contributors a disservice. He divined the truth of what happened in Durham on the night of March 13th long before the police announced the results of their investigation. He was correct. Those who believed three Duke lacrosse players had raped an African-American women were incorrect.
But I spent an hour this afternoon catching up with Johnson's Durham-in-Wonderland. If the research presented on the blog is indicative of the content of his soon-to-be-published book—Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case—then I can only conclude that the book'll be positively Horowitzian in tenor and substance.
Like Horowitz—and clocks twice a day—Johnson occasionally nails his target. Consider his series of profiles of the "Group of 88." That Wahneema Lubiano is a tenured associate professor in the Program in Literature with one edited volume on her CV and two monograph that've been perpetually forthcoming since 1997 infuriates me. It also infuriates every academic struggling for tenure, so the notion that her position is indicative of a general rot in the academic humanities is willfully misleading.
One down, eighty-seven to go. Only he's not going to get to all eighty-seven. He's shutting down the blog when Until Proven Innocent's published in September, and as of August 30th had only written fourteen—and even that's being charitable, since the final three were group profiles. I can imagine the response: "So what? He's found fourteen intellectual frauds in a group of only eighty-eight professors! That's a damning percentage."
It certainly is. Were he a baseball player, he'd be hitting a Ruthian .159. But he isn't even hitting that well. Consider his profile of Joseph Harris, the director of Duke's University Writing Program. He's published three books and numerous articles. His articles are published in the most important journals in the field of composition studies. He has what can only be described as a stellar publication record for someone working in composition and rhetoric.
Johnson's dismissive description of the books—"each of which discuss how to teach writing"—is a blatant attempt to minimize the work of the entire field. (A field, I should add, whose lack of respect is often lamented by conservative critics when they bemoan the reading and writing skills of the contemporary college student.) What really galls me about Johnson's profile of Harris is his attempt to mislead his readers into believing statements like the following point to the liberal bias of Duke composition classes:
In a 1991 essay, he asserted that composition classes should "teach students to write as critics of their culture," with "teaching itself as a form of cultural criticism, about classrooms that do not simply reproduce the values of our universities and cultures but that also work to resist and question them."
That's about as benign a description of a course devoted to critical thinking as you'll ever find. But if you conflate "criticism" with "condemnation," as Johnson invites you to, then it seems as if the University Writing Program's a haven for anti-American indoctrination. To wit:
In another 1991 essay, he opposed using English classes as an opportunity to "pass down and preserve the legacy of high [W]estern culture." Why? Because students "need to use language to question the demands their society makes upon them."
The first thing to note is that Harris published two articles in 1991. The second is that Johnson capitalized the "w" in the phrase "high western culture." The third is that what Harris says here is supremely uncontroversial. He wants students to develop the ability to think for themselves in a language not borrowed unthinkingly from their parents. This is not indoctrination: it's teaching. He doesn't advocate teaching students to draw a particular conclusion, merely their own.
This isn't to say Harris isn't insidious. I mean, look at him here, opposing the "corporate" nature of the university:
Too many academics, he complained, favor a meritocratic approach, concentrating on their own individual achievements rather than recognizing that they are "mid-level bureaucrats in large corporations." Harris, for one, described himself as "from a union family and . . . troubled by my position as a manager in a system that treats so many of its teachers unfairly."
Anti-corporate is anti-American, ipso facto it's anti-American to oppose the hiring of adjuncts. That such hirings are deleterious to the departments that do them, the composition programs that rely on them, and the level of instruction university-wide is beside the point. Johnson wants to improve the quality of education, whereas Harris wants to improve the quality of education. Wait, what? When someone pointed this out to him—in a comment which dispassionately, but damningly, condemns the practice of hiring adjuncts—Johnson disingenuously replied:
Given that, it's rather hard to argue that the academy is organized in a "corporate" fashion—that's a pretty big difference between the academy and the average corporation.
Translation: "I've worked in academia for years, yet somehow (wink wink) I'm not aware that the move to hire adjuncts is related to the desire of many university systems to adopt a more corporate model."
Or: "I have no response to your to comment, so I'll just call Harris 'shallow' again and hope you don't notice that I'm willfully donning blinders to make my point."
Both translations point to Johnson's fundamental commitment to making an argument which entails either willful misreading or gratuitous uncharitableness.
Take your pick.
To return to the baseball metaphor, Johnson's not merely hitting .159, he's hitting an empty .159. He may have hit a double with Lubiano, but if he trawled the Group of 88 for equal bursts of power and stopped shortly after Harris, he has problems. He had to force Harris into the mold of which he's but one of many exemplars. What does that say about the other seventy-four professors whose profiles he hasn't posted?
The impetus behind this post was simple: I noticed that Priscilla Wald belonged to the Group of 88, and wondered why he hadn't profiled her—or, for that matter, any of the scholars with whose work I'm familiar. (Also, why not Michael Hardt? I mean, really, why not Hardt? Wouldn't he be Johnson's perfect foil?) Then I thought about it: if he tried to characterize their work, he'd give his readers the "wrong" impression; namely, that most of the members of the Group of 88 are responsible, well-respected scholars.
That would've been inconvenient.