What does a social disaster sound like?

Since April 6, when 88 professors, seven departments and seven academic programs sponsored an advertisement in The Chronicle with that tagline, the debate has raged on.

Dubbed the "Group of 88" by the national media and online bloggers, the professors have continued to be a target of criticism seven months after the advertisement ran.

The advertisement listed anonymous quotes describing allegations of racism and sexism at Duke.


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Although many professors declined to comment for this article, some said they stand by their statement and believe the advertisement has been misconstrued.

In a piece titled "Shame on Duke's faculty for rush to blame," published Oct. 22, The Arizona Republic columnist Doug MacEachern said the Group of 88 suffered from an "inflated sense of personal morality" in the wake of the scandal.

"Whatever the ultimate judgement in this case, the Duke faculty has acted monstrously," MacEachern wrote. "In service of their personal, hyperpolitical judgements about social oppression, the faculty members proclaimed their indifference to the real guilt or innocence of their own students."

Some professors said the statement reflected the opinion of those who signed it.

"I stand by my right to express my opinion, other than that I don't have anything to say. I think everyone should have the opportunity to express an opinion," said Sherman James, professor of public policy, declining further comment.

The advertisement's content has been widely misinterpreted, said Alice Kaplan, professor of literature and Romance studies and director of graduate studies in literature.

"That statement was about the climate on campus, it wasn't taking a position on the case," Kaplan said. "There's nothing in the statement that says anyone is guilty or innocent."

Criticism has rained in from coast to coast.

In an Oct. 16 New York Magazine article, Kurt Andersen unflatteringly compared one member of the Group of 88 to President George W. Bush.

"The story appalled us good-hearted liberal metropolitans, but absolutely galvanized the loopy left at Duke," Andersen wrote.

From the other end of the political spectrum, William Anderson, an assistant professor of economics at Frostburg State University, has written extensively online about the lacrosse scandal and labeled the Group of 88 as Marxists and leftists.

"These young men represented everything these faculty members despised, and they were not going to permit something as bourgeois as truth stand in the way of their attempt to remake Duke University in their own image," Anderson wrote Oct. 14.

The lacrosse case has exposed the "fraud" of higher education, he said.

"The Duke affair presents the Purely Political State of Being that the elite academies want to impose on everyone else," Anderson wrote. "Professors have come to view their campuses as huge re-education camps."

One of the professors Anderson specifically mentioned was Karla Holloway, a Duke professor of English.

Holloway wrote in an e-mail that misreadings of the advertisement have attracted the most attention.

"It was extraordinarily telling that these respondents displaced the actual content of the ad for the fiction of their own meagerly articulated agendas," she wrote.

She added that she would sign the petition again "in a heartbeat."

Both Kaplan and Holloway said they have received hate mail from strangers.

"The often vicious, frequently racist and generally poorly composed responses I have received speak for themselves," Holloway said.

"Those who cower under the cover of anonymous e-mail and who find their life's blood in producing unending streams of blogged nonsense are probably better left to these subaltern spaces," she added.

One of the bloggers following the case, KC Johnson, told The Chronicle in October that he started writing in reaction to the "inexplicable response" of the University's faculty.

In an Oct. 24 post, Johnson criticized the Group of 88 for remaining silent in light of recent developments.

A professor of history at Brooklyn College, he noted that some sponsors of the advertisement have "meager credentials" and he said that at least one has a pattern of "adopting ideologically extreme positions that fail to stand the test of time."

"Since March 14, nearly 100 of Duke's arts and sciences faculty engaged in rush-to-judgement denunciations of the lacrosse players," Johnson wrote.

Kaplan, though, rejected any postulations about her motives.

"I signed the statement because I care about Duke and I care about the students and the experiences they're having," she said.