The other Duke list

October 12, 2010
Duke Chapel

Once again, Duke University is in the news, and once again, the story swirls around sex and sports.

Most of us in Durham are too busy juggling school, work and family to play big sports or have tons of sex, but stories about little league and monogamy aren't news. The Duke undergraduate who wrote a mock thesis in which she rated the young male athletes with whom she had, well, done various sorts of things is now repenting for brazenly doing what is usually subtle.

If you ask socially dominant students at any major university in the U.S., they will know a story about a young woman who has been rated for her various "abilities" by members of a sporting team on campus. It is grisly but sadly common. The ratings usually function semiprivately and circulate among the men.

Meanwhile, a different little scandal is brewing here at Duke, over another set of numbers that also usually circulate semiprivately among men. Turns out, during a time of supposed scarcity, when the public spokesmen were asking people to tighten our belts, practice frugality, take early retirement and generally sacrifice for the sake of our ship-in-common, some of the big guys (and a few gals) were quietly awarding themselves large bonuses.

After the report came out, a few of us faculty, students and staff pulled together an improvised demonstration in front of the hallowed Duke Chapel steps, modeled on the "Billionaires for Bush" troupe. We opted for lampooning rather than wailing.

The event prompted discussion of a "maximum wage limit" that would cap the ratio between a school's highest wage earners and the lowest.  It's an ambitious suggestion, but what better way for a major university to show some leadership during a national crisis of radical inequality and corporate greed?

Later last week, the author of the HeraldSun report, a Duke graduate loyal enough to muckrake on his own alma mater, named bonus-takers from Duke Management Company, Duke Corporate Education, Duke Health and other administrators for the university. This brought the reported total of bonuses up to tens of millions of dollars.

There is a West Texas saying my dad uses periodically: "A fish rots from the head." It's indecent to mockingly rate one's sex partners and treat people like mere tools. But old-boy systems of opacity and hierarchy are a much bigger problem, and the grownups at Duke must get to work.


Looking at the narrative of

Looking at the narrative of the lacrosse scandal, and of the 'f list' scandal (the original one, not the bonus one), it is actually the _same_ narrative that was in play last year during the Final Four. This narrative is that Duke is an elitist school full of obnoxious, rich kids who feel that their privilege entitles them to whatever they want, whether that be sex, strippers, or national championships. The sports coverage from the NCAA tournament contained an enormous number of articles and blog posts hoping that Duke would lose for just that reason.

In _After Virtue_, MacIntyre lists three modern "moral fictions" in which authority is vested: the Aesthete, the Therapist, and the Business Manager. Much of the current populist sentiment in this country seems to have attached its anger, in particular, to the first category (see usual descriptions of 'intellectuals' or 'elitists' and compare) while oddly enough giving the other categories a pass. This is strange to me, as the Aesthete is the least threatening category in reality, but is certainly the one which is easiest to attack on the basis of perceived or actual degeneracy in _personal_ morality.

So good on you for redirecting the conversation to a bigger target (the Business Manager).

This should have our attention

Amy Laura Hall,

Thank you downlighting us toward some of the real issues going on right under our noses. If we do not stand in the ass of this injustice and continue to follow the media in it's scandals of "who did who" we cannot be faithful. When jobs are being cut and the bottom being tested with less than respect-- we cannot stand aside. Thank you for pointing us toward a new direction. Peace be with you as you and many others seek justice over there at Duke!