Progressive Justice

Colleges and universities are unique and critical constituents of the culture. They can be monastic refuges where professors are permitted to live the life of the mind, free to pursue ideas and knowledge for their own sake, unfettered by the necessity of immediate practical benefit. At the other end of the spectrum, professors can both seek knowledge and pursue remuneration for the practical benefits of their research.

Universities and colleges are also businesses that must pay the bills. They exist in an in between world, more or less dependent on tuition income, government grants or subsidies, and alumni contributions. Recently, universities and colleges — especially the elite ones — have become islands of “progressive” thought in a sea of a center-right republic. As a consequence, they can provide a glimpse into what the world would look like ruled by progressives free of the accountability to a constituency.

In 2006, members of the Duke lacrosse team were falsely accused of rape. In a complex society, there will always be serious accusations both with and without merit. It is the responsibility of law enforcement and the courts to sort through these. In this particular Duke case, it turned out that the district attorney in Durham North Carolina, Mike Nifong, did not conduct himself properly. It came to light that he withheld exculpatory DNA evidence, while at the same time insisting on the guilt of those charged. Fortunately, the parents of the accused were sufficiently affluent to hire quality legal representation.  If not for their representation, the accused might have been ground down under the wheels of aggressive district attorney. Ultimately, Nifong was disbarred and served one day in jail for criminal contempt of court.

Part of Nifong’s motivation was the necessity of re-election in Durham, NC. Eighty-eight Duke faculty members (eleven from the History Department) signed a statement implicitly assuming¬† that the rape charges were not only true, but symbolic of the behavior of white males. It was in this context that Nifong came to the case. It may have been Nifong’s eagerness to demonstrate his sensitivity to minority groups that clouded his prosecutorial judgment.

One might have thought that the whole situation would have caused those who rushed to judgment, particularly the Duke faculty, to be self-reflective and recognize the importance of waiting for due process.However, progressive thought is not so easily contained. None of the eighty-eight faculty who signed the petition apologized. Perhaps they assumed that even if these individuals were not guilty in this case, there must be something that the white jocks were guilty of.

Current actions by Duke are more revealing of the perverse logic of progressive justice. According to the National Journal, Duke has adopted a new sexual misconduct policy that creates a situation ripe for the same notorious injustice perpetrated by the lacrosse player accusations. The new rules assume very simple-minded and easily swayed Duke co-eds who must provide very explicit consent lest some male Duke student uses his high IQ to persuaded a fellow Duke student into sex. The new rules do not allow the someone accused of sexual misconduct the representation of an attorney or the right to face the accuser. The accuser can also receive copies of the investigative documents, while the accused can not.

The rules are an invitation to a lawsuit by someone falsely accused,  an alternative mostly available to one who afford an attorney. The irony is that this example of progressive justice was developed and adopted by those, one would be willing to wager, who are convinced that the former President George W. Bush eviscerated the Constitution by granting limited due process to illegal enemy combatants.

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