The Martin Center features Duke emeritus professor John Staddon’s open letter to the university’s president.

Dear President Price:

On June 17, you published a 1,400-word “Statement to the Community Regarding Anti-Racism.” The document contains many expressions of concern, fully in tune with the current national mood about the evils of racism and the problems of the African American community.

Nevertheless, the measures proposed, and the assumptions made, in this document raise troubling questions: First, I say a word about the assumptions behind your statement; second, about the actions you propose to take.

(Quotes are all from the Statement.)

How widespread is racism? You say: “Those of us who are not subject to the daily oppression of racism…” Who, exactly, is “subject to the daily oppression of racism?” There are very few if any at Duke University. No doubt there are some in the country as a whole, but how many and where?

There are by some estimates 10,000 or more elected black officials in the U.S., including the mayors of major cities such as Chicago and Atlanta, not to mention the long-time much-respected mayor of Durham, Bill Bell—never mind a two-term black president. You are talking about now, not the decades before the civil rights legislation of 1964. African Americans are well represented in the legislatures of this country; they are far from powerless. It seems unwise to imply near-universal oppression when the current situation, though far from perfect, is obviously very different from the bad old days. …

… Recommendations for Action

Diversity: Duke is to “significantly and measurably expand the diversity of our faculty, staff, and students, with particular focus on Black, Indigenous and people of color.” You seem to take racial diversity as an axiomatic good. Yet, a faculty selected on the basis of academic merit may or may not turn out to be diverse. Making diversity a priority therefore puts the cart before the horse: a (racially) diverse faculty may, or may not, be an excellent faculty. You never explain why we should value diversity ahead of scholarly and academic excellence.