Academic Freedom, Racism & Bad Social Science

The title of my post sums up my thoughts on Duke Political Science Professor Jerry Hough’s comments on a NYT editorial on racism (via Mark Anthony Neal) over the weekend.

  • He is free to say what he wishes, and I defend this right
  • I think his words are racist; to me, the plain meaning of racist is believing you know everything about someone else, including their motives, based on the color of their skin
  • When he identifies himself as a professor (and social scientist), then it is reasonable to expect evidence to back up claims, which he does not provide. The more sweeping the claims (“Every Asian student”…”Virtually every black”…) the more one should expect evidence, especially from a professor

Our students deserve our best, and at least the benefit of the doubt. In this case, a professor makes claims about his students to justify his broader views about macro issues such as the role of racism versus other etiologies in explaining poor life outcomes among African Americans. The students deserve better. And coming on the heels of the noose incident at Duke this Spring, and subsequent adjudication that concluded the act was caused by “a lack of cultural awareness” this has been a very hard year at Duke for many black students.

I just want to say to our black students that I am sorry, and that I am glad that you are at Duke.

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy at Duke University (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute). I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy, and currently serve as Chair of Duke's University Priorities Committee (UPC). My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

5 Responses to Academic Freedom, Racism & Bad Social Science

  1. Pingback: Race pimps at Duke set their sights on a new victim |

  2. B.L. Hayes says:

    This post was dead on. Also, thank you, Dr. Neal, for providing a kind note of support to the students at Duke who undoubtedly need it.

  3. Marcus Morrow says:

    Don, I don’t know if you remember me or not but I was an MPP grad in 2014. Thank you for responding to this incident. I’ve never been embarrassed to say that I was a Duke student or that I’m alumni until the last few weeks after seeing the school’s response to these problems on campus and with this professor. As an African-American I’m deeply hurt that this is how some of our professors view me as an individual and as a person. I’m an 8-year military veteran and I feel that despite my service, I’m a second-class citizen in some people’s minds. I would have never dreamed this would be the case with a professor at Duke. I’ve also been in interracial relationships and I’ve never had to compromise my culture or background to make myself acceptable. Either way, thank you for stepping up and saying something.

    Marcus Morrow

  4. CivilDiscourse says:

    I appreciate this as the first reasoned feedback I’ve seen on Professor Hough’s comments. Everything else, including Duke’s official response, has focused on simply condemning his comments as racist. Responses that in their way are as disturbing as racist comments.

    1. I too defend his right to express his opinions – we should engage with our own, not with simple dismissal based on labeling them as racist.

    2. He was expressing his opinion that Asians have overcome many of the effects of discrimination through more aggressive attempts at integration from within their own community, while African Americans have not been as successful or tried in the same ways. It’s argument about methods, not effort. That to me is not a racist argument. It is a valid thesis that should be addressed on it’s merits. I can see many arguments to be made on both sides, and think the discussion is worthwhile. We can start by acknowledge that sweeping generalizations are most always inaccurate.

    3. I think he overreached in his language, but this was a comment on an article – his opinion -not a scholarly article itself. The bar for evidence and research is very different in this case.

    Was this culturally insensitive? Yes. Is the root problem in Baltimore that African Americans don’t pick old American first names? Of course not. Are there behaviors in the African American community that could be changed to increase integration? Almost certainly.

    Having done some cursory research I suspect Professor Hough is a decent man, who has been a positive force in racial integration during his career. I think his point view is worthy of a more reasoned response than a simple “racist” label.

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