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Will Bruce Duthu ‘80 Repent?

Bruce Duthu2.jpgFaculty reaction to the appointment of Bruce Duthu as Dean of the Faculty runs from anger to disdain and contempt. You see, the Dean’s position is not only one of great prestige, emblematic of the College’s respect for the liberal arts, and therefore a post reserved for a top scholar/teacher, but the Dean is also the administrator to whom most faculty members ultimately report.

Dartmouth’s professors have long resigned themselves to having a student affairs bureaucracy that is a swamp of weak thinking and wasteful spending, but at least the academic mission has remained the province of quality people (I am being a little generous to Mike Mastanduno here). The Dean upholds tenure standards and sets an institutional tone for seriousness.

But the choice of Bruce Duthu, a lawyer by training, a professor without a doctoral degree (he holds a JD from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law), has impressed nobody. As one senior faculty member said to me, “How does the man sleep at night? He has to know that the only reason he was chosen over dozens of other people is that he can check a race box.”

Duthu is an approachable guy, and a good teacher. I’d go so far as to surmise that Phil and Carolyn picked him for the Dean’s slot in 2015, not long after they agreed with Mike Mastanduno that Mike would stay on for only two more years. Besotted as our President and Provost are by diversity and inclusion over all other considerations (though if they had to go to the hospital for an operation, would they insist on the inexperienced surgeon-of-color over the accomplished white doctor?), last May they appointed Duthu as Dean for International Studies and Interdisciplinary Programs in order to give him at least a fig leaf of administrative experience in the run-up to his appointment as Dean. How clever.

But beyond glossing over Duthu’s manifest lack of qualification for the job, did Phil and Carolyn do their homework about Duthu’s background? Preparation is a weak area for Phil, to be sure: at my first meeting with him, a one-on-one in his office, he inquired if I was an alumnus of the College; and he is known to frequently confuse the names of important donors. Did Phil and Carolyn know that Duthu had signed a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) petition, and co-authored another one? They should have. After all, I did a post about Duthu’s original involvement with these execrable documents on December 31, 2013, and then I recalled his involvement when he was named the chair of the Provost search committee on January 15, 2014, and again on September 24, 2016, when he was nominated (but never confirmed) by President Obama to be a member of the National Council on the Humanities.

The BDS effort as it is practiced in academia is a textbook example of the legal concept of selective enforcement. Imagine, if you will, the Hanover Police Department announced that it would begin ticketing Dartmouth students for jaywalking. Fair enough. The practice is against the law. But if it were then noted that only African-American students were being fined for the infraction, we’d be in different moral territory. The BDS crowd singles out Israel to the exclusion of all other malfaiteurs — of which there are a great many in the world, particularly in the Middle East. Furthermore, the recommendation that Israeli academic institutions be boycotted shows on Duthu’s behalf a profound disrespect for the power of argument, dialogue and his fellow academics in Israel. One would think that a man of ideas would actively seek debate with people in a country with whose practices and policies he disagrees. The act of shunning is repulsive and contrary to core principles of education.

Should such a person be our Dean?

The argument has been made that on campus and in his role as Dean for International Studies and Interdisciplinary Programs Duthu has worked closely with members of the Jewish Studies faculty and Israeli scholars in Hanover. However, what does that tell us about him? That in public he will say one thing, but behind the scenes he will do another? The College’s press release quotes Duthu as saying, “”I will be a fierce advocate for the faculty…” But how can we trust someone so two-faced? Will he be fierce like Phil Hanlon and Carolyn Dever — the fiercest lumps of putty you ever did see?

Word is out that the College will help Duthu scare up a statement in support of academic freedom and open interchange between the world’s academic institutions. After more than three years with his name on petitions and nary a disclaimer (I wrote to him at the end of 2013 asking for an explanation. No response), it seems late in the game to discover a set of principles.

Meanwhile, Duthu has gone to ground. He has not answered queries from the press. Phil should withdraw his nomination right away.

Addendum: Still nothing in The D about Duthu’s appointment, other than the initial 119-word rehash of the College’s press release. Come on, guys. Duthu is higher education’s most prominent BDS signatory, and you have nothing to say?

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