Jerry Hough has made a career out of cutting against the grain. As one of the nation’s leading Kremlinologists, Hough tried for decades to dispel what he considered misconceptions about the Soviet Union. “Hough’s arguments are forcefully put, backed by intriguing details and the kind of arch contempt for conventional wisdom that has made Hough an enfant terrible in his field,” according to a 1988 book review in The Washington Post.
Nearly three decades later, however, Hough’s contempt for conventional wisdom has gotten him into a serious controversy. During the past week, the Duke politics professor has come under attack from students, colleagues and school administrators over allegedly racially “noxious” comments he posted online. The enfant terrible has been accused of simply being terrible.
Reacting to a May 9 editorial in the New York Times titled “How Racism Doomed Baltimore,” Hough posted a six-paragraph comment that compared “the blacks” to “the Asians” and blamed African Americans for refusing to integrate by insisting on “strange new” names.
The comment, in which Hough identified himself as a Duke professor, led to a quick and heated response on social media. A fellow Duke professor compared Hough’s statement to a “micro noose.” Michael Schoenfeld, the university’s vice president for public affairs, told Fox 8 television that Hough’s words were “noxious, offensive, and have no place in civil discourse.”
This weekend, Fox 8 and Slate both seemed to suggest Hough had been placed on leave after making his remarks. But Hough told a local newspaper that he had already been on academic leave before the controversy and that he wasn’t backing down from anything he said.
Instead, Hough said he was being attacked for again saying something different.
“I don’t know if you will find anyone to agree with me,” he told the News & Observer. “Anyone who says anything is [called] a racist and ignorant, as I was called by a colleague. The question is whether you want to get involved in the harassment and few do. I am 80 and figure I can speak the truth as I see it. Ignorant I am not.”
Hough has taught at Duke for 40 years and is set to stop teaching in 2016, he told the News & Observer. He holds three degrees from Harvard and has penned numerous opinion pieces for national publications, including The Washington Post.
The controversy stems from Hough’s comment to the New York Times editorial, which linked riots in Baltimore to the city’s “intractable” poverty and segregated schools. Here is Hough’s full comment:
This editorial is what is wrong. The Democrats are an alliance of Westchester and Harlem, of Montgomery County and intercity Baltimore. Westchester and Montgomery get a Citigroup asset stimulus policy that triples the market. The blacks get a decline in wages after inflation.
But the blacks get symbolic recognition in an utterly incompetent mayor who handled this so badly from beginning to end that her resignation would be demanded if she were white. The blacks get awful editorials like this that tell them to feel sorry for themselves.
In 1965 the Asians were discriminated against as least as badly as blacks. That was reflected in the word “colored.” The racism against what even Eleanor Roosevelt called the yellow races was at least as bad.
So where are the editorials that say racism doomed the Asian-Americans. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.
I am a professor at Duke University. Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existemt because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.
It was appropriate that a Chinese design won the competition for the Martin Luther King state. King helped them overcome. The blacks followed Malcolm X.
Almost immediately, other readers criticized the comments as inappropriate of a Duke professor.
“Are you serious? Someone’s non-Anglo first name is part of the problem?” asked one commenter. “Read this professors reviews from students on Rate My Professor, multiple reviews reference his prejudices. And who are the people recommending his post? Duke, you should be ashamed.”
In fact, one student who gave Hough a “poor” rating in 2011 mentioned his professor’s alleged prejudices.
“Hough is interestingly out of date,” the student wrote on the anonymous Web site. “His antiquated views are placed in a modern world. His class is like Groundhog Day, repeating itself endlessly with nothing interesting happening. His text book is what he should be lecturing, and grading is relatively easy. He vocalizes some extremely strong prejudices so be careful.” Hough’s overall “grade” on the website is 2.6/5, considered on the low end of average.
In an e-mail sent to several media outlets, however, Hough argued that he wasn’t racist and that people were being so sensitive about race that they were ignoring important issues.
“Martin Luther King was my hero and I was a big proponent of all the measures taken at the time, including Affirmative Action,” he wrote. “But the degree of integration is not what I expected, and it is time to ask why and to change our approach. I am, of course, strongly against the toleration of racial discrimination. I do not know what racial intolerance means in modern code words and hesitate to comment on that specific comment.
“The issue is whether my comments were largely accurate. In writing me, no one has said I was wrong, just racist. The question is whether I was right or what the nuanced story is since anything in a paragraph is too simple.
“I am strongly against the obsession with ‘sensitivity,'” Hough wrote. “The more we have emphasized sensitivity in recent years, the worse race relations have become. I think that is not an accident. I know that the 60 years since the Montgomery bus boycott is a long time, and things must be changed.
“The Japanese and other Asians did not obsess with the concentration camps and the fact they were linked with blacks as ‘colored.’ They pushed ahead and achieved,” Hough wrote in an attempt to explain his New York Times post. He then made an analogy to Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, a wildly popular figure on campus known as “Coach K.”
“Coach K did not obsess with all the Polish jokes about Polish stupidity,” Hough said. “He pushed ahead and achieved. And by his achievement and visibility, he has played a huge role in destroying stereotypes about Poles. Many blacks have done that too, but no one says they have done as well on the average as the Asians. In my opinion, the time has come to stop talking incessantly about race relations in general terms as the President and activists have advocated, but talk about how the Asians and Poles got ahead — and to copy their approach. I don’t see why that is insensitive or racist.”
Hough’s comments come at a time of strained race relations across the United States and on Duke’s campus, where a noose was found hanging in a tree last month. An unnamed undergraduate was sanctioned over the noose incident but will reportedly be allowed to return to campus in the fall.
At the time, school administrators announced that they wouldn’t allow racial intolerance.
Hough says his only regret is not being clearer in his comments. “There were typos in my outrage towards [the editorial] and I could have been more careful (though hard in the space limits),” he wrote in his e-mail.