Contributor, The Volokh Conspiracy

Prof. KC Johnson (Minding the Campus) notes this item from Valerie Ashby, the new dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University, Valerie Ashby (see about 35:00 in this video), said in response to a student question complaining about various supposedly intolerant scholarship and other statements by various faculty members at Duke and elsewhere:

I’d like to … say that, what specific actions are we taking towards that, besides more conversations…. Part of what we’re doing is really, without a shadow of a doubt, speaking to these incidents that happen in the faculty. I am going to every single department and saying to the faculty, these are our values, and then holding chairs really accountable, that we’re training chairs, and then holding them accountable for what’s happening in your departments.

We’re also really working on … the new faculty who step in the door, and really trying to teach them, these are our values, this is what’s tolerable here, this is what’s not, this is how we feel about these things. And at every point of their evaluation, and at every point of — chance where we have an opportunity to make a decision about whether or not you are Duke, we are evaluating the — we will evaluate the entirety of the person.

And so you can’t be a great scholar, and be intolerant. You have to go.


I asked Duke for a follow-up comment, and they passed along this e-mail that Dean Ashby sent four days later, which in the fourth paragraph says, “we equally recognize intellectual freedom and the courage to hold, articulate and defend and debate ideas, whether popular or not, as an essential value of the university.” (I quote the entire e-mail below.) Query which message Duke faculty are likely to be getting: “we equally recognize intellectual freedom and the courage to … debate ideas, whether popular or not” — or “you can’t be a great scholar, and be intolerant. You have to go.”

Here is the full e-mail:

Memo from the Dean – 11/17/2015 – Follow Up from Duke Community Conversation

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Thank you to everyone who attended the Duke Community Conversation on Friday. Imperfect, emotional, revealing and difficult — it was important for us to have this community dialogue.

You have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating: We learn the most from those who are the most different from ourselves. This is a simply phrased statement, but one with profound implications. Growing more diverse, as we have across the faculty, staff and student body, calls for us to develop new skills in relating, and to take in different perspectives with respect. This is an ongoing opportunity and responsibility, and will never be a “one and done” moment. Our goal is to continuously strive for an environment where diversity — in all its forms — will thrive.

Since coming to Duke in May, part of my overall listening tour of the college and campus has been focused on diversity and inclusion as a pathway to academic excellence. My calendar has included engagements with student groups such as receptions for African and African American Students and Latina/o Latin American and Allies groups and serving on a Women in Science & Engineering panel on underrepresented minorities in science. I have engaged with university-wide groups such as the President’s Council on Black Affairs, the University Council on Civic Engagement, the Office of Institutional Equity, and the Duke Alumni Association. And, I participated in diversity-focused events such as the North Carolina Women of Color Research Network conference, and the #Black Lives Matter event at Duke.

I identified diversity in all its forms as one of three major areas of emphasis for Trinity College in my September address to the faculty. As a key driver for new ideas and creativity, diversity is at the very core of a liberal arts education — and at the core of our institutional values. To be a truly educated person, we believe you should embrace and practice an appreciation for different disciplines, thought processes, modes of expression, and histories. As we dedicate ourselves each day to providing such an education, we must also be dedicated to ensuring inclusion for every member of our community. Let me also be clear: we equally recognize intellectual freedom and the courage to hold, articulate and defend and debate ideas, whether popular or not, as an essential value of the university.

We will work together as a college in the coming months and years on many efforts towards these goals, some large and some small. For the moment, however, we believe it will be helpful to share some specific actions:

• Trinity College will sponsor a University Course on the topic of difference, race and inequality. Perhaps we can explore this iteration as a pilot for a more broadly offered course in the new curriculum.

• Trinity reaffirms its ongoing commitment to increasing the diversity of our faculty as an investment in academic excellence. Implicit Bias Training is now required for all faculty search committees. We also plan to create an orientation for all new faculty members that will include this type of training.

• Trinity will expand the availability of Implicit Bias Training to other faculty and staff groups. Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Steve Nowicki has already done so with his staff.

• Trinity will lead and sponsor opportunities for ongoing smaller conversations with faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni.

• We will constitute a Trinity College advisory committee on diversity and inclusion, to convene at the start of the spring semester.

In closing, you might be interested to know that our fall meeting of the Trinity Board of Visitors was Friday and Saturday of last week. The board is made up of alumni, parents and friends of the university who share a deep commitment to Duke’s success and serve as an advisory body for the college. I am pleased to tell you that when the Duke Community Conversation plans came together, the board chose to set aside our intended meeting agenda in order to participate. There were 38 board members among those in Page Auditorium and it was very helpful to hear their thoughts as we reconvened afterwards for reflection.

I welcome your constructive thoughts and suggestions. You will hear more from the university on this topic soon.