The University of Virginia Law School held its commencement on May 22, and not a moment too soon. “Not since Teddy Kennedy was speeding through town and picking up reckless driving tickets in the late 1950s,” The Hook, a Charlottesville weekly, reported, “has UVA Law School seen so much scandal.” Since those scandals involved race it was altogether appropriate that the commencement speaker was Eric Holder, Attorney General of perhaps the most race-conscious Justice Department in history, a department whose civil rights division officials have been accused in sworn testimony by two former members of that division (one of them, Christopher Coates, formerly head of that department’s voting rights section) of systematically refusing to enforce voting rights in the race-neutral manner required by law.
In his address Holder referred to UVa’s segregated past and to the controversial role a graduating 3L sixty years ago, Robert Kennedy, played in producing an integrated audience for a commencement address by Ralph Bunche, congratulating UVa and his audience by noting that “Sixty years later, I believe that Robert Kennedy would be proud to see this diverse, and extremely talented, group” of 372 JDs about to graduate. However, one name of a graduating 3L was conspicuously missing from the list of degree recipients: Johnathan Perkins, an omission that almost certainly means his degree was held up pending the outcome of an honor committee investigation of a police harassment hoax he admitted to perpetrating.
In late April Perkins, whose father and grandfather were noted civil rights authors, wrote an impassioned letter to the editor of the Virginia Law Weekly claiming that he had been the victim of racial profiling and harassment by the UVa police. “When race is brought up,” he wrote, “white people are accused of being prejudiced, insensitive, and out of touch, while black people are accused of having chips on their shoulders, playing the victim, and race-baiting.”
Perkins then proceeded to prove the accuracy of the latter observation by fabricating his fictional ordeal in detail.
Perkins’ letter and a subsequent interview with the Cavalier Daily led to a formal complaint, but after the police and university officials began investigating Perkins recanted, admitting according to a statement released by the University that “I wrote the article to bring attention to the topic of police misconduct…. The events in the article did not occur.”
Pressing Charges Would Be Too Much
Nevertheless, in a sterling example of political correctness run amok, as Mark Bauerlein noted here, the university police decided not to press charges for filing a false complaint. “I recognize that police misconduct does occur,” University chief of police Michael Gibson was quoted in University statement. But:
Pressing charges in this case might inhibit another individual who experiences real police misconduct from coming forward with a complaint. I want to send the message just how seriously we take such charges and that we will always investigate them with care and diligence.
Dave Chapman, the commonwealth’s attorney for Charlottesville, concurred. Thus in the oh-so-sensitive opinion of University and state officials, prosecution for shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater — a less dramatic and dangerous transgression than shouting “Discrimination!” on a college campus these days (the former threatens to produce only a riot, while the latter is guaranteed to lead to a series of insufferable candlelight vigils) — is presumably not warranted because that might discourage someone from shouting about a real, actual fire.
The failure to press charges might have been the end of the matter at most colleges, followed as is nearly always the case with what might be termed the Rigoberta Menchu excuse and explanation (which I discussed here) such as the one quoted by Mark Bauerlein (linked above) from the head of the Atlanta NAACP after a similar hoax at Emory 20 years ago: “It doesn’t matter to me whether she did it or not because of all the pressure these black students are under at these predominantly white schools. If this will highlight it, if it will bring it to the attention of the public, I have no problem with that.”
Is the Environment Driving Blacks Crazy?
UVa, however, is not like most colleges. It has an ancient and honorable (and generally honored) Honor Code, managed completely by students, that provides a single sanction for lying, cheating, or stealing: expulsion. True, Perkins has his explainers, such as Charlottesville NAACP head and former UVa Dean of African-American Affairs M. Rick Turner who, according to The Hook, “thinks the University should try a non-punitive approach.”
I think you ask him to sit down with a psychiatrist to see what’s going on in his head,” says Turner. “Where was he going with this? People with normal thought patterns don’t do this.
As we’ve seen, the argument that high-pressure environments in effect drive blacks crazy is disturbingly common. Perhaps we should call this the Jayson Blair variation on the Rigoberta Menchu defense, for as one commenter observed:
Could Johnathan Perkins suffer from some mental health issue that caused him to act in this way? Perhaps he will invoke a mental-health justification if called to defend himself against Honor Code charges. Cf. Jayson Blair, Burning Down My Masters’ House: My Life at the New York Times (memoir by former New York Times reporter caught in fabrication and plagiarism scandal, suggesting that the stress of being African-American in an elite environment like that of the Times may have contributed to his unethical actions).
It’s unlikely that an insanity defense would carry much weight with the Honor Committee, but for whatever reason that Committee, and the extended UVa “community of trust” that is the justification for and claimed effect of its Honor Code, has been grappling since the dawn of “diversity” on Grounds (campus, in UVa-speak) with the embarrassing fact of honor violations being committed disproportionately by “diverse” students. A year ago, the Cavalier Daily reported, the Honor Committee’s Vice Chair for Education stated that “Minority groups have felt, with merit, marginalized,” and she described efforts “to focus on making sure they’re drawn in.”
To ensure those minority groups are more educated about the honor system, members of the committee have been working on several different translations of their educational “green books,” which explain the system’s expectations of students.
These translations are just one of the Committee’s efforts to show it is dedicated to reaching out to people from all across Grounds…
Seeing the Honor Code as the Bogeyman
“Most of my friends who are African-American view the honor system as something negative,” the Cavalier Daily quoted a third-year student in another typical article, “almost like a bogeyman to be afraid of.” One of several reports on what might be termed the disparate impact of the Honor Code on “diverse” students noted in 2009 that
a total of 64 cases were brought before the past Committee. Of these cases, 27 reports were brought against white students, 21 against black students, 11 against Asian and/or Asian-American students…. 35 students were formally accused of committing an honor offense by the I-Panel, 13 of whom were black. Twelve white students were accused and 10 Asian and/or Asian-American students also were brought to trial….
In 1988, according to a timeline of the Honor Code in the University of Virginia Magazine, “statistics for the last year show that 29.7 percent of honor accusations are made against black students, a number which is disproportionately higher than the approximately eight percent of blacks attending the University.” That same timeline mentioned one of the earliest and most racially charged honor controversies, from 1984, that actually resulted in a student body vote to close what was seen as a loophole in the interpretation of the Honor Code:
In November, basketball standout Olden Polynice — despite reportedly admitting to turning in someone else’s paper as his own — was cleared of honor charges. Testimony from Coach Terry Holland that the athletic department had put undue pressure on the young man is alleged to have swayed the jury that Polynice’s conduct didn’t meet the “reprehensible” criteria in the honor constitution. Shortly after the trial, which garnered Washington Post headlines, a student referendum approved changing the criteria for an honor violation from “reprehensible” to “serious.”
Perkins concluded his letter to the Virginia Law Weekly by stating, woefully: “As I stood there, humiliated, with my hands on the police car, my only thought was: ‘There is nothing I can do to right this wrong. I have absolutely no recourse.'” As The Hook reports, former UVa dean of all things black and current Charlottesville NAACP head M. Rick Turner disagrees. “When a person presents a story like that, and then says he has no recourse, I beg to differ…. You do have recourse. You get in touch with University police, the University president, and you tell your story.”
Revealingly, The Hook continued, bringing up what I, and others, think should have been the most explosive racially infused pre-Perkins honor violation at UVa, but wasn’t:
That’s what one mixed-race student did when back in 2003 she was allegedly assaulted by a white man who knocked her down and made threatening racist remarks. While some blogs wondered if she might have concocted the story to win the student government presidency, the election-eve incident created such a firestorm that her election opponent dropped out of the race, then President John Casteen addressed the student body, and the FBI investigated.
The FBI investigation led nowhere, but the claim by Daisy Lundy (now Lovelace) that a white boy dressed suspiciously like a UVa student had physically attacked her, shouting “No one wants a nigger to be president!” led the University through paroxysms of self-flagellating white guilt, solemnly confessed in a candlelight vigil and a plethora of new “diversity”-enhancing committees with new, fat budgets. (I confess: I was one of those bloggers who doubted her story, in multiple posts— there had, after all, been five black student body presidents at UVa since 1990; $22,000 in offered rewards for information was never claimed; no confirmation in FBI and local police investigations, etc.). Since Lundy’s claim was never proved a hoax, however, and she stuck to her story no Honor Code violation was ever charged.
On the contrary, Lundy was anointed student body president by acclamation (her opponent withdrew), and after graduation she became an assistant in UVa’s Diversity Office (where else?), where she now earns $56,700 a year. A cynic, or careful observer, might suspect that Johnathan Perkins was quite familiar with the Lundy episode and its effects. Whether or not he was, however, there are some interesting links between the two events.
‘I Was Afraid to Come Here Tonight’
As KC Johnson recently noted here, two UVa law professors, Kim Forde-Mazrui (who, interestingly, was an undergraduate student of the University of Michigan’s Professor Carl Cohen, but obviously didn’t take that wise professor’s teaching to heart) and Anne Coughlin both leapt with embarrassing, evidence-free quickness to the conclusion that the UVa police were guilty as charged. Back in 2001 Prof. Coughlin was the keynote speaker at the Lundy-induced candlelight vigil, where she spoke with embarrassing if unwitting frankness. According to the Charlottesville Daily Progress,
Anne Coughlin, a law school professor who is white, confessed her reluctance to speak to the mixed-race crowd.
“I was afraid,” Coughlin said, “and I am afraid to come here tonight and speak to you about this crucial matter.”
She added that she was worried “white folks will think that I’m blowing this out of proportion” and that blacks would say she was the wrong person to speak.
“My fears are produced by racism,” Coughlin said. “My fear has made me an ignorant person.”
As I wrote at the time, with what I would like to think was uncharacteristic snideness,
“Prof. Coughlin’s public comments lately make it difficult to disagree. (She was last heard from observing that although hate crimes can be against blacks or whites, “When people have been forced to live with slavery, their anger may be more understandable.)”
Double standards, of course, are endemic to the entire liberal approach to race — where would affirmative action be without them? — and they were nicely revealed a little over a year before the Lundy affair by the University’s contrasting response to a series of attacks by ten black Charlottesville students against whites (plus two Asians, who I think were collateral damage) that lasted over five months. Although several of the students confessed that they had selected their victims because they were (or they thought they were) white, no hate crime charges were filed, no candlelight vigils were held. Rev. Alvin Edwards, a former mayor of Charlottesville, raised over $3000 at bake sales, all of which was to go to the legal defense of the assailants until criticism caused 30% to be donated for the victims’ medical expenses. Charlottesville mayor Blake Carvati said “the city is approaching the incidents as ‘a teachable moment,'” and added, referring to the race-motivated assailants,
Sure, they did wrong, but they’re our young men and women who are going to live in the community a long time…. We need to be supportive of them. This is an opportunity to talk about the situation, use it to learn and change our community in a positive way.'”
Although there was reasonable speculation that Daisy Lundy’s alleged attacker was a UVa student (who else would care about who’s president of the Student Council, and recognize a candidate at 2 a.m.?), there was no concern expressed that he’s one of “our kids” who needs to be understood and supported.
There were no university or alumni rewards for information about the perpetrators, no anguished presidential or deanly speeches or revised web pages. Indeed, the University’s main concern seems to have been to ask what it had done wrong to provoke such attacks and to improve its “bridges” to the community.
Double standards, in short, not only undermine but preclude fairness and equality and breed suspicion and contempt wherever they apply, but especially in matters of honor. The UVa Honor Code, I argued in Weird Discrimination Claims Dis Purported Victims back in 2007, “has been described as racially discriminatory because a ‘disproportionate’ number of minority students have been found to violate it,” but how, I wondered and still wonder, “can it be good for a group to claim, or for its erstwhile friends to claim, that it cannot be expected to meet the same standards of honor and academic accomplishment as everyone else?”
The responses of the University police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney to Johnathan Perkins’ police harassment hoax has already demonstrated that they don’t take lying (whether “reprehensible” or merely “serious”) very seriously, but the way the Honor Committee treats Perkins will go a long way toward determining whether the vaunted UVa “community of trust” survives as fact or fiction.
Finally, as if that burden weren’t heavy enough, the Perkins hoax was not the only race-tinged stain on UVa, and especially the Law School, as the year struggled to a close. On May 6 University police charged 2L Daniel Paul Watkins with stalking and assault on a classmate and former girlfriend.
This, however, is not the first time the second-year law student has ended up in the news. Watkins was at the center of national news reports in the fall of 2008 as an undergraduate student at Abilene Christian University in Texas. While he was student body president, Watkins, an African-American, reported finding a noose on his office chair. A police investigation ensued but no arrests were made.
Six months later, Watkins was ousted as student body president by the university’s student-government association. Twenty-five of 32 students who participated in the impeachment hearing voted in favor of the move. Students who filed complaints against Watkins said he had been disrespectful, derogatory and didn’t adhere to the school’s ethical standards of conduct.
Above The Law reports that “Watkins and Perkins are very close friends, and some suggest that Watkins may have played a role in Perkins’s fabricated tale of racial profiling….”
Stalking and assault are not honor violations at UVa, although they are governed by the Standards of Conduct, which provides disciplinary measures for various offenses ranging from admonition to expulsion. The Hook suggests that “[i]f UVA follows the precedent set with Perkins — who was not charged with filing a false report to police, although admitting he’d done so — then Watkins will enjoy another year in the hallowed halls.”
At UVa Watkins is listed as an organizer for Students United to Promote Racial Awareness (SUPRA), a group funded by the Law School Foundation to promote racial diversity. What UVa really needs, however, like most liberal campuses and other organizations that have worked themselves into a lather over “diversity,” is much less, not more, “racial awareness.”
Over the past generation the University, like other elite and selective institutions, has amply demonstrated that it is willing to compromise its academic standards in order to promote “diversity.” A 2004 study, for example, found that “nearly 65% of all black applicants were admitted to UVa in the Fall of 2003 compared to 36 to 38% of all other groups.” A 1999 study by the Center for Equal Opportunity found that the relative odds of admission for blacks over whites, controlling for test scores, rank in class, and legacy and state residence status was 111 to 1.
Now UVa must take care lest it develop an affirmative action Honor Code as well.
Correction: Christopher Coates was incorrectly identified as head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department in the original version of this essay. He was in fact head of the Voting Rights Section. The essay has been altered to reflect this fact.
John Rosenberg is a lapsed historian blogging at Discriminations.