Forum: March-April 2004


Football's Future

Mr. Young [in "Blue Devil Football: First and Long," July-August 2003] fails to address the real issue facing Duke's football program. Duke's inability to compete in football is the result of the university's failure to adhere to its stated mission, "engage the mind, elevate the spirit, and stimulate the best effort" of all associated with the university. Professors and administrators who justify a football loss as evidence of Duke's academic excellence fail all associated with the university. Duke should, and must, prove that it is possible for superior academics and football excellence to coexist. It must not be the university that quits because it is too difficult.

History demonstrates that strong academic institutions can be competitive. Duke's 1989 ACC championship and 1994 season show Duke can compete in the ACC. Yet, Duke willingly leaves it to Stanford, Boston College, or Notre Dame to prove consistently competitive teams are possible at superior academic institutions.

Improving facilities and aligning football admissions closer to standards for basketball admissions does not demonstrate lasting philosophical support for Duke's football program. These changes represent only a step in the right direction.

The article is disappointing because it doesn't describe the positive impact that ACC football and a Duke degree has on the lives of former student athletes. It doesn't analyze the economic impact Duke's football affiliation with the ACC has for Duke's non revenue varsity sports. Most importantly, the article doesn't address Duke's hypocrisy--how Duke professes excellence in all things, but permits a visible endeavor to fall so far behind its competition.

Terry Sanford said, "The stamp of Duke University and its continuing goal ought to be the unrelenting search for excellence in all of its endeavors." Duke must support this philosophy for its football program as it does with its other endeavors.

Christopher C. Rising '91
Los Angeles, California

The correspondent was a member of the 1989 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship team.


President Keohane's report as to the ACC expansion and "athletic pressures" in general illustrates how it has come to pass that the Athletic Tail is wagging the Academic Dog among America's colleges and universities, a situation most painfully evident among Division I schools.

It appears to me that if Duke remains in the ACC, then Duke, like other institutions of its caliber, has two basic options open to it:

Option One: Make the "trade-off between supporting academic priorities and athletic priorities," to which President Keohane refers (without approval, I gather), by lowering the "normal" admission requirements in order to allow superior athletes (football players particularly) to enroll, thus (perhaps) preventing Duke from continuing as the perennial ACC doormat on the gridiron; or

Option Two: Make no such trade-off and continue as the ACC's ninety-pound weakling on Saturday afternoons each fall.

These are not comfortable choices; and there appears to be no middle ground - for example, remaining in the ACC except as to football. If I were compelled to vote, however, I'd opt for Option Two. I like college football a lot, and I'm loyal to the Blue Devils, but I simply cannot rationalize in any meaningful way a university's "trading off" academic priority for athletic prowess. Duke University is, or ought to be, first and foremost, about education.

There might be an Option Three: Go the University of Chicago route and give up big-time intercollegiate athletics altogether. But that, no doubt, is way too risky: Think of the millions in alumni dollars the university would lose if, God forbid, it devoted its entire energies and resources to the continued pursuit of academic excellence.

John A. Carnahan '53, J.D. '55
Columbus, Ohio


I read with interest Nan Keohane's comments regarding the "Expansion Pressures" within the ACC. I do agree with her comments and applaud her for considering academics to be primary at Duke and not buying into others' arguments about "changes" in the ACC being necessary. I constantly brag about being a Duke graduate, one of the few top schools that is excellent in academics and athletics.

Unfortunately, money is the real issue here, as it has become throughout the world in just about everything. Perhaps the only way to continue Duke's excellence in everything is to create a new conference and call it "The Scholastic Athletic Conference--SAC." We could enlist top schools like Duke, Stanford, Notre Dame, and any others willing to guarantee a decent graduation rate. I have a feeling Duke and the other new SAC members would get a large group of the "best" out there--ones who can think as well as play!

Wright Hugus Jr. '52
Fairfield, Connecticut


The ‘War Story‘

I've received Duke Magazine for thirty-five years without ever feeling compelled to write a letter, but Art Harris' facile glorification of war ["Riding 'Shotgun' for CNN," July-August 2003] begs comment. I read it right after reading some compelling research by Duke professor Miriam Cooke, who writes that war persists partly because of its age-old mythification in what she calls the War Story. The WS is full of binaries: good guys and bad, home front and battlefront, winners and losers, warriors and their opposite (women, children, etc.). The WS orders the gory chaos of war into tales exalting bravery and patriotism, and thus keeps the war machinery grinding, century after century. Harris exalts the "Semper Fi's," young and brave, savvy and full of derring do: the archetypal good guys. His description of snafus and other mix-ups ("friendly fire"), his use of military slang, clichÈs, and human-interest bits--all function to draw the reader into this mythic story and into sympathizing with the military venture in Iraq.

Harris (unknowingly) confesses that he is in Iraq because he grew up hearing the WS: "I always wondered what it would be like being there, after watching war movies growing up, arranging and rearranging guns ... taken off dead German soldiers.... I'd heard the heroic tales about my stepfather, a Marine dive-bomber pilot ... and studied war at Phillips Academy under a brilliant history teacher who loved Teddy Roosevelt." He wants a chance to tell the WS, just like Hemingway: "I know now that I had to be there, just to see for myself. If they could do it, if I could do it, chasing Hemingway."

No, I'm not buying this article's tired justification of the same old story. If only Harris could have taken a class with Miriam Cooke!

Geraldine Cleary Nichols '67
Gainesville, Florida

Action Items

The students who expressed discomfiture with affirmative action ["Reaffirming Affirmative Action," September-October 2003] have sound instincts. The narrow Supreme Court majority that ruled in its favor in a University of Michigan case on grounds of "diversity" proves (again) that fuzzy thinking, expressed convolutedly, can seemingly justify almost anything. That even the Court's majority felt ambivalent about its decision is revealed by its preference for the Michigan Law School's murky approach to the undergraduate college's "too blatant," but transparent and uniformly applied, practice and Justice O'Connor's expressed belief that the practice should (and could) end after twenty-five years.

Old-style race segregation at universities, as elsewhere, was grounded in the prejudicial belief in an innate racial hierarchy. Diversity-based affirmative action assumes instead that racial differences form a basis for mutual "enrichment"; how so is not specified. Put differently, it assumes that, intra-racial differences notwithstanding, (unspecified) interracial differences overwhelm them; so a racial mixture (invariably) augments diversity. This, to me, is still racism, albeit of a less malign form. It is surely a far cry from the ideal of racial immateriality enunciated by Martin Luther King Jr. and other early civil-rights leaders. More fundamentally--and this applies to diversity by design generally--diversity-based affirmative action, by attaching value to an applicant's racial (i.e., group) identity, is deeply contrary to our democratic ideal of valuing each individual's uniqueness.

The diversity rationale for affirmative action has (largely?) replaced the original--and, to a degree, defensible--compensatory (for the disadvantage inflicted upon blacks by discrimination) rationale. The shift, I believe, reflects an attempt to assuage the public's increased sense of the policy's unfairness (because of reverse discrimination), combined with the current fashionableness of diversity. In any case, affirmative action fails to address the real challenge to racial inequality-- making quality primary and secondary education accessible to all.

Albert Hirsch Ph.D. '61
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Lessons in Christianity

Recently I have been helping to found a church in Ghana, and was surprised at how little my alma mater, whose foundation is the Methodist ministry, knows about Christianity, as illustrated in the most recent issue.

The ad for Duke Chapel on page 3 says nothing about God or Jesus but talks about students' "personal journeys of faith." Anybody who knows Christianity knows that Christian faith is not just personal---it is shared by all believers everywhere, openly reinforced with praise and fellowship from friends, and involves bonding with the Holy Spirit.

I would consider changing the name of the Divinity School to the School of Self-Affirmation, as it seems that current professors such as Mary McClintock Fulkerson espouse very few Christian principles, but rather advocate changing the religion over time to suit the desires of man. "Just as understandings of sexuality have changed over time, so, too, has the Christian Church," according to page 13. Professors Fulkerson and [Kathy] Rudy, please take note that people and society change over time, but the Word of God and the basic principles it lays forward do not. And that is what a divinity school should be teaching.

It was not until page 27 that I could find any Christian authenticity--a mention of the student body in 1955 that challenged the societal norm and declared segregation wrong in the name of Christianity. Hallelujah! It should be noted that it is those same students whose advice the university is now ignoring: The stream of letters from pre-1960 alumni who feel dejected by the institution they helped define is heartbreaking. This, while allowing current students such as Nikki Jusu, who came to Duke because it "offered me the most money," to contribute to the agenda of the university, is a travesty.

When will we learn to listen to our elders, especially those who have proven their moral and societal leadership over and over again? Thank you to the brave and early alumni of Duke University, of whom my father was one (Class of 1945).

I'm afraid that it's time for me to decrease my donations to Duke University and start donating to Duke's Campus Crusade for Christ so that the university re-learns what Christian principles are truly about.

Greg Holcombe '93
Pleasant Hill, California

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