Robby George responds … [Updated]

Published Date: December 20, 2007 | Topics: Politics and Current Affairs

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By Michael Perry

UPDATE:  Robby’s message below was posted as a comment at dotCommonweal, where there are now comments on Robby’s message.  If you’re interested:  at dotCommonweal, scroll down past Robby’s message (in the comments) to read the comments on Robby’s message (here).

[Robby asked me to post this, and I am delighted to do so.] Dear Michael and Cathy,

I notice that on MoJ and on the Commonweal blog you linked to Max Blumenthal’s story about the Nava case at Princeton.  You also linked to the Anscombe Society’s statement.
  Since Blumenthal’s story contained serious allegations against me, I’m sorry that you did not (since we are friends and can easily be in touch with each other) first ask me whether these allegations are true.
In fact, those allegations are despicable lies.
The worst of them is this:
“But before George pointed to Nava’s beating as proof of anticonservative bias on campus, he had been presented with evidence that Nava, while at the Groton boarding school, had fabricated a threat against himself and his roommate, head of the Gay-Straight Alliance, in the form of a letter containing the phrase ‘die fags.’ The letter may have raised doubts in George’s mind, but not strongly enough to deter him from attacking Princeton’s administration.”

This is utterly false—the very reverse of the truth.  Fortunately, it is demonstrably false.  The moment I learned about what Nava had done at Groton, I demanded that he reveal it to the campus police and then I followed up with Alvan Flanders, the detective in charge of the investigation, to make sure that Nava had given him the facts.  I did not “point to Nava’s beating as proof of anti-conservative bias on campus.”  Nor did I criticize (much less “attack”) the administration’s handling of the case.  On the contrary, I praised it.  And I praised it because it deserved to be praised.  Moreover, I continued working with Detective Flanders and others to uncover the truth, and I counseled students against holding a candlelight vigil, a day of silence, or any other “solidarity event” before the investigation settled the facts.  I was determined to prevent Princeton from repeating the errors made at Duke in the lacrosse case and, earlier, at Claremont-McKenna and Amherst College where enormous uproars occurred before it was discovered that what appeared to be hate crimes had been staged by the alleged victims.
If you have any doubt about my veracity, please call Detective Flanders at 609-258-1000 and Kathleen Deignan, Princeton’s Dean of Undergraduate Students (whose office took the lead in the administration’s handling of the case) at 609-258-5431.
Charles Davall, Deputy Director of Princeton’s campus security force, wrote to me thanking me and the Anscombe Society students who had been victims of the false threats.  Here is what he said about our role in helping to unravel Nava’s story and reveal the truth:   “We owe a debt of gratitude to you and the rest of the students who under extreme adversity, did the right thing at many stages of this investigation.  Because of their actions, and yours, we were able to quickly resolve this matter before it became an even bigger media and University event.”   I also received a message from Dean Deignan.  Here are her words to me (please recall here Blumenthal’s charge that I used Nava’s claims to “attack” the Princeton administration):   “Princeton is indeed lucky to have you here.  Perhaps because I spend so much of my time working with undergraduate “trouble” of one sort or another, I have a special appreciation for how difficult it can be to approach situations like this one in the careful and measured way you did.  These things can sometimes take on a life of their own and it’s often difficult to provide immediate and supportive responses while at the same time refraining from drawing precipitous conclusions.  I have great admiration for the guidance you provided to the students and deep gratitude for the trust you placed in the rest of us. I hope you’ll have a little rest from this ordeal in the next few weeks and that you and your family will enjoy the Christmas season as it is meant to be — peace.”
You will, I trust, find it instructive in light of Blumenthal’s claims that yet another member of the Princeton University administration has written to acknowledge and thank me for the role I played in the Nava investigation.  Here is what Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton University, wrote to me in an e-mail message this afternoon:
“Let me say that everyone has greatly appreciated the way you collaborated so effectively with public safety and the Office of the Dean of Students.  They are very grateful for your caution, your good judgment and your solicitude for the students.  I join them in thanking you for everything.”

If you would like additional evidence, Michael, please let me know.  There is plenty more where this came from.  But again, you needn’t take my word for any of it.  I urge you to make the calls so that you can know with certainty whether Blumenthal is lying or I am.
Among his gross misrepresetations, Blumenthal says that I “immediately went to the neoconservative daily the New York Sun, and exclaimed, “Are there double standards and reforms that need to be made?  Absolutely.”  In fact, I did not go to the New York Sun or any newspaper—“immediately” or otherwise.  A reporter from the Sun got in touch with me.  I told her that Princeton’s administration and campus security people were handling the Nava investigation in an exemplary manner and without discrimination of any type.  She then asked me if there is any unfairness towards conservative points of view at Princeton, and I said “absolutely,” and told her about ideologically biased presentations in the freshman orientation program (especially a presentation entitled “Sex on a Saturday Night” which new students are required to attend) that Anscombe Society students and others have been working with Princeton’s Vice President for Student Life Janet Dickerson to reform.  Fortunately, on this point too I can provide documentary evidence.  (As to the highly responsible way that the Anscombe students have conducted themselves in seeking reforms, please ask Vice President Dickerson.)
Among Blumenthal’s gross falsehoods (echoed by Grant Gallicho on Commonweal), is that I began by attacking the administration and then later changed my tune in order to claim credit for assisting the detectives in solving the case.  As to whether I (and the Anscombe students) did play important roles in assisting the detectives, ask Charles Davall, Alvan Flanders, and any of the administrators at Princeton who were involved.  Again, there is no need to take my word for it.  As to whether I changed my tune, ask Kathleen Deignan.  She will confirm that on Friday—that is, even before anyone suspected Nava was perpetrating a fraud—I was defending the administration”s handling of the matter and offering to write a letter to the student newspaper saying that the administration’s actions were exemplary.  When the article in the New York Sun appeared, I wrote a letter to the reporter praising the administration’s handling of the case and criticizing her story for depicting the administration in a negative light.  So, you see Blumenthal and Gallicho simply couldn’t be more wrong.  They evidently published what they wanted to be true about me and the Anscombe students, but it turns out to be, once again, the very reverse of the truth.   And there is another very important point on which Commonweal bloggers and Max Blumenthal have managed to get things completely wrong.  Their portrayal of the Anscombe students could not be farther from the truth. The overwhelming majority of events touching on political or moral questions on Princeton’s campus tend to promote the liberal point of view, and there are numerous student advocacy organizations on that side of the political spectrum.  Surely that comes as no surprise to you.  On questions of sexual morality and marriage, Anscombe students have worked to ensure that there is a hearing for a competing perspective by sponsoring lectures and discussion groups, and even offering to co-sponsor balanced intellectual events with groups that take positions opposed to theirs.  They do not engage in hate speech or abusive rhetoric, nor do they rely on appeals to revelation or mere tradition (much less emotion or other subrational factors).  Following the example of the late Elizabeth Anscombe, they make calm and rational arguments, and have won the respect of administrators as well as many faculty and fellow students.  Time after time, I have been told by liberal students:  “While I disagree with everything that the Anscombe Society stands for, I’m grateful they’re on campus because they make me think and challenge my presuppositions.”  Moreover, the organization has attracted some of Princeton’s most outstanding students.  It was created in 2005, and two of its officers—Christian Sahner ’07 and Sherif Girgis ’08—have won Rhodes Scholarships.    In the Nava episode (as the comments of Charles Davall and Dean Kathleen Deignan make clear), the Anscombe students conducted themselves admirably.  Three in particular—Sherif Girgis, Kevin Staley-Joyce, and Jonathan Hwang—demonstrated extraordinary strength, wisdom, and character.  In my opinion, they are the true heroes of the story.  At every step, they showed great sensitivity and compassion towards Francisco Nava, even as they worked with Detective Flanders and others to determine whether someone they had known as a friend had perpetrated a grotesque fraud.  Then, on Monday night, these young men on whom Francisco had imposed profound anguish and misery sat with him in the presence of University officials, quietly listened to his apology, and offered him ungrudging words of forgiveness, consolation, and encouragement.  I was filled nearly to bursting with admiration for them.  Commonweal blogger David Gibson should have checked with Princeton’s administrators (Dean Deignan, for example, or Vice President Dickerson) before cruelly libeling these students with the charge of “kicking [Nava] to the curb.”  But again, don’t take my word for it.  Please make the calls.   There are lessons in this case about jumping to conclusions instead of waiting for the evidence, and about seizing on opportunities to politicize tragedies in the hope of blackening those with whom one disagrees.  I hope that writers for Commonweal and the Nation will learn the lessons.  Checking with me about the facts would have been an elementary courtesy.  Checking with the leadership of Princeton’s campus security and with the persons in Princeton’s administration responsible for coordinating its actions was something any responsible journalist would have done.    I respectfully request that you post this letter on the Commonweal blog and MoJ.  In case you prefer for any reason not to phone those Princeton University officials who can substantiate each of the claims I have made, I will copy Charles Davall and Dean Deignan on this message with a request to write to you if anything I have said is in even the slightest respect inaccurate.   Best wishes,   Robby
  =========================================== Robert P. George McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence Director, James Madison Program in American     Ideals and Institutions Princeton University 244 Corwin Hall Princeton, NJ  08544 (609) 258-3270 (609) 258-6837 (fax)

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