Local/State

Gates called Duke experience racist

Friday, July 24, 2009

The arrest of renowned black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his Cambridge, Massachusetts home is once again highlighting his controversial tenure at Duke University.

What do you think about the Gates arrest and President Obama's remark that it was stupid? Comment at the bottom of this story

Gates was taken into custody by Cambridge police after they got a call about two men breaking into a home. Gates said his front door was stuck after he returned from a trip and he had to put his shoulder to it to get it open.

But police said when they arrived to check it out, Gates was abusive.

Sgt. James Crowley reported that he arrested the scholar after he repeatedly accused him of racism and made derogatory remarks about his mother, allegations the professor challenges.

Gates has labeled Crowley a "rogue cop," demanded an apology, and said he may sue the police department.

Supporters say the white policeman is a principled police officer and family man who is being unfairly described as racist. They also point out Crowley was hand-picked by a black police commissioner to teach recruits about avoiding racial profiling.

President Barack Obama elevated the dispute when he said Wednesday that Cambridge police "acted stupidly" during the encounter.

At a news conference on Friday, the President told reporters he has called Crowley by phone and said he believes the sergeant to be an outstanding police officer.

The president said that he continues to think both the officer and Gates overreacted during the incident -- but Obama also faulted his own comments.

"I could've calibrated those words differently," he said.

Gates' arrest is re-kindling debate about race in America and, here in the heart of Carolina. Gates worked at Duke University in the 1990's and the scholar once called it the most racist experience of his life.

Gates departure came when Duke was specifically trying to hire more black professors and thought bringing him to the school would attract others.

But he left after one year, telling the New York Times:

"It was the most racist experience I ever had in my professional life. No matter what kind of car I drove or house I had, it was assumed it was a gift from the University. It was all a 'Where did that n----- get that Cadillac?' kind of thing."

Gates departure was a large embarrassment for Duke at the time, but students and faculty tell Eyewitness News that things have improved.

"This has been one of the most diverse places I've ever been. I've really met people outside of my comfort zone outside of my race," offered senior Ayrenne Adams.

When Gates taught at Duke, there were 39 full-time black professors. Between 1993 and 2006, the university went from 44 to 106 with more than half on a tenure track.

"It's something that we see as a challenge, our responsibility," offered Dr. Benjamin Reese Jr., VP of the office for Institutional Equity.

Reese says Duke has a diversity initiative that meets regularly with leaders in charge of hiring new professors. The group tracks applicants and monitors results closely.

"We work in a very focused way in creating broadly diverse community of faculty and students," he said.

While the total of black professors may have more than doubled over the years, both administrators and students say there's room to grow.

"I think there are other ways they could really try and tap into the student body and just kind of get to know what kinds of things they're looking for in their faculty," said Adams.

"We recognize how long the journey is. We recognize that we have challenges ahead, but we're up to it," said Reese.

Duke officials say about 20 percent of the school's professors are now minorities. This year's incoming freshman class is its most diverse yet with minority students making up more than 40 percent.

(Copyright ©2014 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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