KC Johnson

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KC Johnson
Robert David Johnson

November 27, 1967 (1967-11-27) (age 55)
Alma materHarvard University, and University of Chicago
OccupationHistory professor
Employer(s)Brooklyn College and City University of New York
Known forWritings on the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case
Brooklyn College history department tenure case

Robert David Johnson (born 27 November 1967),[1] also known as KC Johnson, is an American history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He played a major role in reporting on the Duke University lacrosse rape case in 2006–2007. In 2007 he co-authored a book, Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustice of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case.


Johnson was raised in Leominster, MA, the son of Massachusetts schoolteachers.[2] His father, Robert Johnson, was a star basketball player at Fitchburg State College, leading the nation in scoring at 39.1 points per game in 1964.[3] Johnson's sister Kathleen was the starting point guard for the Columbia University women's basketball team in the early 1990s.[4] Johnson goes by the name KC after Boston Celtics player K. C. Jones.[5] He is also an athlete and has run numerous marathons.[citation needed]

He currently resides in Portland, Maine and teaches at Brooklyn College.[6] In 2007-08, he taught at Tel Aviv University in Israel on a Fulbright Scholarship.[7]


Johnson attended Groton School, Massachusetts. He received his B.A. (1988) and Ph.D. (1993) from Harvard University, and his M.A. from the University of Chicago (1989). Johnson taught at Arizona State University and Williams College and served as visiting professor at Harvard (2005) and at Tel Aviv University (2007-8), as Fulbright Distinguished Chair in the Humanities.[8] Before earning his master's degree, Johnson worked as a track announcer for several years at Scarborough Downs.[9]

Johnson has written and edited numerous books about American history. He also co-edited several volumes of declassified transcripts and tapes from the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson.[10][11]

Denial of tenure[edit]

In 2002 and 2003, Johnson's denial of tenure by the Brooklyn College history department became the subject of media attention.[12]

Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote that the root of the conflict lay partly in Johnson's "resistance to gender-driven hiring," which "didn't endear him to the department's small but vociferous faction of political ideologues—a group that the chairman, Phillip Gallagher, had himself once described, in an e-mail to Mr. Johnson, as 'academic terrorists'." Johnson had also protested a "teach-in" about 9/11, "which was freighted with panelists hostile to any U.S. military response and which offered, Mr. Johnson noted, no supporters of U.S. or Israeli policies."[13]

Colleagues began to criticize him, some of them arguing that his intense involvement in his work was, in Rabinowitz's words, "a sign of dubious mental health", and at least one of them complaining that "Johnson was asking too much of his students."[13]

An article in The Harvard Crimson described clashes between Johnson and Gallagher that apparently also precipitated the denial of tenure. When Johnson sat on a search committee charged with finding an expert in 20th-century central or eastern European studies, he decided that one of the two women on the short list was unqualified. Another professor indicated, however, according to the Crimson, that "the department had an 'unofficial agenda' to hire a woman for the position." Later, Gallagher criticized Johnson for admitting students to his classes who had not taken the official prerequisites, even though Gallagher, according to Johnson, had not previously enforced such rules.[14]

When Johnson went up for tenure, he was rejected on grounds of "lack of collegiality."[13] In response, a group of 20 historians, spearheaded by the chairman of Harvard's history department, Akira Iriye (who had been Johnson's mentor and dissertation adviser),[15] wrote a letter declaring that the tenure denial "reflects a 'culture of mediocrity' hostile to high academic standards... Introducing a redundant category of collegiality rewards young professors who 'go along to get along' rather than expressing independent scholarly judgement." Such thinking, the professors wrote, "poses a grave threat to academic freedom, since the robust and unfettered exchange of ideas is central to the pursuit of truth."[16]

"This is the first time in my experience that scholars have gotten together to protest a decision like this," Iriye told the Harvard Crimson. "I am terribly upset and mystified by it. KC is a very visible scholar and a spectacular teacher."[14] The Brooklyn College student government voted unanimously in support of Johnson, describing the refusal to grant tenure as a "violation of their academic rights".

The student government also noted that "the college's conduct of the KC Johnson tenure case was described by retired Brooklyn professor and longtime PSC grievance counselor Jerome Sternstein as 'the most corrupted tenure review process I have ever come across'; University of Pennsylvania professor Erin O’Connor described it as 'an exemplary instance of the sort of petty, internecine corruption that runs rife in academe, where accountability is minimal and the power to destroy careers is correspondingly high'; and Swarthmore College professor Timothy Burke described it as 'one more arrow in the quiver of academia's critics, one more revelation of the corruption of the profession as a whole, one more reason to question whether tenure ever serves the purpose for which it is allegedly designed'."[17]

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article about Johnson's tenure battle entitled "Tenure Madness", where it is claimed that "more than 500 Brooklyn College students signed a petition supporting Mr. Johnson. They held rallies and marches."[18] At the History News Network website, Ronald Radosh wrote: "Mr. Johnson represents the best of what CUNY has to offer its students; educated at top universities, he left a college many aspire to teach at to come to CUNY. He found that while his students appreciated and applauded his work and his commitment, the left-wing professoriate now dominant in the academy could not tolerate his insistence on quality standards in hiring, his dismissal of politically correct criteria, and his non-ideological approach to his field."[19]

The New Republic editorialized that Brooklyn College's tenure criteria, as demonstrated by the Johnson case, "represented a grave threat to Brooklyn College's hope of ever being taken seriously as a scholarly institution."[20] And Herbert London of the conservative Hudson Institute saw Johnson's tenure case as exemplifying the emergence in American universities of "an orthodoxy of decidedly left-wing opinion that intolerantly rejects any other point of view....it is ironic that tenure conceived as a way to insure independent thought free from censure is now employed to enforce conformity. What else can the 'lack of collegiality' possibly mean?"[21]

Johnson appealed the tenure decision to the chancellor of the City University of New York system, Matthew Goldstein.[18] Goldstein, in turn, appointed a panel of distinguished scholars from other CUNY divisions to examine the case, namely Pamela Sheingorn and David Reynolds of Baruch College and Louis Masur of the City College.[22] In accordance with their unanimous recommendation, Goldstein promoted Johnson to a full professorship with tenure.[23] The CUNY board of trustees unanimously supported this decision.[24]

In an editorial, the New York Daily News also applauded the decision, noting that Goldstein "has been striving to upgrade CUNY and its reputation. His actions in the Johnson case are testimony to that, sending the right message: Scholarship and teaching ability come first. And academic freedom is worth fighting for".[25] Johnson later wrote his own account of the tenure battle for the History News Network website.[26]

Duke lacrosse case[edit]

Johnson played a prominent role in chronicling the Duke lacrosse case scandal, criticizing what he saw as violations of due process that characterized the case in a blog entitled "Durham in Wonderland", which he created solely for the purpose.[27] Johnson's Durham in Wonderland contains one of the largest archives of events related to the case. Johnson holds critical views of some of Duke's faculty and staff, known as the Group of 88, and referred to them as a "rush-to-judgment mob"[28] who had published an ad condemning players and encouraging protests against the falsely accused, much before the investigations had been concluded.

One of the accused, Reade Seligmann, thanked Johnson publicly, stating: "I am forever grateful for all of the care, concern, and encouragement I received from my remarkable girlfriend Brooke and her family, the Delbarton community, the town of Essex Fells, KC Johnson, and everyone else who chose to stand up, use their voice, and challenge the actions of a rogue district attorney."[29] The prosecutor, Mike Nifong, was disbarred, fined, and sentenced to one day in jail.[30]

Charles Piot, a Duke professor of cultural anthropology, criticized Johnson's role in the case, writing that Johnson "used the [case] to demonize faculty and further ideological agendas that are part of a broad-scale right-wing attack on progressive faculty across the nation."[31] Johnson replied to Piot on his blog.[32]

Johnson would go on to join Stuart Taylor, Jr. in co-writing the book Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustice of the Duke Lacrosse Case (ISBN 0-312-36912-3). It was published in September 2007. The New York Times book review referred to the book as a "riveting narrative" that has made a "gripping contribution to the literature of the wrongly accused."[33] James Earl Coleman, Jr. and Prasad Kasibhatla, Duke professors, criticized Taylor and Johnson for "biased and inaccurate rhetoric".[34] Johnson and Taylor replied to Coleman and Kasibhatla.[35]

Political views[edit]

Johnson is a registered Democrat.[36] He supported Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and vehemently opposed the candidacy of John Edwards that year.[37] Johnson has condemned the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education for promoting "social justice" as an essential element of teacher training, and for enacting policies which he argues are clearly intended "to screen out potential public school teachers who hold undesirable political beliefs."[38]



  • co-author (with Stuart Taylor), The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities, Encounter Books, 2017. ISBN 1-594-03885-6
  • All the Way with LBJ: The 1964 Presidential Election, Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN 0-521-42595-6
  • co-author (with Stuart Taylor), Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, Thomas Dunne Books, 2007. ISBN 0-312-36912-3
  • Congress and the Cold War, Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-521-52885-2 (winner of the 2006 D.B. Hardeman Prize[39])
  • co-editor (with Kent Germany), The Presidential Recordings: Lyndon B. Johnson, vol. 3, W.W. Norton, 2005. ISBN 0-393-06001-2
  • co-editor (with David Shreve), The Presidential Recordings: Lyndon B. Johnson, vol. 2, W.W. Norton, 2005. ISBN 0-393-06001-2
  • 20 January 1961: The American Dream, DTV Publishers, 1999. (click DTV and then Katalog)
  • Ernest Gruening and the American Dissenting Tradition, Harvard University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-674-26060-0
  • The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations, Harvard University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-674-65917-1
  • Editor, On Cultural Ground: Essays in International History, Imprint Publications, 1994. ISBN 1-879176-21-1


  • PSC-CUNY Award, 2002, History: "Running from Ahead: Lyndon Johnson and the 1964 Presidential Election."[40]
  • Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education, 2009 [41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Congress, The Library of. "LC Linked Data Service: Authorities and Vocabularies (Library of Congress)". id.loc.gov.
  2. ^ STAFF, Paul Jarvey TELEGRAM & GAZETTE. "Duke players say thanks".
  3. ^ "Athletics: Robert Johnson - 1997 Inductee - Graduated 1965". Fitchburg State College. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-04-14.
  4. ^ Gearan, John (December 2000). "Battling Back". Columbia College Today. Archived from the original on 2007-04-08. Retrieved 2007-04-14.
  5. ^ Arenson, Karen W. (2002-12-18). "Star Scholar Fights for His Future at Brooklyn College". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-10-30.Arenson, Karen W. (2002-12-18). "Star Scholar Fights for His Future at Brooklyn College". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  6. ^ "Faculty Profile - Brooklyn College". www.brooklyn.cuny.edu.
  7. ^ "CV". 11 November 2008.
  8. ^ "Fighting Campus Rape and Respecting Due Process: A Conversation - James Madison Program". jmp.princeton.edu.
  9. ^ STAFF, Paul Jarvey TELEGRAM & GAZETTE. "Duke players say thanks".
  10. ^ Robert David Johnson (May 2009). "All the Way with LBJ". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  11. ^ "KC Johnson's CV". 2008-11-11. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  12. ^ "KC JOHNSON TENURE CASE: ARTICLES, EDITORIALS, AND POSTS". CUNY. Archived from the original on June 7, 2017. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  13. ^ a b c Dorothy Rabinowitz (December 20, 2002). "The Battle for Brooklyn". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  14. ^ a b Ella A. Hoffman (November 19, 2002). "Harvard Prof Appeals on Behalf of CUNY Colleague". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  15. ^ Johnson, Robert David (2005-11-21). Congress and the Cold War. ISBN 9781139447447.
  16. ^ Akira Iriye; et al. (August 8, 2005). "Letter in Support of KC Johnson". History News Network. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  17. ^ "Class Resolution". CUNY. March 17, 2003. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  18. ^ a b Scott Smallwood (May 23, 2003). "Tenure Madness". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  19. ^ Ron Radosh (August 8, 2005). "The Sandbagging of Robert "KC" Johnson". History News Network. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  20. ^ "Charm School". The New Republic. December 30, 2002. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  21. ^ "Academic Terrorists at Brooklyn College". January 7, 2003. Archived from the original on April 15, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  22. ^ "Vice Chancellor Frederick Shaffer outlines the procedures used in the case". Archived from the original on May 31, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  23. ^ "KC CASE NOW HISTORY". The Kingsman. March 3, 2003. Archived from the original on May 31, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  24. ^ "Trustees' Comments Regarding the Decision to Confer Tenure and Promotion--Board of Trustees Meeting OF 2-24-03". CUNY. February 24, 2003. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  25. ^ "It's academic (freedom)". New York Daily News. February 28, 2003. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  26. ^ "My Brookly College Tenure Battle". History News Network. June 1, 2003. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  27. ^ "Durham in Wonderland". KC Johnson. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  28. ^ "Johnson and Taylor: Penn State, Duke and Integrity". Wall Street Journal. July 18, 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
  29. ^ "Reade Seligmann Statement". Real Clear Politics. April 11, 2007. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  30. ^ Johnson, Stuart Taylor Jr KC (September 7, 2007). "Guilty in the Duke Case". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
  31. ^ Piot, Charles (1 October 2007). "KC's World". Transforming Anthropology. 15 (2): 158–166. doi:10.1525/tran.2007.15.2.158. ISSN 1548-7466.
  32. ^ Johnson, Kc (20 October 2007). "Durham-in-Wonderland: Reflections on the Piot Principles". Durham-in-Wonderland.
  33. ^ Jeffrey Rosen (September 16, 2007). "Wrongly Accused". New York Times. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  34. ^ "Criticism of Brodhead, faculty disheartening". The Chronicle.
  35. ^ "Coleman, Kasibhatla criticism puzzling". The Chronicle.
  36. ^ "Educating Dangerously: How History is Being Mistaught in US Universities at 28:21". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-14.
  37. ^ Johnson, KC (February 2, 2007). "The Edwards-Marcotte Fiasco". Durham-in-Wonderland.
  38. ^ Johnson, KC (2005). "Disposition for Bias", Inside Higher Ed, 23 May 2005, accessed 26 November 2012
  39. ^ "Recipients of the D. B. Hardeman Prize". LBJ Foundation. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  40. ^ "PSC-CUNY Awards". Archived from the original on 2007-06-16. Retrieved 2007-05-03.
  41. ^ "Philip Merrill Award". Retrieved 2010-01-03.

External links[edit]