Dr. Robert David Johnson (born 1967), also known as KC Johnson, is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center.
To the general public, Johnson is probably best known for the major role he played in disseminating the facts about the Duke University lacrosse rape case as it unfolded in 2006-7. In 2007 he co-authored a book, Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustice of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case.
Professor Johnson's trademark is the bow tie, which he can often be seen wearing at events and conferences.
Johnson was raised in Leominster, MA, the son of Massachusetts schoolteachers. 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 1964.1 Johnson's sister Kathleen was the starting point guard for the Columbia University women's basketball team in the early 1990s.2 KC is also an athlete and has run numerous marathons. He currently resides in New York, New York. In 2007-08, he taught at Tel Aviv University in Israel on a Fulbright Scholarship.
Johnson 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 and Williams and served as visiting professor at Harvard (2005) and at Tel Aviv University (2007-8), as Fulbright Distinguished Chair in the Humanities. Before earning his Master's degree, Johnson worked as a track announcer for several years at Scarborough Downs.
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.
In 2002 and 2003, the denial of tenure to Johnson by the Brooklyn College history department became the subject of widespread media attention.
In an article about the tenure case entitled "The Battle of Brooklyn," 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."
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."
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 that was 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.
When Johnson went up for tenure, he was rejected on grounds of "lack of collegiality."
In response, a group of twenty distinguished historians, spearheaded by the chairman of Harvard's history department, Akira Iriye, wrote a letter in which they declared that the denial of tenure to Johnson "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."
"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." The Brooklyn College student government, for its part, 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 handling 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 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 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.'"
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." 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."
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." And Herbert London of the 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 force conformity. What else can the 'lack of collegiality' possibly mean?"
Johnson appealed the tenure decision to the chancellor of the City University of New York system, Matthew Goldstein. Goldstein, in turn, appointed a panel of distinguished scholars from other CUNY institutions to examine the case, namely Pamela Sheingorn, Professor of History at Baruch College and Executive Director of the Doctoral Program in Theatre at the Graduate Center; David Reynolds, University Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College; and Louis Masur, Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at The City College. In accordance with their unanimous recommendation, Goldstein promoted Johnson to a full professorship with tenure. The CUNY board of trustees unanimously supported this decision.
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."
Johnson later wrote his own account of the tenure battle for the History News Network website.
Duke lacrosse case:
Johnson had a prominent role chronicling the Duke lacrosse case scandal, exposing the many violations to due process that characterized the case in a blog entitled "Durham in Wonderland", which he created solely for the purpose. 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 (Group of 88) and referred to as a "rush-to-judgment mob" who had published an ad condemning players and encouraging protests against the falsely accused, much before investigations had concluded.
One of the accused, Reade Selligman, 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." The prosecutor on the other hand, Mike Nifong, was disbarred, fined and sentenced to one day in jail.
Johnson would go on to join Stuart Taylor, Jr. and cowrite 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."
Johnson supports the Democratic Party. He supported Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Nonetheless, 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."
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,
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,
Journal articles and book chapters:
"Managing the Fall of a Friendly Dictator: The US and Anastasio Somoza's Nicaragua," in Ernest R. May and Philip Zelikow, eds., Dealing with Dictators: Dilemmas of US Diplomacy and Intelligence Analysis, 1945-1990, MIT Press, 2006.,
"Politics, Policy, and Presidential Power: Lyndon Johnson and the 1964 Farm Bill," in Mitch Lerner, ed., Looking Back at LBJ: White House Politics in a New Light, University Press of Kansas, 2005.,
"The Unexpected Consequences of Congressional Activism: The Clark and Tunney Amendments and U.S. Policy toward Angola," Diplomatic History 27 (2003): 215-243.,
"The Progressive Dissent: Ernest Gruening and Vietnam," in Randall Bennett Woods, ed, Vietnam and the American Political Tradition: The Politics of Dissent, Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 36-62.,
"Congressional Power," in Deconde, Burns, and Logevall, eds, Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, 2d ed., Charles Scribner's Sons, 2002, pp. 293-313.,
"The Politicization of Cultural Diplomacy," in Frank Ninkovich and Liping Bu, eds., The Cultural Turn, Imprint Publications, 2002, pp. 88-110.,
"The State Department," Oxford Companion to American History, Oxford University Press, 2001.,
"Congress and the Cold War," Journal of Cold War Studies 3 (2001): 77-101.,
"Constitutionalism at Home and Abroad: The United States Senate and the Alliance for Progress, 1961-1967," International History Review 21 (1999): 414-442.,
"Congress Confronts the Cold War: The Senate Government Operations Committee and American Foreign Relations, 1953-1969," Political Science Quarterly 113 (1998): 645-671.,
"Anti-Imperialism and the Good Neighbour Policy," Journal of Latin American Studies 29 (1997): 89-110.,
"The Origins of Dissent: Senate Liberals and Southeast Asia, 1959-1964," Pacific Historical Review 65 (1996): 249-275.,
"The 'Lessons' of Vietnam," Journal of American-East Asian Relations 4 (1995): 291-298.,
"Article XI in the Debate on the United States' Rejection of the League of Nations," International History Review 15 (August 1993): 502-524.,
"Ernest Gruening and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution: Continuities in American Dissent," Journal of American-East Asian Relations 2 (Summer 1993): 111-135.,
Johnson has published articles in such scholarly journals as Law and Contemporary Problems Diplomatic History, Journal of Cold War Studies, Political Science Quarterly, Journal of Latin American Studies, Pacific Historical Review, International History Review, and Journal of American-East Asian Relations, and has written op-eds for the New York Post, Wall Street Journal, New Republic, National Review Online, Inside Higher Ed, Weekly Standard, and HNN.
PSC-CUNY Award, 2002, History: "Running from Ahead: Lyndon Johnson and the 1964 Presidential Election.",
Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education, 2009