He was speaking of the New Black Panthers Party.
Could it possibly be Duke's contention that leaders of an organization listed as a hate group by both the ADL and the SPLC can exercise their First Amendment rights on campus, but that the institution's own students cannot do so?
One of the few encouraging developments of the Duke lacrosse case has been the work of Duke Students for an Ethical Durham, a grassroots student organization committed to registering Duke students in time for the November election. According to its mission statement, the group seeks "to encourage students to fulfill their civic obligation to register and vote in Durham County." DSED has received favorable press coverage from the N&O, from Greta Van Susteren of FOX News, and from the AP. In recent weeks, DSED activists have gone "door-to-door" to register students. They have set up tables on campus. They have networked with their friends and classmates. And they have tried to sign up voters at Duke social events.
It seems as if most Duke students are dissatisfied with the status quo in Durham. How could they not be, given the police have an official policy of disproportionately punishing Duke students?
It appears, on the other hand, that the administration of Richard Brodhead and the Duke arts and sciences faculty are quite satisfied with Durham's current political leadership. After all, neither Brodhead nor any member of the arts and sciences faculty have publicly questioned any of the myriad procedural violations of D.A. Mike Nifong, while some Duke professors, such as the Group of 88, have acted to facilitate Nifong's efforts. But surely, an impartial observer would think, Duke as an institution must strongly endorse the right of its students to participate in the political system?
Guess again. Over the past few hours, I've learned from multiple sources of a potentially troubling situation at today's Duke football game. I have been told that DSED activists, along with members of Duke sports teams, were prevented from registering students at the stadium, for reasons that remain unclear.
[Updated, 12.01am: I have confirmed that Athletic Department officials prevented Duke lacrosse players from entering, or going near, the stadium with voter registration forms. I have reviewed, again, Duke's student code of conduct, an item on which I have previously written. While draconian in nature, it contains no provision that could justify preventing current Duke students, with valid ID's, from attempting to register other Duke students to vote in Durham.]
I'm unaware of any other Duke policy that would prevent students with valid Duke ID's from engaging in this activity. After all, credit card companies sign up students at Duke sporting events. Moreover, registering voters has a long association with the academy, dating from the 1960s, when college students sought to register African-American voters in the South.
Could it be that the Brodhead administration actually wants Nifong to prevail in November, and fears that Duke students might cast ballots for the Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek option? Nifong's career, obviously, hangs in the balance absent a trial--without his hung jury, the district attorney surely understands that the odds of the state bar's ethics committee disbarring him increase astronomically.
But Brodhead's fate, too, is tied to the district attorney's successful prosecution of this case. If the case is dismissed on procedural grounds or collapses of its own weight, even Duke's extraordinarily passive trustees will have to start asking hard questions as to why the administration did nothing to protest Nifong's procedural misconduct, even as the public voice of the institution's faculty actually facilitated Nifong's efforts.
[Updated, 1.26pm: John Burness has responded, for which I am grateful. He replies,
I learned of this issue last night and the answer is fairly straightforward. Apparently the students wanted to set up a voter registration mechanism in the stadium; While the athletics department permits a wide range of activities outside the stadium without prior approval, for reasons I am confident you can appreciate, it doesn't permit activities within the stadium without prior notice and approval. I was told the students, perhaps unaware of this, had made no such request and were thus turned away.This response raises additional questions:
I know there are many voter registration activities underway at Duke, sponsored by students and in conformity with federal mandates to encourage such activities.
- I have been told by several people involved with DSED that, in fact, they did obtain permission well beforehand.
- It is my understanding that the players were not "turned away" from the stadium, but confronted by an Athletics Department official at the building where they congregated to pick up the registration form. If, of course, the players hadn't sought advance permission, I wonder how Athletics Department officials knew when and where the players would be picking up registration forms?
- If, in fact, Duke now claims that it never gave permission, why (in light of Burness' own statement) did Duke officials not simply tell the players that they were free to gather signatures outside the stadium, but not inside it?
[Update, Tuesday, 12.22am: Statement (1) above is inaccurate: I have been told that the students never did obtain permission to set up a table inside the stadium. They asked for such permission: Duke officials cited a "p.r." and a precedent problem; and while never gave a firm no, didn't give permission, either. My apologies for the error.
DSED representatives did make several requests, however, and so seem to have supplied prior notice. It also is still unclear to me what rationale existed for stopping attempted registrations from outside the stadium. John Burness has promised to look into this issue for me; I have also emailed him with two additional questions, and will post on this issue as soon as I receive information back from him.]