Friday, October 06, 2006

In Denial

Yesterday’s post examined a Duke Alumni Association “talking point” on the lacrosse case, which was willfully deceptive in three respects:

  • It misrepresented the rich tradition of professors and academic institutions protesting injustices within the nation’s legal system.
  • It misrepresented President Brodhead’s own history of standing up for his students when they or their relatives experienced procedural injustices in the legal arena.
  • It misrepresented the chances of any evidence emerging at a trial that could rebut previous revelations that Mike Nifong violated city and state bar procedures in multiple ways.

The “talking points,” however, exhibit more than willful deception. They also contain several items suggesting that the Duke leadership is simply in denial about both its previous actions and the current situation in Durham. Brodhead himself once lectured the public and his students on the value of education in helping people to learn from mistakes. But an institution that refuses to acknowledge error, or denies the patently obvious, cannot possibly learn from its past failures.

Item 1:

Why didn't the university and President Brodhead stand up for the accused students right from the start?
Even during the first few weeks of this story, when many people believed the players were guilty, President Brodhead was steadfast in saying they must be considered innocent until proven otherwise. At the same time, he has continued to remind people that it is the responsibility of our country's legal system, not its universities or the media, to make conclusions about guilt or innocence.

This statement is absurd. As I have noted previously, less than 3 percent of the word total in Brodhead’s two major statements on the case contained anything resembling a defense of due process; the percentage totals in the president’s other remarks were, if anything, even less. Brodhead is fond of quoting Shakespeare to invite sympathy for his dilemmas; but in the real world, few, if any, observers noticed his timid, formulaic defenses of due process, buried as they were in his mountain of condemnatory remarks about the players’ behavior and character.

Here, for example, is what WRAL (quite fairly) quoted as the key passage from the president’s remarks after the arrests of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty: “If our students did what is alleged, it is appalling to the worst degree. If they didn’t do it, whatever they did is bad enough.” What Seligmann and Finnerty “did” was to attend a party they had no role in organizing and drink some beer. Does the DAA consider this statement reflective of Brodhead’s being “steadfast in saying” the players “must be considered innocent until proven otherwise”?

Item 2:

Why did the university cancel the lacrosse season if innocence was presumed?
The university did not cancel the season as punishment for the serious criminal charges against the three players. Rather, the first two games were forfeited in response to acknowledged behaviors, such as underage drinking, by team members. President Brodhead later decided, in consultation with the athletics department and some of the players themselves, to suspend the remaining games until the legal situation-then involving 46 players-became clearer.

This tale is an impressive one. If only it were true. Unfortunately, none other than Brodhead’s chief protector, Board of Trustees chairman Robert Steel, contradicted the “talking points.” Here’s the reason that Steel provided to the New Yorker on why Duke cancelled the season: “We had to stop those pictures [of the players practicing]. It doesn’t mean that it’s fair, but we had to stop it. It doesn’t necessarily mean I think it was right—it just had to be done.” Public relations—not the “legal situation,” not the result of “consultation with . . . some of the players themselves.”

Does the DAA now claim that Steel was misquoted?

Item 3:

Why are Duke faculty members allowed to criticize the players?
Duke is a university, based on the principles of free speech and academic freedom. Faculty, students and other members of its community are free to express their opinions. Indeed, they have done just that, offering a wide range of opinions about the administration, the students, the legal process and other issues. Universities must remain committed to such free speech, even when it makes others uncomfortable.

As far as I know, no one has claimed that Duke faculty members do not have a right to publicly criticize the players, although I have pointed out that many universities, including my own, discourage professors from appearing to slander students they have taught in class, as Peter Wood has done in this case.

While the DAA has provided “talking points” to a question virtually no one has asked, the Duke administration appears to be in denial regarding other faculty-related questions, which include:

  • Why has Brodhead not exercised his own free speech rights, and used the moral power of his position as Duke president to express concern about the faculty’s one-sided behavior?
  • Why has the administration appointed several of the most vitriolic critics of the lacrosse team, such as Karla Holloway and Peter Wood, to positions of leadership within the Campus Culture Initiative?
  • Nearly 100 members of the arts and sciences faculty have publicly criticized the lacrosse team; to date, not one has condemned the procedural misconduct of the district attorney or defended the character of the accused players. Given these totals, what does it say about Duke’s values that few, if any, of its professors have publicly challenged the rush-to-judgment sentiments of their colleagues? In other words, why were so few Duke professors willing to lean against the spirit of the moment?

Item 4:

Has the lacrosse incident revealed a rift between Duke and Durham?
No . . . The truth is that Duke and Durham are both wonderfully diverse, and they benefit from being tied inextricably to one another . . . Opinion research carried out by Duke confirms that, if anything, the lacrosse incident has only served to strengthen the ties between the university and the community.

That the DAA could circulate such a “talking point” suggests that the Brodhead administration is out of touch with reality. Consider, among many others, the following two examples:

  • Victoria Peterson is a local activist whose decision to co-chair his citizens’ committee made Nifong “very pleased.” In April, she explained away the negative DNA tests by publicly suggesting that Duke University Hospital “tampered with” DNA evidence. That forum, which occurred at North Carolina Central University, has been preserved on video. Most Durham residents in the audience appeared to agree with Peterson’s outrageous claim.
  • In September, Durham Police Captain Ed Sarvis announced that the city of Durham has an official policy of disproportionately punishing Duke students, as a class, for alcohol- and noise-related offenses. This policy extends only to Duke students—not to NCCU students, not to Durham high school students, not to permanent Durham residents. And when asked to defend Sgt. Mark Gottlieb’s disproportionately high arrest rate of Duke students, Sarvis responded that Gottlieb “was doing his job, and doing what I asked him to do.”

If these examples do not indicate that a “rift” exists between Duke and Durham, I wonder what the Brodhead administration would consider necessary to do so.

I suspect that most Duke alumni would like to believe that Brodhead resolutely defended the due process rights of the school’s students. Or that the university didn’t cancel the lacrosse season for p.r. reasons. Or that Duke faculty didn’t rush into a one-sided condemnation of the lacrosse players. Or that no rift existed between Duke and Durham. But I suspect that Duke alumni would like even more to see an administration that abandoned its state of denial.


Anonymous said...

Great post!
talk about out of touch.
those "questions and answers" sound like a handbook for political correctness. They assume that the public still assumes the lacrosse players are hooligans (and possibly criminals), and these are the answers that allow Duke to evade all responsibility no matter what the outcome. The truth is that the majority of people that I speak to are horrified at this travesty of justice, and feel that Duke dropped the ball by not speaking up in defense of its students. In addition some of the talking points are completely contradictory (as pointed out so well in the last two posts). On the one hand when it comes to the guilt or innocence of the players, the University should not speak and leave it up to the courts, but on the other hand when it comes to professors making outrageous and hateful statements of presumed guilt... that's encouraged.. it's free speech. There's no admission that such statements coming out of Duke without criticism or comment from the administration suggests approval.

Contrary to the assumption of the last question (about those afraid to say what school they went to), the embarassment about going to Duke is not because of what happened at that party, but the shameful way the President and administration have reacted. Although I am not an alum, as a Duke parent I find these "questions and answers" insulting and quite troubling.

Anonymous said...

When the story of this sad drama is written from the perspective of a later time, I bet that a major theme will be the extent to which a group of academic leaders completely lost touch with ordinary standards of truthfulness and human decency while continuuing to think of themselves as "politically correct."
The apparent unwillingness of anyone within the Duke establishment to speak out against Nifongs obvious misdeeds, when set against their eagerness to bash their own students based on nothing, is rapidly becoming the most vivid and outrageous fact in this entire scenario.

Anonymous said...

I am saddened by the unwillingness of the Duke administration to come forward and admit they made a terrible, terrible mistake. Instead, they continue to make m istakes such as halting the registration drive at last weekend's homecoming game. That was a public relations move. Not allowing the indicted lacrosse students on campus after 5:000pm, the list just keeps on going from bad to worse for the Duke admin. a Duke parent

duke09parent said...

Your three rhetorical questions at the end of Item #3 are excellent.

I have defended Brodhead's studied neutrality but he certainly could and should have publicly criticised the Group of 88's ad and Prof. Baker's vitriolic letter without violating his neutrality stance.

Including Holloway and Wood in the CCI committees makes good sense, if only to blunt any griping that would otherwise have at being left out of the process. But to put them as heads of subcommittees there, such as Wood, wasn't good. That decision may have been a faculty decision, though, and not an administration decision. The New Yorker article pointed out that Wood was the sole dissenter to the Coleman Committe report which publicized the lacrosse team's good behavior.

Why haven't other members of the faculty haven't spoken out is hard to answer. They may be occupied with their own stuff and don't care about this issue. They may feel that the Coleman Committee report as an official faculty report spoke for them. They may be afraid to confront an intense vocal group and be labelled by them.

LearnedHand said...

3:34 pm post: interesting spin on the events. broadhead's "studied neutrality"? have you read anything posted on this (and many other sites, such as the n&o or other newspapers)? his attempts to be "neutral" have been anything but. he certainly has remained "neutral" as to the da, but has publicly criticized the program, its players and the entire atmosphere on campus. even though a president does not have to stand up for his students vocally, when injustices are apparent or perceived, he shirks his duty to the school when he doesn't at least question the propriety of (1) the da's indictment of the entire lacrosse team without evidence, (2) the disproportionate response by the faculty under his watch against the team, regardless of evidence (such as the dna), and (3) the unbelievable admission that there exists a policy against duke students by the durham police which does not exist for any other similar group. many a president would have questioned these issues vocally - this doesn't mean that he must choose a side.

the statement about the campus culture initiative is also intriguing. quelling "griping" by the most adamant and radical of the faculty should not make a bit of difference. but, if true, does fit perfectly in with broadhead's actions. pacify his faculty at any cost. be politically correct on campus, and forget about the issue of fairness. you too easily dismiss one of the "stated" reasons for the cci to exist - to fairly and reasonably analyze the atmosphere and culture on campus. so what if one or two or more faculty make noise about being left out? is broadhead that afraid of dissention in the ranks? apparently so, at least, under your theory. most know that the cci is purely for show and will do little to change anything. however, the "show" that is unexpectedly coming out of it is anything but a fair assessment of the campus culture - but it does offer deep insight about the incredibly sad state of affairs with the duke academic culture. also - whether the chairpersons were "appointed by the faculty" or not, broadhead has always had his finger on the cci. do not attempt to place blame anywhere else - the buck, unfortunately, stops with broadhead.

lastly - and most amazingly - is the statement proposing ideas as to why the faculty has not "spoken out". i agree with you that it is indeed hard to answer, in some way. but if any of your proposed reasons are goodness. they are "occupied with their own stuff" and don't care? well - that cannot be it. if they wish to "speak out" because they have feelings against the injustice happening, they obviously would speak out regardless of their schedule. as for the coleman committee - they may feel that it was accurate, but, again, if they wish to speak out about the situation because they feel the other side is not being represented, they certainly cannot believe that the report "spoke" for them. if so - then why the multiude of other faculty speaking out the other way since the report? you underestimate the intelligence of the faculty. unfortunately - your last plausible reason is most likely correct - assuming any faculty exist on campus which even believe as we are discussing. due to the unbelievably lopsided reaction to this situation, one can understand why a faculty member might be hesitant. that, however, is precisely the problem! too many, if they believe as we argue, are remaining silent due to this "fear." sad.

the duke admin and faculty need to hear from all sides - not just the vocal, the politically correct, the opportunistic, the willfully ignorant. it wasn't so long ago that i attended this university and had professors willing to question all sides, willing to discuss even the - gasp - politically INcorrect. that was what i understood a university's role was supposed to, frank, fair, and honest discussions. apparently - this is too long ago.

LearnedHand said...

KC and others: if you haven't read this - you must. holy cow.

pretty fair in general, but some of the statements about evidence not known or that nifong wouldn't "hold his cards back" are simply fantastic (uh...what about the "recent" discovery produced or the even more "recent" discovery that is to come only after motions to compel?).

Anonymous said...

Brodhead has not been "neutral" throughout this mess.

Anonymous said...

The next to last sentence in Durham Herald Sun article is frightening. "Gov Easley, meanwhile,has no intentions of asking Nifong to step aside, spokeswoman Sherri Johnson".

Anonymous said...

Professor Johnson,

You have posted some articles on your website which have tried to minimize the statements President Brodhead has made in defense of the LAX team by calling them formulaic and by saying that they only represent 3 percent of the total number of words contained in the statements. I think this exercise of counting words is really silly. In addition, I think it provides the poster with a significant opportunity to mislead his audience.

For example, you never bothered to explain exactly which words you counted as favorable to the LAX players. There could be words in his statements which I would regard as favorable to the LAX players which you did not count, and you have given us no basis for deciding for ourselves whether your judgment was correct. Furthermore, you have provided no rationale for comparing the number of words favorable to the LAX players to the total number of words. I would have thought that if you were going to engage in an exercise as silly as this one, you would compare the number of words favorable to the LAX players with the number of words not favorable to the LAX players. Of course, that would have changed the percentages, which presumably explains why you did not do it that way.

As for your attempt to blow off President Brodhead’s statements by calling them formulaic, I would like to quote from a statement issued by President Brodhead on March 25, just a few days after the LAX mess exploded in the national media:

Physical coercion and sexual assault are unacceptable in any setting and have no place at Duke. The criminal allegations against three members of our men’s lacrosse team, if verified, will warrant very serious penalties. The facts are not yet established, however, and there are very different versions of the central events. No charges have been filed, and in our system of laws, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. We also know that many members of the team, including some who were asked to provide DNA samples, did not attend the party. I urge everyone to cooperate to the fullest with the police inquiry while we wait to learn the truth.

When I read this statement, I do not regard it as formulaic at all. Instead, I regard it as very clear and accurate and quite favorable to the LAX players. In fact, I think that your attempt to characterize this statement as formulaic shows some real intellectual dishonesty on your part and suggests to me that you are just trying to pander to the LAX team supporters in your audience.

LearnedHand said...

3:44pm: regardless of how "silly" you feel the "exercise" of professor johnson to be, you cannot dismiss the accuracy of the statements. i have read all of president broadhead's public statments and the shoe fits.

there is a huge difference between mildly stating that the players are "presumed innocent" and actually questioning troubling and farcical procedures and supporting his students. the vast majority of the president's statements have been nondiscript and utterly lacking in any honest support or defense of these players. furthermore, his numerous pleas for the team players to "cooperate", etc., are incredibly misleading (as has been documented by numerous sources, the players always "cooperated" with investigators and the police - a fact which broadhead knew when he made those statements which made it seem as if the players were not). also documented in many blogs and papers, president broadhead has felt the need to support and defend his students before - albeit, on more politically correct issues. where was this support now? but somehow you read this brief statement, which could have been lifted from a playbook, as "favorable" to the players? he knew they were cooperating with police and the investigation, yet still gives the impression it is not happening (remember, this was being alleged by nifong at the time too).

moreover, his statements provide only one of the problems with his actions. the creation of the mockery called the campus culture intiative, his total lack of support or vocal recognition of professor james coleman's committee's report and findings, and his lack of control or supervision over his faculty's statements/actions are all incredibly worrisome and troubling.

instead of defending a president (who seems to be a nice man) who has, at least, done nothing in support of the students (i.e., where is his reaction to the durham police admission as to the blatant policy against duke students? where is his questioning of the procedures used to illegaly search lacrosse players' - some of whom were not even at the party - rooms?). unlike you, who seems plainly satisfied with a do-nothing, politically correct, and administratively weak, president - i expect more from my alma mater's president.

Anonymous said...

4:06 pm, one of the things I find troubling about many of the posts on this website and on other websites which serve as cheering sections for the LAX team is that people often speak as if they are stating facts when in reality they are just stating their own opinions. Moreover, many of the people who are expressing these opinions are biased in favor of the LAX players based upon a personal or family relationship or some other factor, so that their opinions do not reflect an objective assessment of the facts. I see alot of this in your last post.

For example, you say that the vast majority of President Brodhead’s statements have been nondescript and utterly lacking in any honest support or defense of the players. You say this as if it were a fact, but it is really just a sweeping generalization which reflects your own personal opinion. I gather that you would consider his statement of March 25 to be nondescript and utterly lacking in any honest support or defense of the players, but I am an educated person, and I totally disagree. Since I do not know who you are, I am not able to determine whether you have any ulterior motive for trying to characterize Brodhead’s statements in a negative way, but I suspect that maybe you do. If this is not true, you can just say so and I will stand corrected. Certainly, there are many other people posting on this website who do have ulterior motives, such as LAX team parents who think that if they use this site to beat up on Brodhead, it may help to take some of the heat off their own kids.

You also state that Brodhead’s lack of control or supervision over his faculty’s statements and actions are incredibly worrisome and troubling. Are you seriously suggesting that President Brodhead has the power to control or supervise the First Amendment rights of the Duke faculty? I can just imagine what the response of the faculty would be if he were to try this. I suspect there would be open rebellion by the entire faculty, not just the group of 88. Perhaps we should ask Professor Johnson whether he thinks that the president of his university has the power to control or supervise his First Amendment rights.

Finally, you conclude your statement by applying a host of pejorative adjectives to President Brodhead, such as do nothing, politically correct, and administratively weak. Again, this is nothing but your opinion. I have followed this case very carefully and I totally disagree with your characterization of Brodhead. On March 25, when this story exploded into the national consciousness and the media were conducting what can only be described as a high-tech lynching of the LAX players, Brodhead issued a statement saying that the facts have not been established, there are very different versions of events, the players are innocent until proven guilty, and we know that many of the players were not even at the party. Are you seriously suggesting that this action by Brodhead was weak, do nothing, and politically correct? When Brodhead reinstated Ryan McFayden, who did more damage to the reputation of Duke University with one email than any other student has ever done in the entire history of the university, was he being weak, do nothing, and politically correct?

I just think that a lot of the commentary on this website is so one-sided and over-the-top that the entire website starts to lose credibility. Brodhead is not a member of the legal defense team. It is not his job to lead the charge on behalf of the LAX players. The players have an army of highly paid lawyers to do this. Brodhead should be focusing on other matters, such as the development of the strategic plan, the hiring of the best possible faculty, and so forth. Fortunately for Duke, that is exactly what he is doing.

LearnedHand said...

ah yes - the typcial diatribe from those with so little to add...those involved in questioning authority or the actions of the administration have ulterior motives. very nice. such an easy play, no need to defend yourself or explain why you would have any reason to think this. why have to weigh your statements down with facts or any support - simply sling the "ulterior motive" tag and - bingo. i have supported my statements with examples and yet, you believe that i simply stated my opinion.

also - what is my ulterior motive? justice? discretion used reasonably and fairly by an elected district attorney? or, how about my concern for a school which i have attended twice, have a very large stake and vested interest in, and which seems to be continuing, unabated, down the pathetic path of poltical correctness and faculty domination?

interestingly, of course, you can have the mirror turned around on you. it is a two-way street. what are your ulterior motives? why so protective over a president who has shown no willingness to stand up and question the treatment of his students or the conducting of this investigation. oh - and your evidence? one statement put out by broadhead immediately after the event occurred, which simply says what the law is (innocent until proven guilty), misrepresents the cooperation of the lax team with authorities, and then states that some of the players were not at the party. one statement. i, and I assume you, my oh-so-educated friend (congratulations), have read every statement by broadhead which i could get my hands on - including those he signed off on, such as the duke alumni association's "talking points." he continuously misrepresented the situation going on on campus by emphasizing that the lax team should cooperate...not "continue to cooperate" even though it was well known by those involved that the lax team had been doing so.

also interesting about your very defensive response is that you have not attempted to defend any of broadhead's other statements or actions/inactions (i.e., his statement that what the lax players did, even if not guilty of rape, was "bad enough") so i stand by my "opinions" as they are based on what i have read from his own mouth or from the news/documents.

first amendment rights of the faculty? surely you jest. i have not said that broadhead, or any president, should attempt to control the faculty absolutely or not let them speak. however - are you suggesting that faculty can say whatever they want, whenever they want? with no supervision or say from the president? what if the facts were a bit different? what if the alleged rapists were black and from nc central, and the woman, white from duke? would it be acceptable for the faculty to blast black male students at nccu as a group, put up wanted posters, hold rallies where they claim ridiculous statements about allegations from classes unsupported by any facts? of course the faculty and the students should have freedom to speak on campus in the context of their jobs. however, as employees, the faculty also have an obligation to recognize the rights of others and not to enage in hate-speech. oh - and, yes, the president does have plenty of authority to keep the faculty in check. broadhead does not, but presidents such as terry sanford and keith brodie have in the past.

lastly - please stop your whining about how this blog is so "one-sided" that it is making it lose credibility. my goodness. if you believe this to be true and a problem - stop reading or posting or both. in fact, in my opinion, this blog is the most well-respected, well-researched, and well-read of all these blogs on the subject of duke lax.

i am not stating that broadhead is a bad guy. i have always thought he is a nice guy, seems genuine and sincere, and is generally amicable. personally, i believe the duke administration and board made a mistake in hiring him, but not because of a lack of qualifications. but your statement that he should not be focused on this and should be focused on raising money, etc., is comical. in a perfect world, you are correct (and i would prefer it). but, for an "educated" person, you seem to have forgotten what great college presidents have always done - stand up for their students' rights and for fair treatment. even your boy broadhead has done this before - twice (as has been noted on this site). so - please - stop the charade of believing that the president of the most maligned university in the past six months, fairly or unfairly, should not bother himself with such things as his university's well-being, standing in the community (as in the educational and alumni community, not durham alone), and possible abuses and violations by durham police or other law enforcement officers on duke campus?

even if you look at broadhead's fundraising abilities, you will be disappointed. i have already witnessed a great number of alumni and companies who have refused to give a nickel to duke while the administration maintains its current position. i am worried that you believe yourself more well-connected than you actually are. money talks and when the dollars and numbers of persons giving dive down dramatically - trust me, your man will have to face the music - especially if the lax players are exonerated sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

11:02 pm, your last post was really pathetic and does not merit a response.

Anonymous said...

Learned Hand, in the last paragraph of your post you say that even if we look at Brodhead's fundraising abilities, we will be disappointed. Didn't Duke just have the greatest fund raising year in its entire history?