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
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”?
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?
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?
Has the lacrosse incident revealed a rift between Duke and
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
“tampered with” DNA evidence. That forum, which occurred at Duke University Hospital , has been preserved on video. Most North Carolina Central University residents in the audience appeared to agree with Peterson’s outrageous claim. Durham
- In September, Durham Police Captain Ed Sarvis announced that the city of
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 Durhamhigh school students, not to permanent 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.” Durham
If these examples do not indicate that a “rift” exists between Duke and
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