President Richard Brodhead has just issued a statement in which he couples his long-overdue but admirable criticism of Mike Nifong with a defiant defense of the Group of 88.
The statement has three troubling aspects.
1.) Brodhead continues to reinvent the past.
Brodhead describes his handling of events last spring as “guided by two principles: that if true, the conduct that had been alleged was grave and should be taken very seriously, and that our students had to be presumed innocent until proven guilty through the legal process.”
From all accounts of him, Brodhead is a decent man. There is simply no reason to believe that, in writing the above remarks, he does not consider them to be true.
But, much like Cathy Davidson’s bizarre claim that the Group of 88’s statement was a response to non-existent defenses of the lacrosse players from the time, the facts from last spring do not back up Brodhead’s statement. Canceling the season and firing the coach did not communicate a belief in presumption of innocence. That less than three percent of the words in Brodhead’s April 5 and June 5 addresses dealt with the issue did not communicate a belief in presu mption of innocence.
And those who would look for a celebration of presumption of innocence in Brodhead’s comments to the Durham Chamber of Commerce would need to look hard. On April 20, two days after the indictments of Reade Seligmann and Colin Finnerty, he said, “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.”
Brodhead’s recent policies, on the other hand, have commendably reflected a belief in presumption of innocence. It is unfortunate that he continues to trivialize this important principle by suggesting that the early actions and statements of Duke’s administration could, in any way, be considered based on a presumption of innocence.
2.) The University appears determined to ignore its faculty’s rush to judgment last spring.
In his statement, Brodhead asserts that “we still have work to do on this campus,” dealing “with larger community issues of race, gender, privilege, and respect.” He singles out the work of the Campus Culture Initiative for this matter.
In his appropriate remarks about Mike Nifong’s need to recuse himself from the case, Brodhead asserts, “We entrust our conflicts to the law to provide a path to a fair resolution. But to earn this faith from the public, those who work in the legal process must behave with elemental fairness and regard for the rights of those involved. We need and deserve for that faith to be restored.”
The same could be said for the University’s response to the affair, but Brodhead appears determined to lurch forward with a rigged process. Why should anyone consider the process to be characterized by “elemental fairness and regard for the rights of those involved” when those leading the CCI process have acted in such a blatantly unfair fashion?
- Why should anyone consider a race subgroup headed by Karla Holloway (“White innocence means black guilt. Men’s innocence means women’s guilt”) to be fair?
- Why should anyone consider an athletics subgroup chaired by Peter Wood, who has seemed to go out of his way to slander Reade Seligmann, to be fair?
- Why should anyone consider a gender subgroup co-chaired by Group of 88 member Anne Allison—a figure who was previously rebuked for spending departmental funds on partisan political activity—to be fair?
3.) The lacrosse players and the faculty who rushed to denounce them are equally “victims” of this affair.
I’ll quote Brodhead’s astonishing remarks on this point in full:
Just as important, we must work together to restore the fabric of mutual respect. One of the things I have most regretted is the way students and faculty have felt themselves disparaged and their views caricatured in ongoing debates, often by individuals - sometimes anonymous - outside the Duke community. In the age of instantaneous worldwide media coverage, members of the lacrosse team were judged around the world on the basis of highly selective, highly prejudicial coverage last spring. A number of them were subjected to vile abuse. More recently, a group of Duke faculty members (including a number of African American faculty) have been widely attacked in blogs and emails - and in some cases personally attacked in highly repugnant and vicious terms - based on caricatured accounts of their statements on the lacrosse event.
Translation: The Group of 88 is fine by Duke!
I would like to think that most University presidents would have read with deep shame pages 16 through 18 of the defense change-of-venue motion. To my knowledge, these pages represented a first in the history of modern American criminal law: the behavior and statements of an institution’s faculty were cited as one of the principal reasons for which students of that institution could not receive a fair trial.
I would like to think that most University presidents would have pondered that fact with deep shame, and resolved to take concrete measures to ensure that their faculty never again so readily abandoned their obligation to treat their students fairly—regardless of the students’ race, class, gender, or athletic status.
I would like to think that most University presidents, upon reading pages 16 through 18, would have publicly reminded their faculty of the relevant provision of the Faculty Handbook dealing with faculty obligations to students. For instance, Chapter Six of the Duke Faculty Handbook opens with the following passage:
Members of the faculty expect Duke students to meet high standards of performance and behavior. It is only appropriate, therefore, that the faculty adheres to comparably high standards in dealing with students . . . Students are fellow members of the university community, deserving of respect and consideration in their dealings with the faculty.
Of course, Brodhead is not “most University presidents.”
- With his statement, is he publicly defending Kim Curtis, who publicly suggested that two of her students were accomplices to rape, and thereafter gave both grades of F on their final paper?
- With his statement, is he publicly defending Grant Farred, who wrote that Duke students who registered to vote in
were attempting to project their “secret racism” upon the city? Durham
- With his statement, is he publicly defending Cathy Davidson, who preposterously rationalized the Group of 88’s statement as a response to non-existent defenses of the lacrosse players?
- With his statement, is he publicly defending Thomas Crowley, who published an op-ed so riddled with factual errors about Duke students that he had to retract it (though only after an outpouring of the blog criticism that Brodhead so chastises)?
- And by singling out the race of the some Duke faculty members who have been criticized, is Brodhead, with his statement, publicly suggesting that minority members of his faculty are less publicly accountable for their actions than are other professors?
It would seem, based on the tone, content, and timing of this statement, that the answer to all five of these questions is yes. That is deeply unfortunate for the future of Duke.