The Duke Student Government has been a voice of sanity over the past academic year, and the administration of DSG president Elliot Wolf departed with several positive overtures.
In early March, Wolf became the sole member of the Campus Culture Initiative willing to speak out publicly against the flawed process that resulted in the February report.
Tireless in demanding a greater student role in shaping the culture in which students will have to live, Wolf’s position has been vindicated since his op-ed appeared: the CCI’s most extreme recommendations—such as the Group of 88 Enrollment Initiative and the call for a de facto Duke withdrawal from the ACC—appear to be dead in the water, and Provost Peter Lange is leading a more balanced review of issues surrounding campus culture.
Then, Wolf and incoming DSG president Paul Slattery took an important stance in favor of quality journalism for the Triangle. In late April, the Chronicle urged the Student Government to shift to the N&O from the Herald-Sun for its program of distributing one local paper for free newspaper boxes across campus. The Chronicle cited the weak record of the H-S, as well as Editor Bob Ashley’s hesitance “to acknowledge its myriad editorial mistakes.”
Wolf and Slattery were thinking along similar lines. They wrote,
We agree wholeheartedly, however, with the concerns expressed about The Herald-Sun in the recent Chronicle editorial “Buy the N&O instead” (April 20). The Herald-Sun has provided questionable editorial and news coverage of the lacrosse scandal and numerous other events over the course of the past year, to say the least. As also evidenced by their frequent misquoting/misattribution of DSG officials, The Herald-Sun is indeed “the Triangle’s worst.”
Duke Student Government will make arrangements over the summer to replace The Herald-Sun with The Raleigh News & Observer in our newspaper program.
Finally, last week, Wolf addressed the Board of Trustees. After opening with a hilarious story about keeping his cool while sitting in front of Mike Nifong during a three-hour service on Martin Luther King Day, Wolf declined, as he has in the past, to criticize the performance of the Brodhead administration in handling the lacrosse case.
He then moved on to two critical points:
The lesson of this case . . . is that we cannot have blind faith in the Durham Police and the Durham District Attorney to administer justice. And to that end, we have become increasingly concerned about the Durham Police Department’s treatment of Duke students. One DPD Captain admitted that it was DPD policy to punish Duke students more severely than other members of the community, and there have been numerous documented instances where
officers have violated the constitutional rights of students or issued citations based on evidence that would not stand up in court. This is of particular concern to us, and it should be to the University as well. Durham
While we don’t expect the University to take overt steps to defend its students through legal proceedings, we don’t want the University to contribute to such differential treatment in any way . . . Duke must also now shake the perception, legitimate or not, that it simply washes its hands of students when they are in legal trouble.
Wolf also outlined to the trustees a common-sense approach to the CCI. Rejecting on the one hand advocates of maintaining the status quo at all costs and the extremism of CCI subgroup chairs Peter Wood, Anne Allison, and Karla Holloway on the other, he urged the trustees to endorse change, with a critical caveat:
“Changes” don’t necessarily constitute the wholesale elimination of social outlets or selective living groups, a tightening of the alcohol or any other policy, or the excision of any portion of the student community through changes in admissions. “Changes” mean recognition by the University that students’ experiences outside the classroom are just as important as those inside the classroom and should be prioritized accordingly.
In a case where many authority figures have not lived up to expectations, the Duke student body rose to the occasion—whether in the stellar performance of the Chronicle; the idealism of Duke Students for an Ethical Durham; or the steady hand of Wolf.