Yesterday’s post referenced the summary version of the lacrosse case, and the University’s response to it, produced by Duke’s Office of News and Communications.
That essay has now been revised, and no longer contains the sentence (“From his first statement in March 2006, Duke President Richard H. Brodhead repeatedly emphasized both the seriousness of the charges and the need for the players to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise within the legal system”) discussed in yesterday’s post.
As an institution of higher learning, Duke has a commitment to the truth. On the other hand, as a private university, it has an obligation to safeguard its financial well-being, including guarding against the potential of lawsuits down the road.
As the case has progressed—and even more now, given the one-sided resolution—Duke has been torn between these two contradictory pressure points. The revised ONC essay indicates a desire for accuracy by Duke that is worthy of praise—even if, as would be expected of an official publication, it presents the administration’s case in the most favorable light possible.
The essay does make one new revelation: “With input from the athletics department and some of the players themselves, Brodhead suspended the remaining games—not as punishment, but as a necessary action until the legal situation became clearer, based on concerns including the safety of Duke’s players.”
With benefit of hindsight, it seems to me that Brodhead had no choice but to cancel the season—the combination of Nifong, the Herald-Sun, the Group of 88, and the potbangers had created such a poisonous atmosphere that the players would have been unsafe.
Yet in their contemporaneous explanations, neither Brodhead nor BOT chairman Bob Steel mentioned safety as a rationale for canceling the season. Here’s what they said at the time:
--Steel: “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.”
--Brodhead: “Sports have their time and place, but when an issue of this gravity is in question, it is not the time to be playing games.”
It’s possible, however, that administration officials referenced the safety issue in internal documents that have not yet been released to the public.
Several DIW and Liestoppers readers attended Jim Coleman’s Wednesday talk at the Duke Delaware Club. I had a few questions about Coleman’s remarks, and so contacted him for clarification.
As he did at the post-dismissal law school panel, Coleman “credited Brodhead, Chancellor Ammons, and Mayor Bell for working together to hold down the rhetoric; if any of them had acted differently, it might have given traction to the racial tensions Nifong tried to exploit. Because all of them asked their constituents to defer to the legal system to seek out the criminal allegations, racial tension never became a factor in the case. That also permitted Cooper and the bar to act as they did.”
At the talk, Coleman commented on the April 5, 2006 dismissal of Mike Pressler and the suspension of Ryan McFadyen. He noted, “I did not say it was wrong to discharge Pressler or to suspend the student, only that I thought it was a mistake to do so without finding out what all of the relevant facts were. Although I did not agree with the timing of Pressler’s dismissal, I also said that did not mean that his ultimate dismissal could not have been justified.”
Common sense guided Coleman’s remarks about the Group of 88: he stated that “all of them should accept responsibility and none should complain if the ad was mis-interpreted or if people criticize them for signing it. That is the price of participating in a public discussion.”
To me, this issue has been one of the strangest aspects of the case. The Group consisted of faculty members who went out of their way to inject themselves into the case at a time of considerable legal and political fluidity (with statement author Wahneema Lubiano later admitting that she gave some signatories only six hours to decide whether to sign, thereby ensuring that the statement would appear before the DNA tests that Mike Nifong had promised would exonerate the innocent came back with no matches). Moreover, the Group acted in a highly public fashion—signing onto an ad, as their statement itself noted, “printed in the most easily seen venue on campus.”
Then, after having taken such an extraordinary step, they have lashed out at those who have criticized them, comparing their critics to McCarthy; publicly suggesting that their critics should “shut up”; and alleging that a “conspiracy” explains the criticism that the statement received.
Such behavior is puzzling coming from figures who claim to be public intellectuals.
Finally, Coleman reiterated to me that he has no knowledge of any discussion between the University and lawyers for the students about Duke’s civil liability. In his remarks, he only said that he was sure it was a matter that both sides were thinking about.