In the Yaeger/Pressler book, Duke spokesperson John Burness deflected critics of the administration’s handling of the Group of 88 by noting,
In the time I’ve been at Duke, our faculty do and say all kinds of things. The university doesn’t comment on that . . . Our job is to provide a venue for free speech, and then let the debate go. We hope it’s enlightened, but at the end of the day, you have these debates and people learn from them. We don’t go condemning faculty members for what they say when they do that.
This argument would have been more compelling had Brodhead not thrice specifically commented on—and defended—the Group’s statement, thereby at least implicitly “condemning faculty members” at Duke who are on record criticizing the Group‘s actions.
Brodhead’s three statements:
- January, in a Chronicle interview: “If faculty members talked about those underlying issues, that is their right. Quite a number of people have assured me that the ad said the students were guilty, but if you go back and look, that’s not what the ad says.”
No, the ad just says “thank you” to other people who said the students were guilty.
- April, in a “Duke Conversation” appearance in Chicago: The Group of 88 “signed a petition defending students who as minorities, felt threatened by the situation.”
How professors stating unequivocally that something “happened” to Crystal Mangum would make minority students feel safer Brodhead did not reveal.
- June, in a “Duke Conversation” appearance in Philadelphia: “Brodhead referred to the Group of 88 statement and said people should read it, because it doesn’t say what people have been told it says.”
That statement, indeed, is true: the Group members “told” people that five academic departments formally signed onto the ad, when in fact no such endorsement occurred.
Brodhead’s adamant refusal to apologize for the Group of 88’s ad—and, moreover, his publicly deeming it either an innocuous statement of faculty support for Duke students or a professorial tribute to the race/class/gender trinity—is, remarkably, a more extreme position than that taken even by several members of the Group.*
In February, Math professor and Group member Arlie Petters told the Chronicle of Higher Education that, upon seeing the reaction to the ad of not only the lacrosse players but other Duke students, the statement might have been misguided. “Whenever something causes undue pain to people,” Petters reasonably explained, “then of course that isn’t something I would want to be a part of.”
Petters is the only signatory to have publicly apologized for signing the ad. But at least two other Group members apologized, in e-mails sent to lacrosse families.
The first conceded that, in retrospect, he regretted “some of the wording of the final version of the ad”—which did not “make clear that our solidarity with the alleged victim could never make us forget that a solidarity with our students, as perhaps, for all anyone really knew, victims of false or unfair accusations.”
In asking himself, if he could do things over, whether he would sign the ad again, the Group member was unequivocal: “No, I would not. To that extent I am truly sorry I was unable to keep my peace at the time. The ad, if we absolutely needed to publish it, should have been worded differently, more carefully. The lacrosse players are, collectively and individually, just like any other students at Duke.”
And the signatory made no attempt to deny that a rush to judgment occurred. “When accusations as terrible as the ones that were made come to light against a collective,” he confessed, “people tend to react initially by believing the accusations, or at least believing that something like what the accusations state did happen. It is hard initially for anyone to imagine that someone could be so evil as to make ungrounded accusations of that nature.” As a result, “Yes, people did rush to judgment, and others gave in to the pressure, and others were not careful enough in their public statements—and I am afraid I have to accept partial responsibility for that in the business of the ad signature.”
Another signatory also apologized for her actions. “While our ad did not accuse the lacrosse team of anything,” she realized, “it did thank ‘protesters making collective noise.’ I regret and apologize for failing to make distinctions amongst that week’s many protests. Some of the sentiments on display that week can only be described as vile and violent. They were wrong. And I was wrong not to condemn them. I also regret and apologize for our omission of the vital qualifier ‘alleged’ from the ad’s reference to the victim.”
Indeed, the signatory admitted that she agreed with the ad’s critics on at least one point—“last year’s lacrosse team was the victim of a rush to judgement. I was certainly among those who feared the worst at various moments during those first weeks.” Why, then, did she sign? “It did not occur to me then that the ad might be placing my other lacrosse-playing students in jeopardy, as their lawyers have argued. I have come to understand through conversations with members of the lacrosse family why they were so upset by the ad’s publication. Our concerns about student racism could be read as suggesting a motivation for the crimes alleged. That possibility was certainly nowhere discounted (and again I was very afraid that might be true).” After all, “the District Attorney was adamant that a rape had occurred at a lacrosse team party and promised that DNA analysis would soon identify the perpetrators.”
Moreover, the Group member forcefully confronted the campaign of character assassination that, in effect, became the Group of 88's fall back position, She admitted, “I don’t know of any case where an individual or group has been condemned so fiercely as the members of this team for using offensive language or for paying money to watch exotic dancers or for underage drinking. While offensive to me personally, the only one of these actions that is illegal breaks a law I broke as well and when the drinking age was eighteen.”
One final point: after penning the remarks above, both of these Group members signed the “clarifying” statement, which, among other things, declared, “There have been public calls to the authors to retract the ad or apologize for it . . . We reject all of these.” [emphasis added]
In short, at least three original signatories have, in their own words:
- conceded that the ad harmed the lacrosse players;
- termed the ad as part of a rush to judgment;
- apologized for having signed the ad.
In this respect, Brodhead has consistently adopted a more extreme position on the ad than even some of its own signatories.
But could he legitimately believe that the ad wasn’t intended to condemn the lacrosse players? Tomorrow’s post will explore this issue.
*--modified for clarity