There has been some attention in the blogosphere caused by a recent statement from Jim Cooney about a possible letter from Duke president Richard Brodhead and Reade Seligmann’s application to Brown. The Seligmann family issued a statement on the matter to the Herald-Sun, which quoted excerpts in today’s paper:
Seligmann “knows of no support that Brodhead gave him at Brown,” lawyer Richard Emery said Wednesday after his office e-mailed a statement from his client to The Herald-Sun. “Whether that happened behind his back, he can’t be sure. It may have happened, but he doesn’t know about it.”
The statement also noted that Brodhead had contacted the Seligmann family only twice in the entire case. The first contact by Brodhead after Seligmann’s indictment and suspension from Duke came after a delay of around eight months, in December 2006, when he e-mailed them to wish them a happy holidays(!). The second contact came in January 2007, to inform them that the school had overridden Group of 88’er Karla Holloway’s objections and lifted the suspension of Seligmann and Collin Finnerty.
I can add a few contextual items to this story.
(1) The assertion that Brodhead played a particular role in Seligmann’s admission to Brown seems to contradict the publicly known timeline. The Brown Daily Herald, for instance, reported on February 21, 2007 (nearly two months before the exoneration) that Brown was aggressively recruiting Seligmann—not the reverse. The process of Seligmann going to Brown, in short, was well underway before any alleged help from Brodhead could have occurred, and Seligmann’s grades were impressive in their own right, well within the range of Brown’s caliber.
(2) I had a few off-the-record conversations with people at Brown in spring 2007. Based on those, it’s not my sense that Brodhead had any particular role in Brown’s decision to recruit Seligmann. It’s also not my sense that Brodhead has any particular influence at Brown. There are institutions (Yale, for instance) in which Brodhead remains a figure of some standing—but in most of the other Ivy League schools, it’s my sense that Brodhead is looked upon in rather unfavorable terms, as an administrator who performed poorly under crisis. Moreover, Brown president Ruth Simmons has spoken out against the kind of ideological imbalance typified by the Group of 88’s dominance of Duke discourse: she is not really the kind of administrator likely to be swayed by Brodhead.
(3) Even though Bob Steel told other Trustees in summer 2006 that the Duke administration had stayed in regular contact with the families of the accused players, I don’t think anyone (including Steel) any longer retains that fiction. Indeed, Brodhead apologized for his decision not to stay in close contact with the families in his September 2007 remarks at Duke Law School. The Seligmanns’ statement that Brodhead only approached them twice—and very late in the game, and in odd ways—seems correct. I can say that at no point in the case was I aware of any more than these two (token) contacts between Brodhead and the Seligmann family, nor am I aware of anyone else who knows of additional contacts between Brodhead and the Seligmann family.
(4) The only unresolved matter, therefore, is a possible Brodhead letter on Seligmann’s behalf, which Cooney mentioned to the H-S. From the Seligmann family statement: “Nobody ever communicated to [Seligmann] anything specific about any letter. There was some general knowledge that Brodhead was writing a letter to assertively help him. But [that knowledge] was very general and very vague.”
What would such a letter have entailed? To have actually been of assistance to Seligmann, any such letter would have needed, at the very least, to address Brodhead’s (false) April 5, 2006 statement that Seligmann was part of a group that had been subject of reports of racist behavior; and his (seemingly defamatory) April 20, 2006 statement that even if Seligmann and Finnerty were innocent, “whatever they did was bad enough.”
Seligmann attorney Richard Emery said that Duke should “set the record straight” and release relevant records. The response of a Duke spokesperson: “Student privacy laws constrain us from discussing such matters.”
But in this case, the student—Seligmann—has waived his privacy rights. So, Duke’s official position is that it can’t release the alleged Brodhead letter because of privacy rights that the student himself has waived?
Such a position would suggest that either: (a) no letter exists; or (b) Duke doesn’t want the contents of the letter to see the light of day.