Thursday, August 07, 2008

Brodhead, Brown, & the Seligmanns

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.

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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.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

The following is a comment I left at "reharmonizer's" blog this morning. I was prompted to finally address Prof. Leiter's criticism of KC because "reharmonizer" recently used one of my comments in a new posting of his.

I've now read Prof. Leiter's blog posting critiquing KC's critique of the Ad of 88. I've also read his CV, prompted by your description of him.

He seems to be quite the scholar. Looking over his CV, I can say most assuredly that should I ever require an expert on the influence of Nietzsche on American law, I know who I want. If I can digress a moment, I should say that as an undergraduate, many of my electives were spent in philosophy courses. (One of the benefits of being a journalism major is that you have more elective hours than anyone else.) As a result I became quite familiar with Nietzsche – at least, as familiar as one could become at the university before being required to read him in the original German. I liked Nietzsche and thought he made more sense than most 19th century European thinkers – though it must be said that given my opinion of the overall caliber of 19th century European philosophy this is indeed only faint praise.

Continuing through his CV, I see that Prof. Leiter went to Princeton in 1980 at the age of 17 (or even 16?) and he seems to have remained in the embrace of academia ever since. I am jealous of him. I always wanted to “live a life of the mind” – so much, in fact, that as a youngster I used to think that a long prison sentence might be worthwhile because with my basic needs taken care of, I would be free to read, read, read. (An idea of doing the same thing through the academy never crossed my mind. I came from such an extensive line of farmers that when in 1989 my bride-to-be was sending out wedding invitations, she commented, “Everyone in your family lives on ‘Rural Route something’”.)

As I think I’ve mentioned to you before, I went to law school at a late age – I was nearly 36 when I started. Thus, most of my classmates were years younger. The youngest were 14 or more years younger. I remember thinking that must be an interesting life – “Wow , straight from kindergarten to law review without a single break from school”. Given his obvious intellect and energy, Prof. Leiter’s future progress up the academic ladder may create a life, “Straight from kindergarten to law dean.”

The academy’s continual rewards (amply justified) to Prof. Leiter may account for his admirable loyalty to the profession and may be what led him to defend the Duke professors who attacked their students. I understand loyalty, and if I will be indulged another digression, I have a confession. When Mike Nifong was under siege from the state ethics commission and by the court for contempt, I was probably the most sympathetic member of KC’s Sunshine Band. I know how lawyers can get “tunnel vision” when they have a “great case”. In this vein, I would urge you to watch the movie, A Civil Action, starring John Travolta and Robert Duvall. If you do, you will come to the scene where you will want to grab Travolta’s character by the lapels and shout, “They’re offering you $20 million – take it and drop the case!” Similarly, there were times during the lacrosse case when one might have wished to grab Nifong by his lapels and shout, “You’ve won the election – drop the case!”

Now turning, finally, to Prof. Leiter’s critique of KC Johnson. When you first informed me that a eminent law professor was defending the Ad of 88, my first thoughts turned to the Pennzoil vs. Texaco lawsuit. In that case, Pennzoil had made a deal to buy a smaller oil company. They just needed to “put the ribbon on the package”. Then Texaco swooped in at the last minute and bought the company. Pennzoil sued Texaco for, essentially, tortious interference with a contract. Texaco defended with law professors who told the jurors, in essence, as a matter a law “a ‘(mere) deal’ is not an ‘(exalted) contract’”. They might be able to awe first-year law students into believing that, but the jury awarded a record $10 billion in damages.

Then I read Prof. Leiter’s piece. As I told you in a previous comment, that ad was the kind of thing that prompts jurors to ask, “How much is ‘every last cent the defendant has’?” In a trial, Duke could get all the professors it likes to argue – as Prof. Leiter does -- that “the ad wasn’t really about the lacrosse incident”. The jury would award massive damages. (Interestingly, another “real world” lawyer wrote to Prof. Leiter to raise the same points that I have. Prof. Leiter’s dismissive treatment of that lawyer’s arguments would have been as effective as Texaco’s law professors’ treatment of Pennzoil’s arguments.)

Prof. Leiter’s case against KC is basically that KC makes his case by “taking snippets of the ad out of the context of the whole ad”. But the same criticism can be made of Prof. Leiter: His defense of the ad ignores the context – the daily protests, etc. – in which it was made. That ad was gasoline on a fire. It reminds me of a comment made by someone who raised the case of French Capt. Alfred Dreyfus who was a Jew charged with treason in the 1890s. The commenter said it was as if leading members of the French military had – in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair – had taken out a similar ad to the Ad of 88 and then claimed they didn’t mean to affect Dreyfus specifically, but just decrying the distressing lack of patriotism among Jews generally. Who’s going to believe that?

I hope I’ve shown why I think that Prof. Leiter, while admirably defending his profession, has not made a strong case. At any rate, I have promised not to post on your blog again before finishing this comment and one about Prof. Neal. I will do the comment on Prof. Neal next.

When I responded to Prof. Anderson’s misconceptions about the Scottsboro Boys case, you raised the report of Miss Hollace Randall. I was first inclined to write a comment about Miss Randall but didn’t for two reasons: (1) she’s a woman, and (2) she’s deceased. With my upbringing to not attack women or the dead, this combination led me to decide to let Miss Randall go undisturbed. But if I had her on a witness stand in the 1930s, I would’ve made it the worst day of her life.

Finally, I notice that you’ve used one of my comments to make some points in a recent post. I will comment on that once I have made good on my pledge to comment on Prof. Neal first.

RRH

Anonymous said...

I'm saddened one of the heroes of this case not only has put on a black hat but now appears to have drawn his six-shooter. Let's hope he's just getting bad information.

Anonymous said...

As I understand FERPA, a student retains the right to inspect any and all of their records, including letters of recommendation, unless they specifically waive that right. Whenever I write a letter of recommendation for an applicant, I am cognizant of this fact and the applicants frequently will provide a written waiver of their right to see the letter, in which case I will put a statement to that effect into the letter. Some view the presence of such a statement as providing a more candid assessment of an applicant by the letter writer.

If my understanding is correct, could not Reid Seligmann ask to see any letter written that have his name in them? This would seem to be the case at least in the instance where a letter were supposedly written specifically about him.

KC Johnson said...

To the 3.27:

Your understanding of FERPA is absolutely correct.

Anonymous said...

Is Broadhead a Communist?

Debrah said...

OMG.......

This is just one more bizarre turn in this never-ending soap opera.

I remain convinced that this blog, along with the coverage of the Lacrosse Hoax, would make an award-winning television series.

The reality is that if Brodhead had moved to help Reade it would have been known long ago.

Stop lying!

Just stop!

I'm so sick of this!

Duke is again trying to have it both ways with assertions that they hope no one will force them to prove.

Truth is, back when Reade was offered the chance to go to Brown, Brodhead was still caught up in the daily feverish task of trying to keep in "good standing" with the Gang of 88.

Would he have gone out of his way like this for Reade?

Very unlikely.

But asserting that he did so all this time later makes him seem almost human.......doesn't it?

Scott said...

It is obvious there is no letter, certainly not one that is supportive of Seligmann.

What would motivate Brodhead to write one and, more importantly, what would motivate the recipient to put any credence in such a letter given Brodhead's prominent role in the Duke / Durham frame of Seligmann?

Anonymous said...

KC - I greatly appreciate your continuing interest in this case, including particularly the transparent hypocrisy of Brodhead and his stooges in the Duke administration.

On another matter... Is it true that you continue to "moderate" comments posted to this site? If so, why do the inane, repetitive "Is (pick 'em) a Communist?" comments continue to make it through the screen. These comments should be placed where they are deserved... in the trash can.

Anonymous said...

I can readily envision - in a Saturday night live moment - the shifty eyed Mr. Brodhead on the phone to Brown, aglow in perspiration, desperately sincere in his desire to get Mr.Seligman on the Brown team.
The problem with this story from Mr. Cooney is that Mr. Brodhead's doing so would be a disservice to Mr. Seligman just like Mr. Nifong's passion for Obama would be a turnoff for some white voters
I wonder if Mr. Cooney really said what the paper says he said. If he did, Why? JOHN

Anonymous said...

Good point JOHN @6:22. Did Cooney really say it? Just because a reporter says so doesn't make it so.

And it seems like an incredibly ill-advised comment. Actually downright dumb.

Jello said...

I am led to believe that Broadhead, behind the scenes, felt bad about what he was doing Publicly. You know for being a coward and practicing political corectness, and generally acting against his students and in favor of loons who were throwing these kids under the bus. He just wanted to look good in front of the media. Too bad the truth came out and showed what a coward Broadhead + Lots of other Duke affiliates really were. They wanted to act like they were doing the noble, brave thing when really they were being selfish and not paying any attention to the students or the right thing.
I have no evidence to back this up but I get this feeling that Broadhead DID write a letter to Brown to try and get Seligmann in. Not that I have any doubt that Reade would've gotten in without any help. Not talking to the families until 8 months later shows that you are afraid to have to deal with them and don't want to do the hard stuff. Emailing them 8 months later to wish them happy holidays [wtf?] shows that you are trying to make wrong right and have realized how badly you effed up [not that you didn't know it all along you just didn't think the tide would turn and people would see the injustices done to these students.]
It feels as if Broadhead has a huge amount of respect for these students, they stood by each other and stood with their heads up when very few others had the courage to do that. I believe Broadhead knows what a smart individual Reade is, felt bad and said to hell with it lemme help out a bit if I can. I mean I did kick them outta Duke and then publicly damn them. Ofcourse I can't prove a letter, but doesen't seem like it is possible?

Gary Packwood said...

Jello 8/7/08 7:54 PM said...

...Of course I can't prove a letter, but doesn't seem like it is possible?
::
No unless he did the same for Collin along with a letter of Holiday Greetings to the entire men's lacrosse team and their former coach.

You have a nice thought however.
::
GP

hman said...

To Mr. Jello
I have given a lot of thought to a similar line of thought about Brodheads inner motivations - one that also gives him some credit as a semi-Mensch. I thought, if he had early on seen a lot of information that assured him the kids were innocent of any serious crime he could have felt free to demonize them publically in order to position himself and the Duke brand in a favorable relationship with several key constituencies - without actually endangering the kids. Because they were going to be acquitted, by and by, being innocent. Because innocent people with good lawyers don't ever face jail, right? So he comes across in this scenario as somewhat ruthless, yet still recognizably human. Indeed, that scenario might have had some truth all along. But reading the story told (more or less unaswerably) in the lawsuits one gets the picture of he and Bob Steel agreeing that nothing less than a trial in Durham, even a conviction, would serve their needs. If so, this fight has never been anything but a straight-forward bash between distilled evil and a gang of would be rescurers. I think that scenario is a better fit and explains the intense emotions so many have felt. Nifong, Brodhead, Steel, Pol Pot, Vlad-the-Impaler, lion-prides these are the real thing. The reasons why humans developed certain instincts in the first place.

af said...

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?


Let me get this right,can't discuss these matters but can release all kinds of FERPA covered information on Reade, Collin, Dave and the other LAX players.
Hopefully the Duke administration and BOT will get together and decide what rules they will uphold. The rules (in a normal world) are the rules and are not flexible dependent on what metanarrative is in play at any given time.

Anonymous said...

RHR..where is your excellent comment on Reharmonizer? Have you been censored?

Debrah said...

TO 7:06AM--

Reharmonizer will post a comment from RRH.

It's just that he's as slow as Egypt.

river rat said...

I agree the fiasco at Duke would make a revealing and long running TV mini series on Academia.

The "Dorks of Duke" would work for a title..