Monday, December 22, 2008

Alternate Realities

As John in Carolina has noted, Duke Magazine (the journal sent to all Duke alumni) recently published a long article detailing efforts to improve campus safety. Nothing in the article was in any way objectionable, and much of it was commendable. The head of the volunteer Duke student EMS—an organization once under Student Life but now, more appropriately, under the jurisdiction of the Duke Police—discussed his positive experiences with the Duke Police, who he praised for their professionalism and dedication. The article also summarized the impressive list of safety-first changes adopted by Duke in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre.

Yet much of the article seems, to put it most charitably, inconsistent with the University’s record in the lacrosse case. And this approach is, sadly, all too consistent with the magazine’s pattern of one-sided portrayals of the issues and problems arising from the case.

To begin with, here is how author Bridget Booher describes the case:

Though the majority of reported crimes are relatively minor incidents, two major events accentuated the need for Duke to think more strategically about campus safety and emergency preparedness. In the spring of 2006, allegations of an off-campus rape by Duke students exploded into a racially charged, nationally followed case that has come to be known simply as “lacrosse.” As the tangled mess slowly began to unravel, senior administrators identified a number of areas for improvement, including the university’s internal and external lines of communication.

Having mentioned Mangum’s allegations, doesn’t Booher have some obligation to point out that the Attorney General declared the Duke students actually innocent? It’s not entirely clear, indeed, what she means by “the tangled mess slowly began to unravel.” Even allowing for Booher’s peculiar word choice, didn’t the “mess” completely “unravel,” not merely begin “to unravel”?

Perhaps as interesting is Booher’s follow-up clause: “Senior administrators identified a number of areas for improvement, including the university’s internal and external lines of communication.”

In her discussion of the second “major event” that “accentuated the need for Duke to think more strategically about campus safety and emergency preparedness”—the Virginia Tech massacre—Booher devotes seven paragraphs to the specific (and commendable) ways in which Duke enacted changes.

And yet the “areas of improvement” from the University’s handling of the lacrosse case merit a mere one sentence.

Booher’s phrasing—“Senior administrators identified a number of areas for improvement, including the university’s internal and external lines of communication”—suggests the University identified “areas for improvement” beyond “the university’s internal and external lines of communication.” Yet no such “areas for improvement” have been publicly identified.

How, moreover, has the University acted to improve “internal . . . lines of communication”? Booher doesn’t reveal—nor, of course, has any other Duke administrator. Perhaps such changes have occurred. But it’s odd that the administration hasn’t chosen to share those changes with the broader Duke community.

And how has the university acted to improve “external lines of communication”? Again, Booher offers no specifics. The University’s acknowledged record involving improving “external lines of communication,” however, isn’t exactly encouraging, involving as it did only two stated issues:

  • (1) the Bowen/Chambers report, which faulted (of all people) Larry Moneta for having the temerity, in an external line of communication, to warn Duke students of a possibly violent response from Durham residents; and
  • (2) President Brodhead’s Sept. 2007 apology for his not having reached out to the families of the falsely accused players, an apology that came months after BOT chairman Bob Steel had privately assured other Trustees that such lines of communication had, in fact, existed. Neither Brodhead nor anyone else associated with Duke has publicly said (a) why Brodhead didn’t stay in touch with the families; (b) what steps have been taken to ensure that a repeat of this performance doesn’t occur; and (c) what steps have been taken to rebuke Steel for misleading other trustees.

The Booher article does provide one intriguing nugget of information. Under the heading “Law and order,” Booher writes,

Reciprocity between community partners extends to the Duke and Durham police departments as well. The two agencies have a concurrent jurisdiction agreement, which means that Duke can ask the Durham police for help with crimes on campus, and the Duke police can respond to crime involving members of the Duke community who live in surrounding neighborhoods.

The Ekstrand lawsuit has provided the most complete discussion regarding the question of Duke Police’s jurisdiction over events at 610 N. Buchanan. But Booher’s article appears to be the first official Duke publication to concede that, at the very least, Duke Police had concurrent jurisdiction over the lacrosse case—since “the Duke police can respond to crime involving members of the Duke community who live in surrounding neighborhoods.”

Booher’s clause, therefore, raises a troubling question: if the Duke Police had concurrent jurisdiction over the lacrosse case, why did they decline to exercise that jurisdiction—and who made this decision?

Other sections of Booher’s article contain boilerplate items that, alas, contradict the University’s known record in the lacrosse case. For instance, under the heading of “off-campus dangers,” Booher quotes Larry Moneta, noting that in dealings with the Durham Police, the university “can’t position itself as having a greater need than other parts of Durham.”

Over the past few years, however, the central issue in the relationship between Duke students and the Durham Police hasn’t been a demand for special treatment for Duke students. It has been, instead, Durham’s official policy (acknowledged by Duke) that Duke students, and only Duke students, will receive separate, and harsher, punishments in alcohol cases. The article has nothing to say on this issue. I e-mailed Booher to ask her why the article contained no mention of this “Good Neighbor Policy”; she didn’t respond, though I will post a response if one comes in.

Or take this Booher paraphrase of Moneta: “He assured the group that Duke officials do follow criminal cases very closely, and work with the local law-enforcement agencies and the attorney general’s office to expedite prosecution when appropriate and feasible.” In the lacrosse case, however, Duke’s official policy appeared to be to refuse to “work with the local law-enforcement agencies.”

Or take this passage:

In this case, as in others involving students of concern, the young woman’s name is added to a database maintained by Amy Powell, the student-affairs case manager. A position created just this year, the case manager coordinates the efforts of student-focused campus entities to ensure an integrated approach to addressing a spectrum of needs a student might have.

For example, the loss of a parent or close family member could have an impact on a student’s academic performance, his mental health, and even his financial-aid package should the family’s income fluctuate. In a situation like that, Powell would collaborate with the student’s academic deans, who alert the student’s professors to the situation; professional staff in Counseling and Psychological Services, to which the student might be referred; and the financial aid and registrar’s office.

This all sounds wonderful. The record of the lacrosse case, however, revealed that when some Duke professors—Kim Curtis, for example, or John Walsh’s spring 2006 professor, Claire Ashton-James—they not only did nothing, but behaved in an unprofessional fashion to further damage the student. What will Powell’s new position do to address such matters?

Or take this Moneta quote: “One of the things we tell parents during orientation is to contact us if something doesn’t seem right.” That, of course, would be the same Larry Moneta who, in March 2006, when a vigilante mob traveled from 610 N. Buchanan to a nearby house rented by other lacrosse players, where members of the mob shouted threats and banged on the doors/windows of the house. One of the players called Moneta for help; Moneta responded that there was nothing he could do. Could it be that Moneta doesn’t consider a mob banging on a Duke student’s window as “something [that] doesn’t seem right”?

Or take this quote from DUPD head Aaron Graves: “But as sworn police officers, we have an obligation to enforce the laws of the state, the orders of the city, and any other federal laws that apply.” In the lacrosse case, however, the DUPD unlawfully provided to the DPD the key card information of Duke students, information that was protected under “federal laws that apply” (FERPA). Duke officials then appeared to conspire with Durham authorities in an elaborate cover up scheme involving the issuance of fraudulent subpoenas. Why did Graves not adhere to his stated policy in the lacrosse case? Either Booher didn’t ask, or Graves didn’t tell.

Duke could have addressed to the lacrosse case as if a university’s fundamental mission were pursuit of the truth—by appointing, perhaps a truth and reconciliation commission, or by soliciting a white paper on how the University, its administrators, and its faculty members responded to the case. Duke, of course, didn’t choose this path. And Booher, doubtless, would have written a different article had the University chosen to confront publicly its handling of the case.

Duke’s decision is probably unsurprising. But the University’s approach also renders ridiculous such statements as Booher’s: “With their own children heading off to college, these parents want assurance that safety precautions and safeguards are in place to protect them from harm.”

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping check on the Duke position. Do not hold your breath waiting for a reply. Best wishes to you in 2009. IS there any indication that these suits will progress at more than a glacial pace in 2009?

Anonymous said...

spin, spin, spin, lie, lie, lie

spin, spin, spin, lie, lie, lie

spin, spin, spin, lie, lie, lie

spin, spin, spin, lie, lie, lie

spin, spin, spin, lie, lie, lie

spin, spin, spin, lie, lie, lie

who can tell the spin and the lie ?

Gary Packwood said...

lex talionis - part of the The Code of Hammurabi
::
I would imagine that Bridget Booher would find it difficult to acknowledge the existence of two groups of faculty and staff members on campus who apparently embrace lex talionis, the ancient law of retaliation, for imagined and real sins committed against women and people of color over the last two thousand years.

A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand.

All that was needed to was to sacrifice the lives of three young men.

And, just imagine, there were hundreds of faculty and staff members at other campus' across the country waiting to see if they could pull it off.

The Code of Hammurabi did not and does not replace the Constitution of the United States.

And that fact needs to be included in the Campus Safety Plan!
::
GP

Anonymous said...

And if the leadership of Duke University had done the right thing as opposed to lying and covering up their actions, Duke would not be in the position of being sued right now. Yet, according to Brodhead, Steel, and Moneta, it is the fault of everyone else.

Anonymous said...

If the lacrosse "mess" "accentuated the need for Duke to think more strategically about campus safety", then surely the February 2007 frat house rape would set off alarm bells.

But apparently not, the Duke magazine article doesn't even mention it.

One Spook said...

KC:

Everything you've written is entirely correct, but I think you have some very idealistic expectations for what Duke, or for that matter any university, is going to publicize in an Alumni Newsletter.

Those communication pieces are the pinnacle of "sunshine pumping;" everything is always "good and getting better!" When I read mine, the pages stick together and it makes my hands sticky.

In such a publication, no university is going to admit any shortcomings or even approach honesty or full disclosure about any "problems" on campus, least of all Duke during the pendency of lawsuits.

It's just fluff in print.

The people who write for such university-generated organs often perfect their spin doctoring there and later go on to work for political campaigns.

One Spook

Anonymous said...

Booher's exercise in twisted logic and prose included this gem: "[T]wo major events accentuated the need for Duke to think more strategically about campus safety and emergency preparedness. In the spring of 2006, allegations of an off-campus rape by Duke students ...."

How is a false accusation of rape like the Virginia Tech massacre and deserving of mention in an article dealing with emergency messaging systems and the like? Will Duke now have an alert system for false rape accusations? What will be the criteria for raising the alert level from orange to red when dealing with rampannt false allegations? I can hear and see the pre-recorded message sent to students on their cellphones and computer email programs:

"This is an OFFICIAL DUKE UNIVERSITY RED ALERT. This is NOT a test. Repeat. This is NOT a test. The university has information that a false accuser is roaming university property randomly accusing people of crimes and torts. Stay in your rooms and lock your doors. This message repeasts. This is an OFFICIAL DUKE ...."

********

MOO! Gregory

Anonymous said...

--- Another quote from Larry Moneta in discussing how Duke deals with parents' concerns about their sons/daughters' well being --

" One of the things we tell parents during orientation is to contact us if something doesn't seem right, " ..." We ( Duke ) take elaborate precautions to mitigate risk."

As we now know, when Duke officials advised the lacrosse players not to tell their parents and not to engage lawyers, these officials exposed the players to great risk.

The biggest dangers that the lacrosse players faced were from Duke officials and faculty , and Durham authorities.

BN

Anonymous said...

Is Booher a Communist?

Jim in San Diego said...

How in logic could a false accusation of a crime "accentuate the need to think more strategically about campus safety"?

It cannot.

In ways large and small, those responsible for thousands of our children at Duke (and elsewhere) have demonstrated they cannot think, or read, or write.

In short, they are intellectually illiterate. They are but a thin skin away from the savage walking the jungle floor, or the savage seeking a final solution to a fevered prejudice.

We need some heros. Job open.

Jim Peterson

Mr. Bad said...

I don't think that Duke is any different than almost any other campus in the U.S. in the sense that "campus safety" is meant to protect everyone except white males. As One Spook said, this article is just window dressing, targeted at alumni who they want to entice into making donations and sending their kids to Duke. And a parent of a white male would have to be stark raving mad to do so.

Anonymous said...

Zzzzzzz

Anonymous said...

So,
Zzzzz
is less informative than
spin, spin, spin, lie, lie, lie?

af said...

Duke is appealing Judge Howard Manning's ruling to allow Mike Presslar to sue Duke for slander. For those who don't know of Judge Manning, he was the presiding judge in the suit of some NC school systems against the state for funding low wealth systems. Judge Manning realized the fallacies in equal funding but rather than throw money randomly at the situation, he has required systems to develop plans to provide REAL help to students in need of additional assistance. He's a real level headed but hard-nosed jurist. In my opinion, he is one of the best in NC. He's thorough and knows how to cut through the bull.

No justice, No peace said...

"Live in rooms full of light" - Cornelius Celsus

Anonymous said...

Booher reveals that Duke is only too willing to "expedite prosecution" - in the case of its off-campus student alcohol users and athletes (especially the young white males) but the University leadership does nothing to uphold due process and refuses to stand up for justice when a young black male is accused of raping a female student...
Merry Christmas
NYesq

Anonymous said...

"Booher doesn’t reveal—nor, of course, has any other Duke administrator. Perhaps such changes have occurred."

Nothing has changed. The guilty still have not been punished. In fact, some of them have been rewarded with high-level, administrative appointments.

“With their own children heading off to college, these parents want assurance that safety precautions and safeguards are in place to protect them from harm.”

Easy first step, and simultaneously a solution to Duke's fiscal problems (a nearly 20% drop in its endowment): fire 88 faculty.

Duke Prof