[Update, 6.31pm, 23 Feb.: Business Week reports that Duke and AIG have settled their lawsuit, which resulted from AIG's unwillingness to shoulder at least some the defense costs associated with the lawsuits against Duke filed by the falsely accused players and other former Duke lacrosse players.]
Two tangentially related items [with an update at end, added Sunday, 3.34pm]:
First, in one respect, the discovery that Richard Brodhead was selected by the President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,Leslie Berlowitz, to co-chair “a national commission to bolster teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences, fields that are critical to culture, education, and to America's economic competitiveness” is beyond belief. Incredibly, Berlowitz was responding to a request from members of Congress, to ascertain, “What are the top ten actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations, educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship and education, and to achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being; for a stronger, more vibrant civil society; and for the success of cultural diplomacy in the 21st century?”
Upon what could Brodhead offer counsel: how to stand clear of the social sciences and humanities faculty mob on campus? How to issue an apology months after the fact, while repeatedly promoting those among his social sciences and humanities professoriate who misbehaved? How he felt as members of the Durham Chamber of Commerce applauded him in April 2006, when he announced, of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, “Whatever they did [drink beer and attend a party they played no role in planning] was bad enough”?
In another respect, however, the award demonstrates a central theme of the lacrosse case: the almost complete lack of accountability in contemporary higher education for inappropriate conduct that was based on prevailing race/class/gender sentiments on campus. That a figure such as Brodhead wasn’t completely discredited for his mishandling of the lacrosse case isn’t surprising in an academy where Group of 88 members Baker, Farred, and Payne got hired away from Duke for better jobs; or where the Duke faculty elected Group regular Paula McClain as their leader shortly after the AG declared the students to be innocent; or where several members of the Group of 88 have received deanships despite (because of?) their behavior in the lacrosse case.
Second, the Florida International University administration declined to suspend the university’s star baseball player, Garrett Wittels, who was charged with sexual assault in a strange case in the Bahamas.
The specifics of the case, based on press reports: Wittels and two college-age friends went back to a hotel room to hook up with two women who presented themselves as college students but were in fact 17 years old. Both sides agree that sexual intercourse occurred; Wittels’ attorney says it was voluntary, at the prompting of their fathers the next morning, the 17-year-olds said it was not. Before any additional investigation took place, but apparently acting consistently with both Bahamian judicial procedures and more general pressure from the U.S. embassy, Wittels and his friends were arrested.
The FIU decision has generated predictable outcry. Miami Herald columnist Linda Robertson hyperbolically demanded Wittels’ suspension, noting, “No one except the people in a Paradise Island hotel room knows what happened inside it Dec. 20. But something happened.”(Despite Robertson’s insinuation, no one involved in the case denies that “something happened.”) Consistent with longstanding media practices, Robertson had no trouble repeatedly using Wittels’ name, but refused to identify the name of Wittels’ accuser.
Perhaps more disappointingly (given the high standards in the lacrosse case from the Duke Chronicle), the FIU student newspaper, The Beacon, advocated suspending Wittels, arguing, “Even if Wittels is innocent, the situation he has put himself in has tarnished the image of the University and its Athletics department. Furthermore, allowing that distraction in the locker room would be a disservice to the entire baseball team.” If universities around the country followed the policy of suspending athletes for engaging in a “situation” like that of Wittels “even if . . . innocent” (hooking up, in a somewhat boorish fashion, while on vacation), there’d be an awful lot of suspensions, on a lot of different teams, around the country.
I’d like to think that in handling the Wittels matter, the FIU administration learned from Brodhead’s rush to judgment in the lacrosse case, and in particular understood the significance of examining the particular context of the allegations. As both Robertson and The Beacon note, Wittels might, in fact, be guilty. But the preponderance of publicly available evidence doesn’t suggest abandoning the presumption of innocence; and the overall allegation (an alleged 3-on-2 gang rape, in which the accusers voluntarily left the scene of the alleged attack without even attempting to contact law enforcement officials) would be very unusual indeed. Perhaps more important, the FIU administration took into account the different legal procedures in The Bahamas, which appears to have an arrest-first, ask-questions-later approach.
A final point: at least based on what I’ve seen from press reports and from speaking to a friend with contacts at FIU, there has been no equivalent of the Group of 88 on the FIU campus. Perhaps Wahneema Lubiano can be dispatched to South Florida to provide guidance.
[Update: On Sunday morning's Outside the Lines, ESPN profiled San Antonio Spurs player Gary Neal.
Towson--which accepted Neal as a student and a basketball player despite the rape allegations, under the "innocent until proven guilty" mantra, provides another, FIU-like, example of the anti-Brodhead. And Towson acted before the lacrosse case erupted, suggesting an alternative path for Duke.
Two other items from the report. One, the Neal saga confirms a post made some time back on the absurdity of the claim--repeatedly offered during the lacrosse case--that if the lacrosse defendants had been African-American, the media would have treated them much worse. The allegations against the LaSalle basketball players (African-American defendants, race of accuser unclear) received fairly minor national coverage (the New York Times, for instance, ran 12 articles on the LaSalle case, five of which were on the acquittal or the attempts of the accused players or their coaches to move on from the scandal).
Second, the ESPN report is sympathetic to Neal. It allows him to discuss the "stigma" of the charges, notes that the charges cost him a scholarship and any chance of playing in the NBA immediately after college, and shows how even unproven charges can have horrific effects on the wrongly accused. Yet even this sympathetic account, and even after a trial that resulted in an acquittal, cannot bring itself to remove the mask of anonymity from Neal's accuser.]