A couple of intriguing connections in the media coverage between the Penn State scandal and the Duke case crossed my desk in the past week.
The first comes in a well-done piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on how the scandal might affect the university in the long term. The article contains the following passage:
It could be years before the legal case runs its course. In the meantime, the university needs to focus on the messages it presents to the world and figure out the right strategies to get those messages across, says John F. Burness, a visiting professor of public policy at Duke University, who was its chief spokesman during the 2006 lacrosse scandal.
"While Penn State is probably best known for its football program and iconic coach, it has a lot of academic quality across the board," he said. "In the long run, that won't be changed at all, and will very much help them get out of the current chasm they're in."
I suspect that Burness is correct, although at this stage I wouldn’t be confident in the prediction—in part because I’m not at all certain that Penn State has much of a reputation for “academic quality across the board,” in part because this affair has the potential to exact even more damage depending on how the civil lawsuits proceed.
That said, it’s worth using the Burness quote to note the difference between this scandal and that at Duke: at Penn St., there’s no evidence of any wrongdoing by any academic units. At Duke, by contrast, the scandal quickly called into question the “academic quality” of dozens of faculty members, who seemed unable or unwilling to unable to evaluate evidence that contradicted their preconceived race/class/gender worldview.
Late last week, the Patriot-News, the major newspaper in the Penn State area, also examined the issue of the potential damage to the long-term Penn State “brand.” The article featured extensive quotes and summaries of previous university episodes of bad publicity (Duke, Texas A&M, and Virginia Tech) from Terry Hartle, a vice president at the American Council on Education (ACE). The council describes itself as “the major coordinating body for all of the nation's higher education institutions, seeks to provide leadership and a unifying voice on higher education issues and to influence public policy through advocacy, research, and program initiatives.” Given the obsession with certain types of diversity in contemporary higher education, it’s not hard to determine ACE’s reflexive position on “diversity” issues.
Hartle was paraphrased in the following way:
In all three cases, the universities organized themselves to determine the root causes of the crisis put policies and procedures in place to ensure it never happens again and fairly quickly re-established credibility and confidence with various public audiences.
It’s difficult to determine what Hartle could have been talking about when he suggested that Duke had done anything that resembled reforming its policies or procedures to ensure that something like the university’s response to the lacrosse case never occurs again. The university, of course, has spent lots of money in legal fees and settlements—but those efforts have, in part, been undertaken to protect the rush-to-judgment contingent among the faculty.
The university reappointed its president, and retained the same faculty hiring patterns that appeared to foster the rush-to-judgment attitude. It doesn’t appear that even any of the faculty members were punished in any way for their dubious and in a few cases unethical conduct. Indeed, several Group of 88 members have been promoted to deanships. Duke consistently has avoided any kind of investigation into why the administration and faculty so disastrously rushed to judgment and abridged their students' rights—the episodes that prompted the university to settle out of court with the falsely accused players and remain at issue in the unindicted players' suit. If a lacrosse-like case emerged at Duke tomorrow, it's hard to imagine things would play out much differently at the university than they did in 2006.
While I know little of the Texas A&M case, Duke appears to be the anti-Virginia Tech. While VT undertook a full inquiry, and changed procedures to make sure that a student like the shooter never again fell through the cracks, Duke appears to have taken the reverse approach. But, of course, for a university convinced that it must do nothing to reduce the emphasis on "diversity" in hiring patterns or regarding curricular matters, Duke's response comes as little surprise.
I e-mailed Hartle to ask him what he was talking about in his comments regarding Duke. He did not reply.