Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Group of 88

88 members of the Duke faculty—including 11 members of its History Department, among them such luminaries as William Chafe and Claudia Koonz—and 15 academic departments or programs recently signed a public statement saying they were “listening” regarding allegations against the Duke lacrosse team. The statement spoke of “what happened to this young woman” (which at that point consisted of nothing more than uncorroborated allegations) and gave a message to campus protesters: “Thank you for not waiting” until the police completed their investigation. Activities of these campus protesters, as we now all know, included such items as the “wanted” poster and branding the team “rapists.”

In today’s Newsweek, a student at predominantly African-American North Carolina Central carried the Duke 88’s thinking to its logical, if absurd, extreme. The student said that he wanted to see the Duke students prosecuted “whether it happened or not. It would be justice for things that happened in the past.”

Newsweek also became the second major news outlet (ABC is the other) to have received access to the exculpatory evidence of one of the indicted players, Reade Seligmann. (The story confirmed that the D.A. refused to review this evidence before making a charge, despite a request from defense attorneys.) According to the magazine, during or within the 16 minutes after the time of the alleged rape, Seligmann placed eight calls on his cell phone, was waiting on a curb a block away from the site of the alleged rape, where he was picked up by a cab; and he then went to an ATM machine, a fast-food restaurant, and card-swiped his way into his dorm. The cab driver has given a statement, cell-phone records exist of the eight calls, the ATM withdrawal slip was saved, and the card-swipe was timed by Duke’s security system.

At this stage, we don’t know whether a crime was committed in this case. But unless Seligmann had contact with the accuser before the alleged crime (which no one is claiming) or his defense team has engaged in a massive doctoring of evidence that fooled both Newsweek and ABC, it seems unlikely that Seligmann (who has no prior record of any misconduct, and who has received an outpouring of support in recent days from those who know him) committed any crime. In the words of Newsweek—hardly known as a bastion of overstatements—Selgimann’s “lawyer was able to produce evidence that would seem to indicate it was virtually impossible that Seligmann committed the crime.”

How many of the Duke 88 would affix their signatures to a public affirmation that they are “listening” to the exculpatory evidence of a student at their own institution, and expressing concern that local authorities could be veering toward a miscarriage of justice regarding Seligmann? Or do they “listen” only to versions of events that conform to their preconceived worldview, like the student at North Carolina Central, seeking “justice for things that happened in the past”?

[Originally posted at Cliopatria.]

Friday, April 21, 2006

Duke's Campus Culture

The Duke Chronicle has coverage of the first university-wide event, held last night, to address campus culture at Duke. Professor of African and African-American Studies Mark Anthony Neal maintained, “We need an innovated and brave curriculum that will allow our students to engage one another in a progressive manner.” Remembering that this is the same college whose philosophy chairman joked that there were few conservatives on the faculty because J.S. Mill held that conservatives aren’t very smart, I doubt that an insufficiently “progressive” curriculum is Duke’s main problem. When a student in attendance called on Duke to do more address “heretosexism” (again, not an obvious problem issue emerging from recent events), a panel member, in the words of the Chronicle reporter, “described a hypothetical situation about an incoming freshman finds out his or her future roommate is homosexual and thus requests to be paired with a different person. ‘Instead of simply letting people avoid these uncomfortable situations, we should make these students sit down and talk to each other, and to make progress in accepting one another.’”

Leaving aside the question of whether it’s a good idea to force a gay incoming freshman to live with someone who’s homophobic, it would seem to me that Duke has enough issues to consider without inventing “hypothetical” ones.

And if Duke president Richard Brodhead really is serious about using the recent events to improve campus culture, there’s an issue that should be addressed: the “campus culture” of guilty-until-proven-innocent exhibited by a vocal faction of the student body and a very vocal minority of the faculty in the initial weeks after reports of the rape accusation emerged. Duke is, after all, a campus where, before even hearing both sides’ initial version of events, students and some faculty held candlelight vigils and protests with slogans such as “Real men don't protect rapists”; where a prominent faculty member, Afro-Am Studies professor Houston Baker, issued a public letter urging that the lacrosse players be dismissed from school; where students produced a “wanted” poster with photographs of 43 of the 46 white lacrosse players, accusing the players of withholding evidence, with one student participant noting, “It is dangerous to wait for the conclusion of the criminal investigation because the community, in strong numbers, have raised their voices of what this means to the history of the University.”

It’s easy, of course, to question such behavior in retrospect—now that we’ve seen two arrests based on a photo ID that seems, to put it charitably, procedurally flawed. That the accuser was only shown photos of members of the lacrosse team perhaps explains why at least one of the two arrested players seems to have overwhelming evidence that he wasn’t even at the house at the time the alleged rape occurred. (The second, meanwhile, claims to have been at a restaurant at the time of the party, and media reports suggest that he’s not shown in any of the party photos.) And the searches of the arrested players’ rooms—conducted, perplexingly, after rather than before the arrests—yielded nothing more incriminating than a newspaper article on the case and an Ipod., coming after a DNA test that the D.A. had publicly promised would identify the guilty instead produced no matches.

From where does this campus guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality originate? In Shadow University, Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate suggest one culprit—campus “judicial” systems. At many institutions, a student accused of sexual harassment or assault isn’t entitled to counsel. (My favorite such story in the Kors/Silvergate book involved MIT, which allowed the accused’s family members but not lawyers into campus disciplinary hearings—a policy changed after Alan Dershowitz’s nephew was hauled up on sexual harassment allegations, and Dershowitz got access to the hearing as the uncle of the accused.) Similarly, at many institutions, the accused (or his representatives) cannot cross-examine the accuser, and sometimes can’t even be in the same room when the accuser relays her story. In short, campus disciplinary proceedings relating to alleged sexual offenses often lack any semblance of due process: the accused really is guilty until proven innocent, just as the Duke protesters of a few weeks back, and professors like Houston Baker, maintained about the Duke lacrosse players.

The recent Chronicle coverage suggests a shift in campus attitudes regarding the case—a recognition that at least one of the players seems to have been falsely accused, and that people are innocent until proven guilty, especially in a case like this, where so much exculpatory evidence exists. But I rather doubt that we’ll see Duke examine the “campus culture” that led to events such as the “wanted” poster. Instead, like the panelist at last night’s campus forum who addressed the issue of “heretosexism,” those on campus who previously deemed the lacrosse players guilty will speak of a “hypothetical” case in which the facts better fit their preconceived view.

[Originally posted at Cliopatria.]

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Duke News

There aren't too many people who have come out of the current Duke controversy looking good, but there are two that have performed about as well as possible, it seems to me, under current circumstances. The first is the editor (and by extension, the reporters) of the Duke student newspaper, the Chronicle, whose coverage has been first-rate. As the Crimson demonstrated last spring during the Summers controversy, student newspapers with talented reporters can actually outperform the regular media on campus stories.

The second is Duke's president, Richard Brodhead. He--quite appropriately, it seems to me--suspended and then cancelled the lacrosse season; based on the most benign interpretations of their actions, many of the lacrosse players were guilty of conduct unbecoming university students and gravely embarrassing the school. He's reached out to students and administrators at NCCU. At the same time, he's avoided any rush to judgment--unlike a handful of Duke professors, led by Afro-Am studies professor Houston Baker, who essentially advocated dismissing the lacrosse students from school. (Baker, alas, looks mild compared to Jesse Jackson, who yesterday promised that the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition would pay the accuser's tuition, even if her story proved false.)

That said, I was somewhat troubled by Brodhead's rather weak response to events of last Thursday. In the latest in what has seemed a poorly managed investigation, the Durham police gained entry, without warrants and apparently without the assistance of the Duke police, to Duke dorms and attempted to interrogate several lacrosse players, who all sides knew had lawyers. When asked about the matter Friday, Brodhead said he didn't know enough about the issue to comment, and hasn't said anything since.

While Brodhead is obviously in a very difficult position, if I were a Duke parent, I would have expected more from him on this matter. From the standpoint of legal ethics, the police were clearly in the wrong; pragmatically, the DNA and photo evidence of the past week, while not exonerating the players, substantially boosted their presumption of innocence. In an era of speech codes, when universities often improperly act in loco parentis, there are times when administrators ought to act in loco parentis. Police offers attempting to gain access to dorms to question students without their lawyers' presence is one such instance.

[Originally posted at Cliopatria.]