Sunday, October 01, 2006

Black Panthers Welcome, Duke Students Not?

"As an institution we support free speech, and we will treat them like any other group," Duke Vice President for Public Affairs and Community Relations John Burness recently said.

He was speaking of the New Black Panthers Party.

Could it possibly be Duke's contention that leaders of an organization listed as a hate group by both the ADL and the SPLC can exercise their First Amendment rights on campus, but that the institution's own students cannot do so?

One of the few encouraging developments of the Duke lacrosse case has been the work of Duke Students for an Ethical Durham, a grassroots student organization committed to registering Duke students in time for the November election. According to its mission statement, the group seeks "to encourage students to fulfill their civic obligation to register and vote in Durham County." DSED has received favorable press coverage from the N&O, from Greta Van Susteren of FOX News, and from the AP. In recent weeks, DSED activists have gone "door-to-door" to register students. They have set up tables on campus. They have networked with their friends and classmates. And they have tried to sign up voters at Duke social events.

It seems as if most Duke students are dissatisfied with the status quo in Durham. How could they not be, given the police have an official policy of disproportionately punishing Duke students?

It appears, on the other hand, that the administration of Richard Brodhead and the Duke arts and sciences faculty are quite satisfied with Durham's current political leadership. After all, neither Brodhead nor any member of the arts and sciences faculty have publicly questioned any of the myriad procedural violations of D.A. Mike Nifong, while some Duke professors, such as the Group of 88, have acted to facilitate Nifong's efforts. But surely, an impartial observer would think, Duke as an institution must strongly endorse the right of its students to participate in the political system?

Guess again. Over the past few hours, I've learned from multiple sources of a potentially troubling situation at today's Duke football game. I have been told that DSED activists, along with members of Duke sports teams, were prevented from registering students at the stadium, for reasons that remain unclear.

[Updated, 12.01am: I have confirmed that Athletic Department officials prevented Duke lacrosse players from entering, or going near, the stadium with voter registration forms. I have reviewed, again, Duke's student code of conduct, an item on which I have previously written. While draconian in nature, it contains no provision that could justify preventing current Duke students, with valid ID's, from attempting to register other Duke students to vote in Durham.]

I'm unaware of any other Duke policy that would prevent students with valid Duke ID's from engaging in this activity. After all, credit card companies sign up students at Duke sporting events. Moreover, registering voters has a long association with the academy, dating from the 1960s, when college students sought to register African-American voters in the South.

Could it be that the Brodhead administration actually wants Nifong to prevail in November, and fears that Duke students might cast ballots for the Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek option? Nifong's career, obviously, hangs in the balance absent a trial--without his hung jury, the district attorney surely understands that the odds of the state bar's ethics committee disbarring him increase astronomically.

But Brodhead's fate, too, is tied to the district attorney's successful prosecution of this case. If the case is dismissed on procedural grounds or collapses of its own weight, even Duke's extraordinarily passive trustees will have to start asking hard questions as to why the administration did nothing to protest Nifong's procedural misconduct, even as the public voice of the institution's faculty actually facilitated Nifong's efforts.

[Updated, 1.26pm: John Burness has responded, for which I am grateful. He replies,
I learned of this issue last night and the answer is fairly straightforward. Apparently the students wanted to set up a voter registration mechanism in the stadium; While the athletics department permits a wide range of activities outside the stadium without prior approval, for reasons I am confident you can appreciate, it doesn't permit activities within the stadium without prior notice and approval. I was told the students, perhaps unaware of this, had made no such request and were thus turned away.

I know there are many voter registration activities underway at Duke, sponsored by students and in conformity with federal mandates to encourage such activities.
This response raises additional questions:
  1. I have been told by several people involved with DSED that, in fact, they did obtain permission well beforehand.
  2. It is my understanding that the players were not "turned away" from the stadium, but confronted by an Athletics Department official at the building where they congregated to pick up the registration form. If, of course, the players hadn't sought advance permission, I wonder how Athletics Department officials knew when and where the players would be picking up registration forms?
  3. If, in fact, Duke now claims that it never gave permission, why (in light of Burness' own statement) did Duke officials not simply tell the players that they were free to gather signatures outside the stadium, but not inside it?
This item will be updated as additional information becomes available.

[Update, Tuesday, 12.22am: Statement (1) above is inaccurate: I have been told that the students never did obtain permission to set up a table inside the stadium. They asked for such permission: Duke officials cited a "p.r." and a precedent problem; and while never gave a firm no, didn't give permission, either. My apologies for the error.

DSED representatives did make several requests, however, and so seem to have supplied prior notice. It also is still unclear to me what rationale existed for stopping attempted registrations from outside the stadium. John Burness has promised to look into this issue for me; I have also emailed him with two additional questions, and will post on this issue as soon as I receive information back from him.]


Anonymous said...

That is outrageous. All that those students are trying to do is to register other students to vote. They are not even supporting any particular candidate. What objection can Duke possibly have to this? Simply outrageous.

Anonymous said...

That's the last straw. I will never again respond to anything Duke sends me. I am done, forever. I never go back on my word either.

Anonymous said...

This guy Burness is sooo bad, sooo incompetent and has been there for sooo long. High ranking positions are the reward for incompetence in the Duke administration. The Duke students deserve much better and they will ultimately vote with their feet. Duke will begin an inexorable slide and it will be traced to this lacrosse affair and the Brodhead administration's wrongheaded response.

Anonymous said...

As a fellow "Broadhead" hater, I too am distressed by the events that have alleged to occured at the stadium yesterday. However, I submit that the athletic department has the right to prevent any type of solicitation it so desires inside the stadium during an athletic event. If the university suddenly disallows the organization to solicit elsewhere on campus after permission has been properly sought from the appropiate source, I will be a little more than upset.

It's a football game, not a political rally. Duke football doesn't need any additional distractions.

AMac said...

anonymous 4:13 AM wrote:

As a fellow "Broadhead" hater...

Er, I haven't read anything on this blog that would qualify its author as a 'Broadhead hater.' Johnson has, repeatedly, asked that President Brodhead stand up for due process by Durham Law Enforcement, and that he align Duke's Administration with the fundamental principles of the Academy.

That's not hate. It's a call for responsible leadership.

So, anonymous 4:13 AM: why don't you substantiate your implict charge with quotes, or withdraw it?

AMac said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

3 minor points
First, Duke allows vendors to sign people up for MC/VISA at Duke football games, but not to register students (or others) to exercise their constitutional rights? There's a message here somewhere...
Second, the students (including lacrosse players) were not there to demonstrate or detract from the game, but simply to register voters, which in no way would have been disruptive. (What, the football team would have lost 44-0 instead of 37-0? Besides, I played at Duke-nothing is more disruptive than playing for a perenially terrible team!)
Third, Brodhead has made clear that athletics reports directly to him, so it is explicitly or implicitly his doing that an Asst AD shut this down.
As Plato said of the dwellers in limbo, it is "sad, and laughable, and strange."

kcjohnson9 said...

To the 4.13am:

It is my understanding that DSED went through proper channels and obtained permission--and that proof exists that the organization obtained permission. The administration then, for reasons that remain unclear, revoked that permission.

Two broader points: (1) from a legalistic standpoint, Duke might consider it OK to allow credit card solicitations outside the stadium, but not voter registration efforts. From a p.r. standpoint, for an institution of higher education, that seems to me an untenable position.

(2) The legal bar for restricting student First Amendment rights is very high, even for private universities.

Anonymous said...

Brodhead has to go, we will see to it that he does.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the response k.c.- I will look for a story about how the organization was denied access to the stadium after obtaining the proper permits. As to those whinning about credit card hawkers verses the crusading students, The credit card vendors PAY to be on site and agree to the rules set down by the AD in advance.
The bar for restricting students rights at a public, for profit sporting event are not so high.
To amac: Sorry to imply that k.c. is a hater, was refering to the commenters only.

Anonymous said...

And the Duke students don't PAY extremely high tuition to be at that university?

Anonymous said...

To the 4:13 post - judging by their record, the Duke football team is distracted and it has nothing to do with lacrosse. Shame on this spineless institution.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. What is the tuition, 45,000 $ a year?
I am amazed Duke has a problem with students trying to convince other students to do their civic duty, but it apparently does. Will the wonders never cease? What exactly is Duke’s problem toward students who are interested in politics? Or does Duke’s administration actually hope Nifong gets elected, and scared that more students are going to vote against him than for him?

Anonymous said...

As a poster said on one of the entries a few weeks ago, change the groups represented and see who switches position. For instance, if a group of students tried to have a voter registration booth targeting minority voters, female voters, GLBT voters, etc, would the administration still bar them? Doubtful, because that would be politically incorrect. But it's acceptable to bar these students, because their perceived cause does not violate any of the PC maxims.

Anonymous said...

10:27 poster: Is there any doubt in your mind that Duke Administration has become the biggest advocate of Nifong? Why, of course they want Nifong to win; so that they look good at the end of all this! And, yes, of course they want Nifong to win the case and send the Duke three to jail. You guessed it, so that they look good at the end of this!

Brodhead and his administration will fail, and they will not look good at the end of this. Americans hate spineless lying cowards and those sentiments will come through. I have faith in my fellow men and women to see through these liars cowards. Their days are numbered. They will be looking for a place to hide soon.

Anonymous said...

How are they going to look good in the end of this if the Duke Three go to jail?
One would think they would want their students exonerated. But I guess that only applies to students who go to Armenia.
Brodhead did claim he wants the students “proved innocent.” Did he lie about that? Does he actually want them convicted?

Anonymous said...

Check out Brodhead's actions at Yale.

Anonymous said...

11:25 poster: I am absolutely sure Brodhead wants these kids convicted - so he will say "see what did I tell you?"

Come to think of it, Brodhead’s survival at Duke does depend on these kids' conviction (innocent or guilty, it doesn’t make much difference, not to him). Otherwise, Brodhead is toast and history. I predict he is toast and history regardless of the outcome. He just doesn't know it yet, or refuses to acknowledge it and go like a man.

Anonymous said...

This is yet another example of why officials in high positions should never take a public stance in regard to the guilt or innocence of parties in a criminal trial - they cannot back down without suffering a huge loss of prestige.
The fact that Brodhead et al are willing to attempt to protect Nifong in this transparent and shameful fashion is an indication of how exposed they must feel as they re-read their earlier statements in connection with this hoax.
If, as seems likely, the Nifong orchestrated sham collapses under its own putrid weight and the total innocence of the 3 kids is unmistakeable - how will Bradheads statements look (and smell) when read in the glare of that new light?
Publically resisting the efforts of your own students to encourage lawful, non-partisan participation in the democratic process is the action of a very worried University leadership.
It matters now more than ever to keep them getting away with this. After all, they keep raising the stakes.

Anonymous said...

Penn students should capitalize on right to vote in this election

by Amy Gutmann, President, University of Pennsylvania

September 8th, 2004.

The Daily Pennsylvanian, Guest Column, page A6. Volume 120, no. 68.


As one of the most hotly contested U.S. presidential elections in history draws closer, American democracy needs a shot of that Penn resolve. Political campaigns should stimulate a robust, mutually respectful debate over competing perspectives, culminating in heavy voter turnout.


And we need more engaged citizens who inform themselves of the issues and vote their informed preferences.

Nothing would make me prouder of being Penn's president than to see Penn students begin to turn the tide of recent history from impoverished polemics and political apathy to mutually respectful deliberation and active engagement.

There is no better place to begin pursuing political empowerment than a great university like Penn. In the weeks ahead, Penn students will have many opportunities to discuss the relevant issues and to register to vote.


Of course, any student is also free to dodge this teachable moment. But those who sit out the election will exercise in the negative the once hard-won right of every citizen to speak out publicly and to vote.[snip]My generation fought hard to extend the franchise to 18 to 20 year olds, and cheered when the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified in 1971. It pains me to see that precious right to vote squandered.

But I am a stubborn optimist. I know that it is within the power of Penn's extraordinary students to elevate the level of discourse to heights that would make our Founders proud, and to vote in proportions that will prove the possibility of increasing voter turnout significantly in these troubled times. And I look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with our students as we rise to the challenge of uniting behind the glory of American democracy by responsibly exercising our constitutionally-given rights.

Anonymous said...

Just the number of comments on this subject is encouraging!

Daddyx4 said...

love the comments. excellent and give great hope.

that said...i recently attended a party at duke with broadhead. from what i saw and heard from those in attendance with power/responsibility - this man is going nowhere. ultimately, he is judged on his fundraising prowess not his weak response to this situation. this does not mean that he could not ultimately make more mistakes and tank his chances of survival.

certainly, he is no terry sanford, however, these acts of the students are not like those encountered in the late sixties and early seventies either.

with broadhead's past at yale, i was not a supporter to bring him to duke. i would like to see him elsewhere and a stronger leader on campus.

i like the discussion and feel that we can still make a difference. i simply wouldn't put much faith in the idea that broadhead's job will be affected.

Anonymous said...

I agree; he'll keep his job. I think what most people are looking for is an unqualified public apology from Broadhead. That and perhaps and admission that Duke's actions (statements, the two faculty groups, etc) served only to inflame the community.

Broadhead has been doing well with the fundraising but that's always an 'iffy' thing. Fundraising is important but so are the other metrics that allow Duke to move 'up' in the rankings. But yes, he will have many years ahead of him and is not the leech that Vanderbilt's president is (they spend tons on remodeling, parties, and the like without proper oversight - his wife smoked weed in the house, etc).

Anonymous said...

This is pretty sad. It's incredible to me that the Duke administration would want to protect Nifong at the expense of three Duke students. But I have to say, that's how it looks. What other explanation is there?

I guess they feel they are protecting themselves too given the tone of their comments throughout the course of this disaster. That doesn't make it right though. Can't anyone admit they made a mistake anymore? Do they really want these kids to go to jail so they won't have to admit they were wrong? If that's what's going on it's pathetic.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me the priority is to lend whatever assistance possible to help the Duke students get their registration numbers up. The deadline to register is October 12, if I recall correctly. A few hundred votes could decide this election. Here are the results of the May 2 primary:

Mike Nifong- 11,168 45%
Freda Black- 10,269 42%
Keith Bishop- 3,288 13%

Any thoughts on what we can do?

Anonymous said...

This was sent today, 10/2/06

October 2, 2006

Chief, Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
Room 7254 - NWB
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Sir:

It has been alleged that on Saturday, September 30, 2006, Duke University officials forcibly prevented on campus voter registration efforts at the university’s football game.

Duke Students for an Ethical Durham ( is a student organization whose mission statement reads in part, “…seeks to encourage students to fulfill their civic obligation to register and vote in Durham County.” They attempted to fulfill that mission at a university football game. Reportedly, they went through “channels” and obtained permission from university officials in accordance with university rules. As they gathered prior to the game to pick up their forms, they were confronted by officials and prevented from accomplishing any voter registration.

On its face, this action by Duke University officials would seem to be a violation of the federal Higher Education Act, which encourages campus voter registration.

This letter shall serve as a formal complaint to you and a charge to investigate said allegation. I look forward to a prompt response, as registration deadline is October 13, 2006.


Walter C. Abbott III

Cc: President Richard H. Brodhead
Duke University

Duke Students for an Ethical Durham

Anonymous said...

A Few Reiterating Insights

A little birdie told me that an administrator expressed that the participating students were registering voters with an intended bias. NOTE: the students were wearing t-shirts that said "Voice Your Choice". They said nothing about Cheeks/NiFong/Lacrosse.

This was, to me at least, the obvious reason they were denied to carry on their civic duty. Why would Duke administrators want their 4 yr students to have any impact on long-term decisions in Durham?

Back to the logistics: the target voters for this campaign are Duke students. Anyone who goes to Duke knows that during a football game...the students are in the parking lot.

Burness is either a liar or worse, was never informed that the students were nixed for attempts at any and all events surrounding the game (please feel free to "Voice Your Choice" word for Burness). Nobody was banking on registering students inside the stadium. Unfortunately, you can't register Wahoo fans from Virginia.

Students were shut down completely--I heard they were told that they would be escorted off campus property if they didn't comply.

Anonymous said...

To above poster - wow, I'm just rendered speechless by that. I really hope someone makes the Duke administration explain themselves.

Anonymous said...

We, the Duke alumni, are the only ones who can do anything about Brodhead. It is between us and those annual giving envelopes. Start stuffing those envelopes with letters of discontent instead of fat checks, and than you will see if Brodhead has something to fear about or not.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe at all that Brodhead wants a conviction. I don't believe at all that there is a conspiracy among Duke administrators to keep Duke students from registering and voting in Durham. A bureaucracy will generally say no to any unusual activitiy request; it doesn't want to set a precedent for anything unusual. I'm not surprised that permission to register voters inside the stadium was not granted. Some students prefer to vote in their home states where important races or issues are at stake also; there is nothing wrong with that.

Anonymous said...

Update on my letter to the USDOJ yesterday: I had a conversation with AUSA Ben White of the NC Middle District. My letter to him:

Mr. Ben White
Assistant US Attorney
Middle District of North Carolina
P. O. Box 1858
Greensboro, NC 27402

Dear Sir:

This letter is to document our conversation of today, October 3, 2006 in re: Duke University student voter registration efforts (see attached letter).

Your response was, “Duke is private property, so they (Duke) can do what they want,” and “No one is preventing the students from going downtown and registering.” You said that you had not heard any complaints from the students themselves and would like to hear from them directly. You also questioned whether or not Duke students would be eligible to vote.

Please advise if my recollection is faulty or that you remember the conversation differently.


Walter C. Abbott III

Cc: John K. Tanner, Chief
Voting Section, USDOJ

Anna Mills S. Wagoner
US Attorney, Middle
District of NC

Anonymous said...

To 4:35 PM poster:

Law School - Voter Registration!


Time: 12:00 PM until 1:00 PM

Location:Outside the library


Summary: The November 7th elections are just around the corner! Stop by our table to update your voter registration, or to register to vote for the first time. Sponsored by the Duke Law Democrats, for more information please contact [snip].

Anonymous said...

I thought I couldn't get more angry about this. I thought wrong. According to LieStoppers, Monks was allowed to distribute his campaign literature both at Tailgate and inside the stadium. But Duke students weren't allowed to register other students to vote - anywhere. If someone can explain this to me, please do.

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh at the letter to the Department of Justice. The idea that just because Duke restricts voter registration activities on its own private property it is somehow engaged in a massive violation of the civil rights laws is just ludicrous. I would have thought that anyone with a college education would understand this. To me, the letter and the highly predictable response by the DOJ just go to show how out of touch with reality some of the LAX team parents and supporters really are.

Anonymous said...

Professor Johnson,

The October 13 issue of The Chronicle contains a front page story about a big BBQ organized by DSED and the LAX players and held on the West Campus Plaza at Duke the main purpose of which was to register students to vote in the upcoming elections. The article quotes one of the leaders of DSED as saying how pleased she is at the number of students they have been able to register. I would say that this convincingly demonstrates that the main point of your article, that the Duke Administration has been engaged in some sort of evil conspiracy to prevent students from voting because they want to keep Nifong in office and make sure the LAX players get convicted, is completely wrong and that the many shrill comments from your audience expressing outrage at this massive and evil violation of the civil rights laws are also completely wrong. Would you agree?