Put yourself in the position of editor of Duke Magazine. You have received two letters, but only have space to publish one. The first comes from a well-known alum who the magazine quoted to provide a semblance of balance to an otherwise one-sided May 2006 article on the lacrosse case.
The second comes from a discredited professor whose claim to fame is authoring a faculty statement cited in the defense change-of-venue motion and having listed two books as “forthcoming” for the last 10 years.
In the Wonderland that is
The first letter, of course, came from Jay Bilas, who became the highest-profile figure connected with Duke to publicly call for the resignation of President Richard Brodhead and BOT chairman Bob Steel. Since the letter didn’t make it into the print version of the magazine, it’s worth re-posting:
A true leader has the vision and courage to recognize what is right, especially in the face of adversity, and fears not the consequences of unreasonable response. A true leader needs not the benefit of hindsight to make clear the right path. From March 2006 to date, President Brodhead’s mishandling of the challenges presented has proven him incapable of effectively leading Duke into the future.
While President Brodhead can point to a few ineffectually communicated words here and there for a feeble claim that he “emphasized” the protection of the rights of Duke’s students, his claim fails the laugh test. The vast majority of his words and actions, and in many cases his silence, emphasized an aura of guilt of the students and of the university. From the beginning, President Brodhead abdicated his responsibility as Duke’s leader to stand up for fairness and truth. Instead, President Brodhead chose the path of political expediency. He failed to effectively counter factually inaccurate and inappropriate statements about Duke and its students, failed to forcefully speak out against procedural irregularities, and failed to take appropriate action in response to repeated attacks upon the due process rights of Duke’s students. That is unacceptable.
If such failures in leadership are not enough, for the same reasons that President Brodhead forced the resignation of lacrosse coach Mike Pressler—because confidence in his ability to lead had been compromised, and a need to move forward in a new direction—President Brodhead should resign or be dismissed. And, based upon [trustee chair] Bob Steel’s letter of April 11, 2007, in which Mr. Steel stated that the board agreed with the principles President Brodhead established and the actions he took, the resignation of Mr. Steel and any board members that acted in lock step with President Brodhead are also appropriate.
Jay Bilas ‘86, J.D. ‘92
Charlotte, North Carolina
Bilas, it’s worth remembering, has been a voice of sanity throughout this affair. He spoke up on behalf of Duke athletics in the May-June 2006 article. He challenged negative portrayals of the lacrosse team in an appearance on ESPN2; and he appeared at Duke’s October 2006 media forum on the case, where he criticized the rush to judgment. And, perhaps most important, he reached out to members of the lacrosse team, addressing them (at Coach Danowski’s request) to celebrate the rebirth of the program.
Most people, I suspect, would consider Bilas’ piercing criticism to be newsworthy—or at least more significant than the letter that did make it into the magazine’s print version:
I’m writing to ask for a correction or clarification of a factual error in your article “One Year Later” [May-June 2007]. You quote Professor Michael Gustafson, who refers to “Lubiano’s reference to the players as ‘perfect offenders.’“ Professor Gustafson is incorrect. I did not call the players perfect offenders.
The essay [he refers to] discusses at some length the rhetoric that circulated in the immediate wake of the incident. I wrote there that some of the rhetoric coming “either from those defending the alleged offenders or those defending the alleged victim, is rhetoric driven, haunted, by a fight over whether or not we have offenders who can be seen as ‘perfect’ in their villainy” or “a victim whose victimage can be seen as necessarily complete and thus ‘perfect.’“
Throughout that essay I tried to make sense of, and wrote about the perspectives of, those who were defenders of the alleged victim or of the team. Among other things, I argued that in discussing the need of those who were critical of the team to intensify what they saw as the players’ “perfectness as offenders,” various differences (ethnic, wealth, behavioral) among the players that complicated this picture had to disappear. That essay attempted to explain the flattening out of complexities in the general public discussion. Its entire five and a half pages are accessible to you and to Duke Magazine readers via the Duke African & African American Studies blogspot:
Those who follow the link are greeted with an essay (published by a tenured professor in literature) entitled, “‘A Social Diasater’” [sic]—which might make it difficult to take seriously anything else Lubiano has to say.
Here’s how Stuart and I summarized Lubiano’s essay in UPI:
Shortly after the Group of 88 ad appeared, Lubiano expressed pleasure “that the Duke administration is getting the point’: The banging of pots and pans had hammered home that a specific claim to innocence mattered little. The members of the team, she noted, could be considered “almost perfect offenders,” since they were “the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus.” (Many months later, Lubiano would suggest that she didn’t mean that she considered the players to be “perfect offenders,” but the tenor of her springtime statements and actions belied this interpretation of her remarks.) Lubiano concluded by promising that the crusade to transform Duke would continue “regardless of the ‘truth’ established in whatever period of time about the incident at the house on N. Buchanan Blvd.” and “whatever happens in the court case.”
In essence, the argument in Lubiano’s Duke Magazine letter boiled down to a claim that she (a tenured Literature professor at Duke) couldn’t produce an essay written clearly enough to communicate her own meaning. This is the same Wahneema Lubiano who:
- authored the guilt-presuming Group of 88 ad, with its claims (since rebutted) that five Duke departments officially endorsed its contents;
- fantastically claimed at the March 30, 2006 faculty meeting that the Brodhead administration was being too sympathetic to team members;
- appeared on an April 12, 2006 panel that floated the idea that things were “moving backwards” on campus as a result of the negative DNA tests;
- told the N&O, after the arrests of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, that “people can’t imagine that the woman could have made a false rape allegation.”
- penned a May op-ed declaring that Duke needed immediately to begin “targeted teaching” to expose “the structures of racism and the not-so-hidden injuries of class entitlement in place at Duke and everywhere in this country, and without regard to banal and ordinary sexual harassment,” since “we don’t have to wait for working class or poorer students to be targeted by fraternity ‘theme’ parties or cross burnings on the quad or in dorm halls, or for sexual assaults to be attested by perfectly placed witnesses and indisputable evidence.”
So, more than a year later, Lubiano is now suggesting that she wasn’t among “those who are defenders of the victim, [to whom] the members of the team are almost perfect offenders.” It’s worth noting that there was no “alleged” in Lubiano’s April 13 essay.
What in her spring 2006 statements or actions would suggest that she differed from these unidentified “defenders of the victim [sic]”? Lubiano doesn’t say.
Yet Duke Magazine considered it more important for alums to read Lubiano’s after-the-fact rationalizations than hear the powerful dissent of Jay Bilas.
[Update, 12.13pm: Some people appear to be under the impression that the Lubiano letter was only in print, and the Bilas letter only on-line. In fact, the Lubiano letter was both in print and on-line; the Bilas letter was only on-line. And the Lubiano letter was first in the on-line string of letters; the Bilas letters was eighth.]