Monday, November 14, 2011

Duke & Penn State

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.


Anonymous said...

You might be interested in those moment from Brodhead's past. Not at all surprising given what we have learned about this man:

"Richard Brodhead, later the Duke University President who precipitously condemned the lacrosse team, told the Yale community that Lasaga was leaving for “personal reasons”. He described Lasaga as “an extraordinarily energetic and devoted master, as well as a popular teacher and a leading scholar in the field of environmental sciences”. An article by the Philadelphia Inquirer a few months later quoted Brodhead as saying that Lasaga was “a man of intellectual eminence. He’s not just another professor; he was a great citizen of this place."

Anonymous said...

The irony of the situation you describe is that Penn State cannot create new policies and procedures to "fix the problem." The cause of the problem is the alleged behavior of a single individual. No amount of testing, background checks, or oversight is going weed out these individuals. The coaches and administrators who were aware of the problem were also aware of the correct course of action and chose not to follow it. Again, no new rules or oversight would prevent this from happening in the future. Penn State has already done the right thing by firing everyone involved. The people who remain at Penn State did not and could not have known about these incidents and therefore have done nothing wrong. Universities are just collections of people, and if none of the people at Penn State are at fault, how can we continue to blame the institution itself? It seems to me that people are upset and looking to blame everyone possible. Penn State will do some damage control, some image management, and some rebranding, but nothing of any substance. Which makes sense as there is nothing of substance that could, or should, be done.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the comparable issue here really the horrific story of Duke administrator Frank Lombard and his adopted son? Unspeakable acts against a child by a university employee (not a student). The Lombard story mostly blew over for Duke, with nobody calling for the university to cancel classes, calling for all of the administration to be ousted, or suggesting that the Duke name would be sullied forever. Someone please explain the big differences between these events, because I sure don't see them.

Anonymous said...

After the Crystal Mangum Hoax, Duke University instituted a lighter burden of proof on allegations of sexual assault. Concomitantly, that means Duke instituted a lighter burden of proof on false allegations of sexual assault. MOO! Gregory

Anonymous said...


I'm responding to your question about Grand Jury recordings in this post, as you're most likely to see it here. As a defense attorney, I'm a proponent of recording Grand Jury minutes. It can be done digitally at almost no cost, taking almost no time, and it can be stored under seal in the case file so it remains secret forever -- unless it is needed for emergency purposes. The Crystal Mangum Hoax is an example of an emergency purpose.

That's just one reason for recording Grand Jury minutes. The most important reason is that the recording might act as some deterent to perjury and sharp dealing.

I would imagine that prosecutors would disagree, claiming that it would be a slippery slope to losing the cloak of secrecy around Grand Juries, and that might harm how they function. (What they won't say is that they would really be arguing against it because Grand Juries usually dispose of cases in 5 minutes, and that looks really bad. That's poor public relations! Also, police, probation and social services officers lie all the time, and that's our dirty little secret. They also tell the truth all the time. The difficulty is in determining which is occuring at any one time!). MOO! Gregory

Jim T said...

Speaking of connections in university sex scandals, check out how Brodhead handled a ,real sexual assault case ... when the perpetrator was one of his own.

Anonymous said...

Burness? Ye gods, will the rotund, no-sock-wearing argle-bargle factory ever be called to account for what he said to hammer the lacrosse coach? Will he ever get his? What a sorry excuse for a "visiting professor"....

sent my 88 cents to Duke, with special kisses for Brodhead.

skwilli said...

As a PSU alum, and blog editor of our Track Team Alumni group, I am directly impacted by all of this. My PSU experience actually contributed to my knowledge that I would have done "what was right" if put in similar circumstances. That this debacle has impacted my Alma Mater has cut deeply. It's not the values that Coach Groves instilled in us. I'll do what I can to make that known.

Thanks for the post, KC.

Anonymous said...

Just a comment from a Duke '74 alum who lives in Texas and has a son at A&M....I can barely conceive of lumping Texas A&M in with these other 2 events. The bonfire collapse was an accident--much different from the Duke hoax, Penn State's mess or the VaTech shooting--all intentional acts as far as I can see.

Anonymous said...


Don't hold your breath on Hartle replying. He's a hack.

Gary Packwood said...

If your organization is at risk for predatory behavior you will have a plan in place to deny predators the opportunity to act.

It is all about denying opportunity.

No children on campus might be a good start.

Apparently members of the Race/Gender/Class group at Duke were screaming about campus problems that were figments of their over-active imagination. Yet the Penn. State campus had very real problems.

Be that as it may, it is the job of the campus chief of police to develop the plan that will deny opportunity to all types of predators.

Yet we heard little from the Duke Police Chief and we have heard precious little from the Penn. State Police Chief.

When will we learn if both police chiefs were told to defer their planning in order to enable certain groups on campus to hang themselves with their own rope?

Anonymous said...

There's another weird connection: Antonio Lasaga (

"Brodhead, the Duke President, had formerly been at Yale where he handled Lasaga’s departure for “personal reasons”... "

Anonymous said...

Off topic this morning, I know....but I cannot resist expressing congratulations to Coach K for being the winningest of all!!! Go Duke...

blacksburger said...

"The bonfire collapse was an accident--much different from the Duke hoax, Penn State's mess or the VaTech shooting--all intentional acts as far as I can see."

The "intentional act" at Virginia Tech was not carried out by the university, but by a deranged individual. VT administration and faculty erroneously believed that keeping central records on individuals who showed threatening or bizarre behavior was against privacy laws.

jay said...

From the New York Times: Cornel West to Take a Job in New York
Published: November 16, 2011

Cornel West, the peripatetic public intellectual and political activist, plans to finish out a teaching career that has taken him from Yale to Harvard to Princeton by moving back this coming summer to Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, where he began as an assistant professor in 1977.

Anonymous said...

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.

We are ashamed that our leaders who preach doing the right thing and "success with honor" dishonored all of us with their inaction over an alleged child-abuse scandal. We are embarrassed by the way we are being portrayed, as a football-centric school that would let a child molester walk if that meant our name would stay clean.

But this I know: We are a school with a glorious tradition, a school dedicated to doing things the right way. Our longtime father figure, Joe Paterno, taught us that.

Penn state alum quoted in Peter King SI week 10 NFL season.

A glorious tradition dedicated to doing things the right way as taught by Joe Paterno contrasts to

If your organization is at risk for predatory behavior you will have a plan in place to deny predators the opportunity to act.

It is all about denying opportunity.
which would seem to be the right way to do things.

Anonymous said...

Today is the 12th anniversary of the Bonfire collapse.

skwilli said...

The high ideals are not at fault. Failing to live up to them is the problem.

Anonymous said...

EEEK!!!. The major paper at Penn State is the Centre Daily Times... The Patriot is out of Harrisburg which is over 1.5 hr drive. People in SCE ready the CDT, not Harrisburg's paper.