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May 22, 2006 9:09 pm


Duke's Party Line



This week’s National Journal contains the single best analysis of the Duke case yet to appear. Penned by national correspondent and senior writer Stuart Taylor, the article is direct. “When a petty-tyrant prosecutor has perverted and prolonged the legal process without disclosing his supposed evidence, and when academics and journalists have joined in smearing presumptively innocent young men as racist, sexist brutes—in the face of much contrary evidence—it's not too early to offer tentative judgments.”

The article describes a rogues’ gallery headed by Mike Nifong, condemned for “gross prosecutorial misconduct” in Taylor’s earlier examination of events in Durham. But Taylor does much more than simply discuss the case: he now turns his attention to the behavior of Duke and the national media as well. He correctly characterizes the document produced by William Bowen and Julius Chambers as an attempt to “slime the lacrosse players in a report . . . that is a parody of race-obsessed political correctness.” The Group of 88 earns a spot in Taylor’s rogues’ gallery for “exuding the anti-white racism and disdain for student-athletes that pollutes many college faculties,” all while “treating the truth of the rape charge almost as a given.” And he faults the national media for having “published grossly one-sided accounts of the case while stereotyping the lacrosse players as spoiled, brutish louts and glossing over the accuser's huge credibility problems.”

Taylor concludes that “the available evidence leaves me about 85 percent confident that the three members who have been indicted on rape charges are innocent and that the accusation is a lie.” And his piece went to press before three revelations in the last four days: that despite North Carolina law forbidding prosecutors from intentionally avoiding “pursuit of evidence merely because he or she believes it will damage the prosecutor's case or aid the accused,” Nifong had inexplicably failed to check the incident-night records of the accuser’s cellphone, which the authorities have possessed for eight weeks; that when Nifong publicly rationalized the lack of DNA evidence by suggesting that the attackers wore condoms, he apparently contradicted the accuser’s own initial version of events; and that, despite suggesting to Newsweek that the players might have given the accuser a date rape drug, he declined to turn over a toxicology report to the defense. None of these items should increase public confidence in a prosecutor for whom “rogue” might turn out to be an overly charitable description.

Taylor also spoke to Kerstin Kimel, a former National Defensive Player of the Year in college women’s lacrosse and the current coach of the Duke women's lacrosse team (which on Saturday earned a spot in this year’s Final Four). The men’s players, she noted, “made a very bad decision in hosting the party and hiring strippers. But I will tell you they are great kids. There is a strong camaraderie between our teams, and my players—being smart, savvy young women—would not associate with them if they felt on the whole, there was an issue of character." Kimel added that the actions of professors like the Group of 88, and the silence of their faculty colleagues, attracted her players’ notice."Being at an elite university," she observed,"where every side of every issue is debated, my kids were shocked, disillusioned, and disappointed that their professors and the university community were so one-sided in their condemnation of the lacrosse players."

Seventy days after the incident, Kerstin Kimel is, to my knowledge, the one and only full-time Duke administrator, professor, or coach who, in his or her own, voice has publicly said anything positive about any member of the men’s lacrosse team’s academic performance, athletic skill, or personal characteristics.

Academics, even academic institutions, are supposed to be open to reviewing new facts and adjusting their behavior and beliefs accordingly. Academic administrators, of course, desire above all else to avoid controversy. So confronting a prosecutor whose initial public relations burst suggested overwhelming, unimpeachable evidence of a crime surrounding an incident that unquestionably involved difficult-to-defend, though perhaps all too common, behavior (drinking, strippers), it’s easy to rationalize the early actions of Duke president Richard Brodhead (suspending the team’s games and then season, even scapegoating Coach Mike Pressler). Less explicable was Brodhead’s mid-April refusal to protest Nifong’s sending police to campus to question his own institution’s students outside the presence of their counsel. And the current party line at Duke, perhaps best reflected in the Bowen/Chambers report, is tough to defend, with facts frozen in place circa March 28, when the district attorney’s version of events seemed possibly credible and many viewed Nifong as courageous rather than a rogue.

Another manifestation, sadly, of this current Duke line is a recently published article, “A Spring of Sorrows,” in Duke Magazine. The magazine is an official publication of the university; its publisher reports to the senior vice president for alumni affairs, who in turn reports to Duke president Richard Brodhead. So it’s safe to say that messages of which Brodhead strongly disapproves do not appear in Duke Magazine.

The article contained quotes from four Duke professors, appropriately beginning with the head of the faculty senate. Then article readers heard from Anthropology professor Orin Starn, who claimed that Duke athletes receive “education lite”; previously, Starn had singled out the lacrosse team for particular condemnation: “Unlike at least some of the men's lacrosse players, most Duke athletes are smart, delightful and hard-working.” Making Starn appear moderate by comparison are the only other professors quoted in the article: Peter Wood and Houston Baker, the faculty’s two most outspoken critics of the men’s lacrosse team. Their comments are predictable, and, as more and more facts and procedural violations about the case have come to light, increasingly unsustainable.

Despite the monolithic negative faculty attitudes portrayed in the article, the Coleman Committee managed to interview 10 professors who had taught sizeable numbers of lacrosse players. Nine had wholly positive or neutral comments about team members. (The committee's report cast strong doubts upon the credibility of the tenth professor, Wood, a fact unmentioned in the article.) The report also detailed the very strong academic performance by the team members—among the best of any Duke team—calling into question, to put it mildly, the impressions of Professor Starn. The voices of Starn, Wood, and Baker are critical aspects of the campus culture. Yet while the article mentions Peter Lange’s rebuke of Baker's public letter urging due process be set aside for the lacrosse players’ enrollment at Duke, it contains no discussion of how subsequent revelations in the Coleman Committee report badly weakened the statements of Wood and Starn. Professors making public statements in a high-profile case that later turn out to be intellectually dubious strikes me as a significant item in any examination of campus culture.

To give a sense of how the Duke Magazine article handled evidence contradicting the administration’s current party line, it’s illuminating to compare the Coleman Committee’s analysis of the team’s academic performance with the article’s description of the report. The report noted the following:

The Committee surveyed ten members of the Duke faculty in whose courses a significant number of lacrosse players have enrolled. With one exception, those members of the faculty who have been able to identify lacrosse players in their classes report that the students have been engaged and “certainly have caused no problems.” The professors report that the students appear to take their academic obligations seriously. Two of the professors told the Committee that when the players had to miss class, they appropriately notified the professor and completed any make-up work. One instructor thought the lacrosse players were willing to defend unpopular positions in class, but had not been disruptive in any way. The students were generally described as polite. Two professors noted that the players tended to “move as a group.” One of these professors separated them in class, “simply because a ‘team’ in a classroom is a particular energy; but this is not different from other team members taking classes together.” One professor mentioned that he did not remember “any race or gender related problem caused by this group in my class.” Several of the professors we contacted were not aware that they had lacrosse players in their classes. There have been no charges of academic misconduct against any member of the team . . . Lacrosse players also have performed well academically. In 2005, twenty seven members of the lacrosse team, more than half, made the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Academic Honor Roll, more than any other ACC lacrosse team. Between 2001 and 2005, 146 members of the lacrosse team made the Academic Honor Roll, twice as many as the next ACC lacrosse team. The lacrosse team’s academic performance generally is one of the best among all Duke athletic teams. (The ellipsis section called into question the credibility of Professor Wood’s highly negative attitude toward the team.)

Here is how the Duke Magazine article characterizes the above material:

Such [negative] concerns [articulated by Professor Wood] notwithstanding, the faculty committee set up to review the lacrosse program painted a more nuanced picture. The comittee [sic] surveyed faculty members whose courses included significant numbers of lacrosse players. Broadly speaking, those faculty members who were able to identify lacrosse playes [sic] found that they took their academic obligations seriously—even as they tended to stick together in class.

One positive item tempered by one vague comment presented in a negative (“even as”) fashion, lacking the context of the professor’s qualification that the lacrosse team sticking together was no “different from other team members taking classes together.” No mention of the team’s impressive academic performance, as compared to other Duke teams or other lacrosse teams in the ACC. No mention that professors reported no race- or gender-related problems from team members in class. No observation on how, given some surveyed professors didn’t even realize they had large numbers of lacrosse players in their classes, it stands to reason these faculty members simply viewed the players as typical Duke students.

Perhaps two percent of all Duke graduates will read the Coleman Committee report. Duke Magazine’s characterization of that report, on the other hand, has been sent to all alumni.

Even more disturbing was the article’s examination of student attitudes regarding post-March 13 campus culture. The piece contained quotes on the case from only one student—Nick Shungu, an African-American senior. Shungu, who comes across as passionate and very intelligent, remarked that his friends considered themselves"extremely vulnerable" at Duke (not because they lived in a jurisdiction whose chief prosecutor doesn’t adhere to basic state procedures, but because the accuser’s allegations confirmed the pervasive racism at Duke.) He added his hope for the university to issue"an acknowledgement of sympathy for the alleged victim." The article also included a lengthy discussion, filtered through the head of the Duke Women’s Center, about sexual misconduct by male Duke students and the dislike of some Duke women for the campus party scene. No comments from Kimel here, nor any mention of the Coleman Committee’s conclusions regarding the lacrosse team’s positive treatment of women students and staffers on campus. Nor was there any mention of articles and editorials in the campus newspaper and other publications that as the spring term progressed, a groundswell of student support developed for the lacrosse players--or that, according to the student newspaper, views such as Shungu's fell way outside the mainstream of student opinion.

I emailed the author of the article, Robert Bliwise, to express my concerns about the piece’s imbalance, and he was gracious enough both to send me a thoughtful reply and to consent to my request that I reproduce the section below. He said that, “The main intent here was to discuss the issues of campus culture brought to the surface by the initial Buchanan Blvd. incident and its aftermath, not to gauge the particulars of the (confusing and ever-unfolding) legal case. So the notion of introducing the voices of those who ‘sympathized with the team members' plight’--or, for that matter, the voices of those whose focus might have been seeking more severe university action against the team members--seems irrelevant in this context. The point of the story was not to gauge support or lack of it, but to explain, clarify, and contextualize what had been reported.”

If Baker, Starn, Wood, and Shungu did not constitute “the voices of those whose focus might have been seeking more severe university action against the team members,” then who did? (I’m unaware of any member of the Duke community whose public criticism of the men’s lacrosse team has been more intense.) Apart from the unusual portrayal of the Coleman Committee report, the article finds no defenders of the lacrosse team, and goes off campus to find a defender of the athletic program, Duke graduate Jay Bilas of ESPN. Kerstin Kimel obviously represented an on-campus point of view that differed from those in the article; so too did editors of the campus newspaper.

Moreover, a critical—I believe the critical—issue of campus culture exposed in the “aftermath” of the lacrosse incident is wholly unmentioned in the article: that, to my knowledge, 70 days after the incident, not even one Duke administrator or faculty member has publicly questioned the procedural irregularities that have marred Nifong’s handling of the case—despite the traditional celebration in the academy of respect for proper procedures, fair play, and the impartial evaluation of evidence.

The closest parallel to this emerging Duke party line is the performance of former White House press secretary Scott McClellan during the Fitzgerald-Plame investigation. For two years, McClellan functioned as a kind of human punching bag in press briefings, saying that he couldn’t comment on “ongoing legal matters.” Everyone understood, though, that he really meant he wouldn’t entertain questions about possible misconduct by administration officials. He had no problem with saying positive things about Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, or Dick Cheney. At Duke, there seems to be a claim that professors, administrators, or the alumni association don’t consider responses to “ongoing legal matters” appropriate in their ongoing examination of campus culture. Quite apart from the fact that any student of the McCarthy or civil rights eras could discuss how professors or colleges have long, and appropriately, offered contemporaneous critiques of procedural abuses in “ongoing legal matters,” it’s clear this prohibition really applies only to positive remarks about members of the men’s lacrosse team. Critical commentary, of any type, even if contradicted by evidence in the Coleman Committee report, is perfectly acceptable, and even reproduced in such items as the Bowen/Chambers report or the alumni magazine.

There’s one big difference, though, between McClellan and Duke. McClellan’s job was to defend the actions of the President and his advisors as effectively as possible. The last I looked, neither the Duke administration nor its faculty had any obligation to do Nifong’s dirty work for him. Indeed, the district attorney has proven more than capable of handling that task himself.

Over the past two months, one of two equally horrific events has occurred in Durham. The first is that three Duke students brutally raped a defenseless woman; and, in the aftermath, more than 40 other Duke students have participated in a (stunningly effective) conspiracy to prevent facts about the crime from coming to light. The second is that a prosecutor, for personal or political reasons, has perpetrated a massive miscarriage of justice, acting as if the state bar’s ethical and procedural regulations don’t apply to him; and that Duke administrators and faculty members abetted his crusade, perhaps unwittingly, by declining to use their influence to demand procedural fair play for the school’s own students—and, in some cases, by taking actions that, as Kerstin Kimel and Stuart Taylor pointed out, suggested they believed the worst of the lacrosse players.

If Taylor, hardly a figure known for rash or intemperate judgments, proves correct in his estimate of the embarrassingly weak basis of Nifong’s case, Kimel won’t be surprised. Nor will the Duke undergraduates who came out in support of the accused players. Most others at Duke, however, will have to take a hard look at their conduct during “a spring of sorrows.”

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Ralph E. Luker - 5/25/2006

As you may recall, Baker took a stern rebuke from Duke's provost when Baker published his letter. But I'm a little astonished that you should think that the connection between inter-collegiate athletics and addictive over-consumption of alcohol are so inextricably connected. Like him or not, Mike Krzyzewski has a track record of winning basketball teams and off-court discipline among his players.


Robert KC Johnson - 5/25/2006

It's good for all involved, I suspect, that Baker is leaving Duke. But he made all his statements as a faculty member at Duke, was one of the 88 who signed the statement, and it's not as if any prof at Duke has challenged his comments (another peculiar aspect of this affair).

Regarding changing the alcohol culture, I hope you're right: I don't like it any more than you do. But Duke, for better or worse, isn't a small liberal arts college. It's a research university with more than 12,000 students combined undergrad and graduate. Standards employed at small liberal arts colleges (where the use of alcohol, just speaking from my own experience at Williams, isn't exactly non-existent) aren't likely to work.

As to tinkering with admissions processes, it's not exactly clear to me what it could do (apart from going the religious route). As the Gratz case made clear, all elite universities now prioritize affirmative action, to one degree or another, in the admissions process.

The only alternative, which it seems to me you're hinting at, is to become not the Liberty of the Triangle but the "Davidson of the Triangle"--ie, an institution that de-emphasizes athletics. You know more about Duke than I do, but my sense is that the chances of that happening are zero. Nor am I at all convinced that even if it could occur, it would be a good thing. I doubt that many, or any, of the Duke basketball players would go to Duke if it were a member of the Southern Conference rather than the ACC. But the institution would also have fewer sports, and I don't see any reason why non-revenue producing sports are any less valuable to a college than other extracurricular activities. But they are much more costly, and without the revenue-producing sports, many would be eliminated.


Ralph E. Luker - 5/25/2006

News that Houston Baker has accepted an offer from Vanderbilt is public now, so you can stop using him as the spokesperson of faculty opinion at Duke.
No, I'm suggesting that Duke could begin to deal with its peculiar alcohol problems by looking at its admissions process and by acting to change the student culture in the university community. That needn't reduce it to "the Liberty University of the Triangle," but it might enhance its reputation as an intellectual community. There are many excellent liberal arts colleges that do not exclude student drinking, but manage a student culture that isn't alcohol-centric.


Robert KC Johnson - 5/25/2006

As you know from reading the Coleman Committee report, the names of those professors weren't revealed. I'm glad they testified honestly, but my post is quite clear on this issue: "Seventy days after the incident, Kerstin Kimel is, to my knowledge, the one and only full-time Duke administrator, professor, or coach who, in his or her own, voice has publicly said anything positive about any member of the men’s lacrosse team’s academic performance, athletic skill, or personal characteristics." I never said "that no professor has said anything positive about the lacrosse team." I said that none of these professors has spoken publicly, and none have spoken in their own voice. For you, me, and the couple hundred of others who have read the Coleman Report, we can see what they say. For everyone else, the only voices of the faculty are the Group of 88, Houston Baker, and Orin Starn. That's unfortunate, and I think it reflects very poorly on Duke.

On the size issue, you remarked that you know of "perfectly respectable academic institutions such as Grinnell or St. Johns or any number of others I could name have nothing like Duke's problem with alcohol -- and they haven't become a "Liberty University" in the process." Duke is a school of 6244 (http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/resources/quickfacts.html#faculty)--I just checked--undergrads and just under 6000 grad students. Apart from fundamentalist institutions, which I think we both agree aren't the ideal, I'm unaware of any university of Duke's size that doesn't have a problem with alcohol. Duke's problem is compounded by the odd living arrangement issue--a significant number of undergrads living off campus but very close to campus. I suspect that those 400 citations by Durham authorities would plunge if, like Harvard, all Duke undergrads lived on campus. But at the same time, I doubt very much that drinking would decline. I don't like that any more than you do. But it seems to me pointless to pretend that it wouldn't be so.

You're now defining the heart of Duke's alcohol problem as the fact that the lacrosse team has alcohol-related priors in much higher proportion than other Duke students. The fact is certainly true, but the implication seems an overstretch. So, if Duke hadn't admitted the 15 lacrosse players who were cited for alcohol violations, it still would have had between 390 and 400 cases in the past academic year. I don't see how this is the heart of the problem; it seems like scapegoating to me.

I noticed from today's Sun that despite their alleged pervasive sexism, the lacrosse players are getting a public statement of support from all members of the women's lacrosse team.
http://www.herald-sun.com/durham/4-737916.html

I suppose Houston Baker would dismiss the act as typical of "white female privilege."


Ralph E. Luker - 5/25/2006

My point wasn't that Duke should reduce its enrollment to the size of Grinnell's or St. Johns' enrollments and why you thought that's what I meant is hard to understand, but that perfectly respectable academic institutions such as Grinnell or St. Johns or any number of others I could name have nothing like Duke's problem with alcohol -- and they haven't become a "Liberty University" in the process.
You know exactly what I meant by saying that the lacrosse team was at the heart of Duke's alcohol problem. They have alcohol-related priors in much higher proportions that other Duke students.
Why do you keep citing positive comments by nine out of ten professors about the lacrosse team's academic performance and _still_ insist that no professor has said anything positive about the lacrosse team? Your own citation of evidence contradicts your other claim.


Robert KC Johnson - 5/24/2006

According to the Coleman Committee Report, 15 lacrosse players have been cited for violating Durham alcohol laws. In the past academic year, the report notes, 400 Duke students have been so cited. If 15 is the "heart" of 400, then that's an awfully small problem.

Page 18 of the Coleman Committtee report discusses how the administration enlisted the lacrosse players to help curb the "Tailgate" tradition, and the players did as asked. Again, not the behavior one would expect at the "heart" of Duke's alcohol program.

According to this website (http://www.city-data.com/city/Grinnell-Iowa.html), Grinnell College has an enrollment of 1320. According to this website (http://www.sjca.edu/asp/main.aspx?page=1103), St. John's (MD) has an enrollment of 450-475. According to this website (http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/2005/08/movein_print.htm), Duke's undergrad enrollment is approximately 6500 students (in addition to students in varying graduate programs). I'm sure if Duke wants to imitate St. John's or Grinnell, it will have less discipline problems. It will also have 80%-90% less students. But my guess is that even St. John's and Grinnell have some students who drink, or who look at strippers.

Both Peter Wood and Orin Starn had complained about both the lacrosse team and Duke athletics in general before the incident. Much of the coverage has discussed faculty unrest with the role of athletics on campus that predated the incident, and the lacrosse team, as one of the most successful and high-profile teams on campus, clearly fell under that rubric. There's no evidence that the lacrosse team is "unpopular" on campus? Seventy days after the event, and amidst relentless negative publicity, and not one professor has, in his or her own voice, said anything positive about their academic behavior (which we now know was pretty good), or even taken the reasonable step of criticizing the processes used in the Nifong inquiry? If that's popular, I'd hate to see what an unpopular group on the contemporary campus would look like.

According to the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/25/AR2006042500798.html?nav=rss_nation/special), my "young friend" Finnerty was charged with a misdemeanor. I've spent a good deal of time discussing this case, and I don't believe I've ever once said anything positive about Finnerty, and have repeatedly commented about how the charge against Finnerty differs from the petty alcohol charges in Durham against the 400 Duke undergraduates. So if I'm Finnerty's "friend," I'd hate to see who his "enemy" is.


Alan Allport - 5/24/2006

the American Psycho email guy is an exception here

Surely the assumption implicit in Psycho's email that he could use that kind of morally disgusting language and imagery without any fear of censure tells us rather a lot, indirectly, about the mental atmosphere of the lacrosse team. It may not have any bearing on the legal case but it certainly says something about the character of the recipients.


Ralph E. Luker - 5/24/2006

And, btw, if Duke had been enforcing its policy of suspending students with felony charges pending, your young friend, who was gay-baiting the guy in DC and then beat him, would have been suspended _before_ the party at 610.


Ralph E. Luker - 5/24/2006

There's simply no evidence that the lacrosse team is "unpopular" with the faculty in general. You, yourself, cited evidence that 9 of 10 faculty respondents to a survey reported positively about their experience with the lacrosse team. And no evidence that any unpopularity pre-dated the notorious party. And, fairly clearly, your lacrosse boys are at the heart of Duke's alcohol problem.
It simply isn't true that only a "Liberty University" has dealt successfully with a repulsive student culture. Do you think St. Johns or Grinnell have excessive drinking and parties with strippers? Maybe it begins with admissions. But there was a time when we had some sense of what a Duke gentleman was. In some ways, the model was flawed, but drunken louts oggling strippers are worse.


Robert KC Johnson - 5/24/2006

I should very quickly clarify what I meant under (2) above: my problem with the Duke response has been the double standard--ie, holding the lacrosse players to a standard that other students on campus are not held to, because they're a group unpopular with the faculty. I don't see any evidence of selective prosecution with regard to Jefferson, or that he was held to standards to which the FBI wouldn't hold every member of the House.


Robert KC Johnson - 5/24/2006

1.) I have no problem with Duke coming up with "a more effective student affairs grappling with Duke's peculiarly difficult problem with excessive drinking and alcohol-related abuses." But we both know that accomplishing that is going to be very, very, very hard to do. From what I understand about the current (unofficial) policy: drinking discouraged on campus, campus leaders turn a blind eye to drinking off campus, where 25% of students live, campus leaders don't do anything one way or other when Durham police target Duke students drinking off campus with citations, which have the effect of increasing the fees in Durham city coffers (and, obviously, enraging the neighbors). This policy has failed: but, realistically, is there a better one that's likely to work, and to shield the university from possible lawsuits in the event of underage drinking? I don't like it any more than you do. But I'm not convinced it's a character flaw, either.

I used the Liberty analogy partly sarcastically but partly not: the only institutions of which I'm aware that have effectively controlled student behavior re drinking and sexual "indecency" (a word I use deliberately in quotes) are fundamentalist Christian schools, places like Liberty or Univ. of the Cumberlands. But there's a tradeoff here with which neither you nor I would agree--these places exclude gays, have no real academic freedom, impose morality from above. Maybe Duke can pull it off--and if they do, they'll become a model. But I'm skeptical, and certainly targeting one particular group isn't the basis for an effective policy.

Yes, the 15 players at Duke were caught. So too were 400 other Duke students--some of whom, I suspect, were women and minorities. They weren't denounced in William Chafe's article.

Here's the wording from the Coleman Committee report (a committee chaired, as you know, by an African-American former Dem counsel to the House Ethincs Committee, under procedures--no lacrosse players invited to testify, no opportunity to rebut witnesses--highly unfavorable to the team): the alcohol-related behavior of the team was no "different in character than the conduct of the typical Duke student who abuses alcohol," and that total, as the report pointed out, numbered in the hundreds.

2.) You're not seriously claiming that there are many (or even any) other members of Congress who have accepted $100,000 bribes? I have a very dim view of the contemporary Congress, but see no evidence to claim this. We haven't had this particular type of bribery since Abscam.

3.) I have little exposure to the North Carolina legal system other than what I've seen from this case. So I'm (a) not at all confident that legal authorities in NC will hold Nifong accountable, since there's no evidence they've done so thus far, and doing so at any stage will pose political problems for the state's Democrats; and (b) not at all of the belief that people with a voice shouldn't be protesting strongly against students having been indicted through a highly dubious procedural mechanism.

This thread got started with Hiram saying "sexist, racist brutes" (a stereotype reinforced in today's Lynne Duke column in the Washington Post). There's nothing in the Coleman Committee report that suggests to me that nearly all members of the lacrosse team (the American Psycho email guy is an exception here) are not typical Duke students--with all of their assets (good academic performance, strong athletics, good community service) and all of their flaws (lots of drinking, a party atmosphere). Maybe this means lots of Duke students are sexist, racist brutes, but I don't think so. Of the many things of which I'm concerned in the contemporary academy, one is not the behavior of college students--both because I don't think it's a serious problem and because I believe that attempts to legislate it by colleges produce cures (speech codes, first-year orientations, etc.) that are worse than the disease. I certainly wouldn't want to go to college at a school where the Group of 88 were the morality police.


Ralph E. Luker - 5/24/2006

1) There's no need for you to dismiss with contempt ("become the Liberty University of the Triangle") a more effective student affairs grappling with Duke's peculiarly difficult problem with excessive drinking and alcohol-related abuses. The university community has been told repeatedly for 15 years, at least, that it has an excessive problem in that regard and, as it happens, members of Duke's lacrosse team were far more likely than the average undergraduate at the university to have a prior alcohol-related arrest. Your "become the Liberty University of the Triangle" dismisses a real problem as if prohibition is the only possible answer to alcoholism.
2) Your lacrosse players suffer from the fact that they got caught. You don't have a problem with William Jefferson having to face the consequences of his having got caught. And you surely don't think that he's the only member of Congress who's taken money under the table this year. He shouldn't be held innocent by reason of the fact that other members didn't get caught. And, no, I am not in favor of the student affairs office at Duke rifling through every student's e-mail account for offensive e-mail. Bro' got caught. Bro's still guilty, even if every other student in the university committed the same offense, but didn't get caught.
3) I see no reason not to agree with you that Nifong's conduct of the case, at this point, seems to have been flawed. I'm not an expert in these matters, however, and I am more confident than you appear to be that legal authorities in North Carolina will hold him accountable if it turns out that he has mishandled the case as badly as you think he has. (I say that, btw, as someone who has once been on the receiving end of North Carolina's prosecutorial justice.)


Robert KC Johnson - 5/24/2006

It's quite true that 15 had prior arrests. All but one (Finnerty) were arrested for some form of alcohol issue--as were, according to the Coleman Committee Report, approximately 400 other Duke undergrads in the past year. If Duke wants to stop bringing such people into Durham's community, they're more than welcome to do so--indeed, Duke can become the Liberty University of the Triangle, for all I care. But they have to apply their approach equally--not simply to the men's lacrosse players. And I've seen no willingness to do so.

From what I know (and Ralph would probably be more up to speed on this than me) roughly 25% of the students at Duke live off campus, because of insufficient dorm space. The cases involving the 15 lacrosse players and approx. 400 other students who had "prior arrests" would, at a residential campus, almost all be either ignored, handled by a dorm RA, or perhaps referred to campus security. That there were 400 arrests in one year suggests that the Duke policy of pushing drinking off campus hasn't worked.

I didn't "claim" that the players were academic stars: the Coleman Committee report provided the statistics. There's no evidence that the one captain who did the hiring asked for African-American strippers and therefore committed a racist act; indeed, there have been some suggestions that he specifically didn't. And I have no problem criticizing the behavior--it's certainly something I would never do and have never done, just as I do not consume, and never have consumed, alcohol, in excess or in any other manner. But there should be consistency here--if the lacrosse team is going to be held to this standard, every other Duke student who's engaged in such behavior should be similarly criticized. And I haven't seen any outpouring of calls from Duke for publicly condemning, say, any Duke student who, over the 2006 spring break, attended an event with a stripper or some other form of sexually explicit entertainment. In fact, I haven't seen any such calls. If Duke wants to adopt that policy--again, the "Liberty Univ. of the Triangle" approach--it's fine with me. But the university just can't condemn one group that the faculty doesn't like.

The same goes for the American Psycho email: if Duke wants to suspend all students who write vile and disgusting emails, they're free to do so--they're a private university. But they have to apply that policy across the board, to all students, not just to one group for which 88 faculty have publicly indicated a distaste.

Finally, I've never claimed any of the players are innocent; I've consistently claimed that the prosecution is a morass of procedural irregularities and the charges should be dismissed as a result. My writings have been based, to be blunt, on far more than "the carefully spun releases of their expensive attorneys." I have read every legal document that has been published on this case (and the WRAL website has them all archived); I've read every article on the case I could find, which includes everything in the N&O, Durham Sun, and Duke Chronicle but also all commentary pieces; I've read every blog post on the case indexed by Technorati in the past five weeks; and I've read the legal analyses posted at DBR, Findlaw, and Talkleft--none written by laywers affiliated in any way with the case; many of moy posts have contained links to such material. I've also read the findings of the NC Actual Innocent Commission and the requirements for prosecutors of the NC Bar's ethics code. The fact that the players' attorneys are expensive doesn't seem to me to weaken the attorneys' credibility--should the players have hired cheap attorneys?

It seems to me all we can do with such claims is to evaluate them on the basis of the evidence available, and in this case, lots of documents have become available. And there has been a pattern: to date, these expensive defense attorneys have consistently made promises (that the photo ID array violated state guidelines, that Seligmann was at an ATM machine at the time of the alleged rape, etc.), that later proved to be backed by documentary evidence that has been released and that everyone can either read or watch. To my knowledge, there has been nothing the defense attorneys have said that's been contradicted by, or even called into serious question by, documents that are publicly available. On the other hand, at least two Nifong statements (that the DNA evidence would exonerate the innocent, and the hint to Newsweek that the accuser was given a date rape drug) have proved inaccurate. Defense attorneys on the average in criminal cases might be unworthy of trust and prosecutors more worthy of trust, but this case hasn't followed that specific pattern. In a normal case, the response to this would be, "Let the process play out." But the process in this case has already been corrupted. Flawed processses do not become un-flawed halfway through.


Pat Morris Harris - 5/23/2006

Great article, If only the news networks would do the research you did!!


Ralph E. Luker - 5/23/2006

I think you are still way overboard, here, KC. My recollection is that there were 45 white and one African American players on the team. Of those 45, 15 had prior arrests. One was and is awaiting trial in DC for beating a man. If I were a resident of Durham, I'd wonder what the hell business an "elite university" has in bringing such people into my community. If these young men were such academic stars as you claim, you'd think that they'd be smart enough to figure out that hiring African American strippers for their own entertainment might smack of racism and sexism. The "American Psycho" claim in no way exempts the other suspended student from the horrors of his e-mail. Your claims to the "innocence" of the three who are charged with rape are built on the carefully spun releases of their expensive attorneys.


Robert KC Johnson - 5/23/2006

Always pleased to know that I can "stumble onto some decent points" . . .


Robert KC Johnson - 5/23/2006

There are 46 white players on the team. As I've noted before in a comment exchange with Ralph, the "American Psycho" email was vile, disgusting, crude, any other negative adjective you can think of. And, as Hiram noted, no one has denied that one of the players used a racist taunt, after one of the dancers made a vile comment to him. That doesn't excuse the remark, but it also provides a far different context than the original report (that of a 911 call from a "concerned citizen" passing by--who, it later turned out, was the second dancer--claiming that the players were shouting racist words at black women driving by in their car).

But that's two players, of 46. The Coleman Committee, and now Coach Kimel, have publicly affirmed that most members of the team aren't racist or sexist brutes--indeed, that there's no evidence of racist or sexist behavior from them at all. I'm not a big fan of college students drinking or attending crude parties during spring break. But if we're going to use that as an example of sexist behavior, then probably a majority of college students from around the country could be called sexist.


Alan Allport - 5/23/2006

None of those are jailable offenses, and they don’t justify anything Nifong has done. But let’s not pretend these guys are saints.

Yes. As one lawyer I know reminds me often, there is a big difference between being not guilty in law and being innocent. Whether or not they're guilty, the Duke boys are not innocent.


Hiram Hover - 5/23/2006

There’s much in your post and in Taylor’s piece with which I agree—increasingly, it appears that Nifong overstepped his bounds and that the accused players are not guilty of rape.

But let’s not rush from one error to its opposite:

...smearing presumptively innocent young men as racist, sexist brutes—in the face of much contrary evidence....

In fact, there is ample evidence of racism and sexism, if not rape. The players hired two strippers for their party, one player sent a loathsome email shortly afterwards, and one of their attorneys has admitted that the n-word was used at the party (as the dancers alleged).

None of those are jailable offenses, and they don’t justify anything Nifong has done. But let’s not pretend these guys are saints.


Ralph E. Luker - 5/23/2006

Chris, I've often disagreed with KC about the Duke case and other matters, but I'd have to say that you are one of the most disagreeable pacifists it's ever been my pleasure to know.


chris l pettit - 5/23/2006

When a biased ideologue blathers on in an empty forest...does he make a noise?

Will you PLEASE let this drop and either allow the worthless legal system in this country to take its course or let other ideologues impose their oppressive ideals on someone who takes an entirely different but equally hypocritical ideological position? God knows you can't actually appeal to law, morals or ethics when you have none and only exist to promote your own ideoliogical positions. Since you attempt to impose your ideological positions on the rest of us...you cannot complain when someone attempts to foist an equally inane ideology on you or the ideology you support. You have to take it like the rest of us. You want to play power ideology...fine...accept it when someone else's ideology gets put into place. Call it the "general will" or "public good" as it were...just decided by someone else.

Note I am not saying that you are wrong (or that wisdom can't come out of ignorance...as you clearly stumble onto some decent points) but rather that you are so ideological that you do not have any credibility of foundation to even begin to address this case seriously. To appease Dr. luker...remove the plank of wood from your own eye before criticizing the splinter in someone else's...you must be consistent in this and ALL cases regarding law and rights if you are to criticize ANY of them. For example, this would involve you denouncing most of your previous stuff regarding Israel and acknowledging the illegality of the wall...if not, you cannot be judged consistent and then cannot appeal to law, morality and ethics. One day you will finally figure out that the "rule of law" and human rights are universal and based in human dignity and quality. Any derivation from that then results in the abandonment of law and rights and the descent into power ideological thought...giving you no leg to stand on.

CP

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