Saturday, May 12, 2007

Steel & Brodhead's shrinking credibity

Regarding Duke University's refusal to face problems revealed by it's bungled and in some instances shameful responses to the witch hunt and frame-up, citizen journalist Locomotive Breath, a Duke alum, recently observed at Liestoppers Forum:

One strategy Duke is using is to pretend to each mad alum that that person is a malcontent and all alone in his/her [upset at Brodhead’s caving to the “88” and throwing the players under the bus.]
He’s got that right.

Another strategy Duke's been using involves keeping people ignorant of what’s been going on.

Would you believe the Alumni Magazine has yet to say one word about Professor James Coleman’s June 2006 letter calling for Nifong to recuse himself from the case; something Brodhead at the time insisted he couldn’t do, but then did eagerly and loudly in December, only a few weeks before events forced Nifong himself to finally request recusal.

What about the disgusting media attacks last spring on the Women’s lacrosse team whose “offense” was to assert the innocence of Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann? What about the death threats shouted at Reade Seligmann last May 18 in a Durham courtroom?

Nothing’s been mentioned about those events in the Alumni Magazine or in the “sunshine” emails and letters President Brodhead and Board of Trustees Chair Robert Steel keep sending “the Duke community.”

Perhaps that’s because the trustees and Brodhead said or did nothing about them.

People of goodwill who don’t know what’s been going on are inclined to believe Steel and Brodhead’s emails and letters assuring them all is well at dear old Duke.

Oh, there may have been a tiny flub or two last spring, but that was to be expected. After all, as Brodhead told the late Ed Bradley on CBS’s 60 Minutes “the facts kept changing.”

Yes, David Evans recently insisted “facts don’t change.” But are you going to believe a young, recent grad when President Brodhead himself tells you otherwise?

Now that’s enough about "changing facts." Steel and Brodhead want us to understand we’re “all united for Duke” and “looking to the future.”

But despite Steel and Brodhead's strenuous efforts, it's obvious to intelligent people that their “sunshine and unity at Duke” pitch is very misleading.

This March the Raleligh N&O reported [excerpts]:
… "The one thing that I wish we would have done is just out, publicly say, 'Look, those are our kids. And we're gonna support 'em, because they're still our kids.' That's what I wish we would have done," [Coach Mike] Krzyzewski told Bob Costas, a sports commentator who has a television show on HBO. "And I'm not sure that we did -- I don't think we did a good job of that." …

Krzyzewski, who also bears the title of special assistant to the Duke president, told Costas he did not speak out last spring because Brodhead did not ask him to do so.

"I met with my college president. I told Dick Brodhead, 'If you need me ... you tell me, and then put me in a position where I'm not the basketball coach. But I am that special assistant to you,' " Krzyzewski said.

"Dick Brodhead did not bring me in."
Recently 1,000 Duke students signed a statement that appeared as an ad in The Chronicle.

The students condemned Duke faculty’s Group of 88’s “social disaster” statement which appeared as a full-page ad last April in The Chronicle. To date, no one has admitted placing the ad, and Steel and Brodhead haven't asked where the funds for the ad came from.

The students' statement said in part:
In a time of intense emotions and enormous stakes, when our community dearly needed a call for calm, for patience, for rational and careful thinking, these professors instead took a course of action which escalated tensions, spurred divisions along lines of race and class and brought our community into greater turmoil.

Their actions also further undermined the legal process and most likely emboldened a rogue district attorney.
The students demanded an apology from the Group of 88. They ended their statement with an appeal to Brodhead:
Brodhead, widely regarded as sympathetic to the Group of 88, has not responded to the students, just as he did not respond last March and April when “activists,” including some Duke staffers and students, distributed on campus within sight of his office windows “Vigilante” posters boldly targeting the white members of the lacrosse team and adding to the danger those students were already facing.

This past Thursday, former Duke Athletic Director Tom Butters was quoted in Newsday:
"I know I am probably stepping on toes when I say this, but it was absurd," Butters says. "I wanted someone to step up for Mike [Pressler, the former lacrosse coach forced to resign last April] and those kids."
Today we read in the Durham Herald Sun:
Duke University has to reassess how it treats students accused of crimes and make sure it doesn't contribute to unequal treatment of them by Durham authorities, the school's departing student government president told trustees Friday.

The lacrosse case showed "that we cannot have blind faith in the Durham police and the Durham district attorney to administer justice," said Elliott Wolf, who added that Duke also "must now shake the perception, whether legitimate or not, that it simply washes its hands of its students when they are in legal trouble."

Wolf's comments came during a morning meeting of the school's board of trustees, the last of the 2006-07 school year.

The junior singled out for criticism, in addition to the Durham Police Department's handling of the lacrosse case, its "zero-tolerance" crackdown two years ago on the Trinity Park party house scene.

He said comments police Capt. Ed Sarvis made to The Herald-Sun last year show that it was "stated DPD policy to punish Duke students more severely than other members of the community," and that authorities have frequently issued citations knowing they were "based on evidence that would not stand up in court." …
The entire H-S article’s here.

It ends with a statement from Brodhead saying Duke will be looking to “see what lessons we have to learn.” Does that surprise anyone?

A big hat tip goes to Student Government President Elliott Wolf for saying to the trustees what University President Dick Brodhead should have said to them many months ago.

I don’t know how Brodhead and Steel will spin Wolf’s presentation but I know this: based on the communications I’ve been getting recently and what I’ve been hearing the last few days from members of “the Duke community” in Durham for commencement, the number of people who believe Steel and Brodhead's emails and letters is shrinking fast.


Ex-prosecutor said...

I graduated from Vanderbilt undergraduate and law school in the late sixties. I have a story to tell.

In 1935, the United Daughters of the Confederacy gave $50,000 (a big sum during the depression) to erect a building which was to be called "Confederate Hall."

About eight years ago, Vanderbilt announced that, because of complaints from some students, the name of the building was being changed to "Memorial Hall." As far as I know, nobody, including me, had a particular problem with that.

However, Vanderbilt further said that, for reasons I never understood, they would not return anything to the UDC. Not even $50,000 or its value in present dollars.

The UDC filed suit, and, after three years of litigation, a state appellate court discounted Vanderbilt's numerous explanations as to why it could both keep the money and change the name and ordered the matter remanded for calculations of the damages of UDC. As I recall, they received back, in today's dollars, their original gift, and maybe more. The name change was allowed.

I have never seen a disclosure as to how much Vanderbilt spent in a defense that even a first semester law student would immediately recognize as being baseless. To think that our contributions were spent in defending this action burned a lot of alumni, including me.

My point in recounting this story, other than the fact it still makes me mad, is to relate that some of the Vanderbilt faculty were as shrill in defending Vanderbilt's actions as were the group of '88 in this matter. None were criticized or reined in to the slightest degree by the administration.

While the actions and inactions of the Duke administration and certain professors are disheartening, even to an non-alumnus such as myself, I have no reason to believe that they are in the least bit atypical.

Good sense and courage seem to be strangers to college administrators.

Anonymous said...

You are completely correct that many alums and Duke parents remain amazingly ignorant about the facts of this case. They are quite susceptible to Mr. Brodhead's road show, letters to alums, etc...but I believe this is a case that will gradually seep deeply into the American consciousness--over time. This situation is light years removed from the typical college scandal of binge drinking deaths or stress related suicides. Those do fade with time. In contrast, I expect public perception to become more acute about the Duke LAX case. Eventually, these alums and parents will come to understand better the details of what happened here. So will the rest of the world. And as long as Mr. Brodhead, the BOT, and the Gang remain unapologetic, their leadership will taint Duke for decades. Even at this late juncture, a sincere apology could go far to redeem what has been, is being, and will continue to be lost of Duke's reputation, thanks in very large part to the its current leaders and faculty.


kbp said...

Thanks John!!!!!!!

Job well done!

I love it when you just tell it like it is. That's always the right thing to do.

To Ex-prosecutor, interesting! I had not followed it, but do recall seeing it in the news.

It tells us that so long as they are using the money earned by others to wage a battle, they cannot lose.

Anonymous said...

Carolyn says:

ex-prosecutor - I hadn't heard that story of Vanderbilt's former Confederate Hall. But - duhh - sure does explain why they hired Houston Baker.

BTW, I'm sorry your school has Baker - but look on the bright side. At least there aren't 88 of him.