"... these three individuals [David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann,] are innocent of these charges."
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, Apr. 11, 2007
Readers Note: If you followed the recent NC State Bar trial resulting in former DA Mike Nifong’s disbarment, you know some of its most compelling, disturbing and saddening testimony concerned not Nifong, but the ordeal Reade Seligmann, his parents and attorney endured as they walked on May 18, 2006 to the Durham County Courthouse.
As they approached and entered the courthouse, they passed through a gauntlet of angry racists shouting physical threats at Seligmann. Once inside the courtroom things were, if anything, worse.
Duke’s response to the threats directed at Seligmann has been silence. President Brodhead has said nothing; nor has any Trustee; or any member of “Dick’s senior team.” The faculty, with few exceptions, has also been silent.
Since last May I’ve written Brodhead, the Trustees and others connected at Duke urging them to speak out in condemnation of those who threatened Seligmann and in support of him and his family.
At first I wanted Duke to speak out because of concern for Seligmann and his family, and in support of a civil Durham where law abiding citizens can go about without fear of being threatened by racists.
My hope was that President Brodhead would help organize an event at which the leaders of Duke and Durham, “town and gown,” would say the things which needed to be said and which every decent person would endorse and applaud.
As the months have past and nothing has happened, I've come to realize there's another reason Duke needs to speak out: to erase, in so far as is possible, the stain the Brodhead administration and its followers’ silence has brought upon Duke’s reputation.
Can you name another university in America where in the last 40 years a student was threatened by a mob of racists as Seligmann was not a mile from the campus and the university said nothing?
To date I and others had no success in getting Duke to right its wrong.
My email letters to President Brodhead and Trustees have never received even pro forma acknowledgements. Phone calls to Brodhead's office aren't returned. Letters to others at Duke are sometimes courteously acknowledge but say little else, except on occasion to direct me to someone else.
Among those who have replied only Arts & Science Faculty Dean George McLendon said he “deplored and condemned” the threats made to Seligmann and anyone else connected with “the Duke community, as a result of this tragically misguided prosecution and the events which surrounded it.”
McLendon was responding to a request I made this May that he place before the Academic Council my request that it condemn those who threatened Seligmann and affirm Duke's support for him and his family.
As precedent for such an action, I cited a prior instance just a year before when the Executive Committee of the Academic Council, acting in the name of the University faculty, condemned a series of three cross burnings in Durham one evening by a person or persons who has/have never been identified.
McLendon forwarded my request to then Academic Council Chair Paul Haagen, a professor in the Law School.
I did not hear from Haagen and contacted him in late June as his term as Chair was ending.
I then heard back promptly and want to share Haagen's response with you.
Below is first a copy of my letter to Haagen. I included for his convenience a copy of the letter I'd received from McLendon. Also for Haagen's convenience, I added to my letter a copy of the letter I'd sent McLendon.
If you are already familiar with those letters, you may want to scroll down to the double star line, following which you’ll find, first Haagen’s entire response to me, followed by a few of my comments concerning my next steps.
Paul H. Haagen, J.D.
Professor of Law
Duke University School of Law
Dear Professor Haagen:
Some weeks back I contacted Faculty of Arts & Sciences Dean George McLendon. I requested he ask the Academic Council to make a statement condemning those who on May 18, 2006 shouted physical threats, including death threats, at Reade Seligmann and expressing concern for him and his family for the ordeal they endured.
In addition to links to news reports of the threats, I provided Dean McLendon with a links to an account of the cross burning in Durham the previous May and the Academic Council’s formal condemnation a few days later of that odious event.
Dean McLendon responded as follows:
I have forwarded your email to Paul Haagen, chair of the academic council.(A [JinC] commentator astutely notes that I have no special standing with [the academic council] ).I’ve heard nothing from you in the weeks since Dean McLendon forwarded my request to you.
I personally deplore and condemn any threats directed at Mr Seligmann,or at any other member of the Duke community,as a result of this tragically misguided prosecution and the events which surrounded it.
I know how easily things can fall off the radar screen, so I’ve included below a copy of the letter I sent Dean McLendon.
I look forward to your response, which I'll post in full at my blog:Johnincarolina.com
John in Carolina
George L. McLendon, Ph.D.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences
Dear Dean McLendon:
I hold two degrees from the University and blog as John in Carolina.
I’m writing as both an alum and a Durham resident.
You no doubt recall that last May 18, then sophomore Reade Seligmann was subjected to shouted physical threats, including death threats. They were made first as he walked to the Durham County Courthouse with his parents and attorney, the late Kirk Osborn, and then again within the courtroom.
The threats were widely reported in media. Britan’s The Guardian's account said:
Reade Seligmann, 20, sat in a suit at a court hearing. From the gallery one onlooker shouted: 'Justice will be served, rapist!' Seligmann largely ignored the taunts, but as he left came the call 'Dead man walking!' and he blanched.Among those threatening Seligmann were members of the racist New Black Panther Party.
I know of no member of the Arts & Sciences faculty who spoke out publicly to condemn those threatening Seligmann or to offer their compassion to Seligmann and his parents after what was a terrible ordeal.
The A & S faculty’s silence reflects very poorly on it and Duke University.
That’s especially so when we recall the faculty’s prompt, clear and strong response almost exactly a year earlier to the anonymous and still unsolved cross burnings in Durham.
Here in full for your reference and JinC readers information is the Academic Council’s June 1, 2005, statement as posted for media distribution at Duke News:
As representatives of the Duke University faculty, the Executive Committee of the Academic Council wishes to add our collective voice to the recent events in Durham.In June 2005 I was very glad the Academic Council made its cross burning statement as were fair-minded alums and Durhamites who learned of it.
Cross-burning in the United States is a history we all hoped had ended. Such acts have been an extreme symbol of racial violence and of one group's desire to deny civil and human rights to another group. Cross-burning has re-emerged as a practice of intimidation in the present, still carrying the taint of white supremacist, segregationist, and other demeaning policies associated with a not-so-distant time in the life of Duke, Durham, and the surrounding region.
Intimidation and threats of violence against any group are anathema in both university contexts and in society at large. We condemn the cross-burnings that have disgraced our community -- and we renew our commitment to liberty and justice for all.
Since May 18, 2006 I’ve been very troubled by the faculty’s silence regarding the threats made to Seligmann.
Why has there been no faculty statement that intimidation and threats of violence against Reade Seligmann or any other peaceful citizen are anathema in both university contexts and in society at large?
I don’t believe the intimidation and threats Seligmann, his parents and Kirk Osborn were subjected to last May 18 by two small groups of hate-filled people disgraced either Duke or Durham. But the wall of silence the University and the City have collectively thrown up since May 18 certainly has.
That wall of silence needs to fall.
I’m told that as Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences you are the proper administrator to place the matter of a faculty response to the events of May 18 before the A&S faculty for consideration of a request to the Academic Council.
That request would, I hope, ask the Academic Council to issue on behalf of the Duke faculty a statement as clear and strong in its condemnation of the threats made to Seligmann as was its June 2005 condemnation of the cross burnings.
I look forward to your response, which I’ll publish in full at my blog.
Thank you for your attention to this letter.
John in Carolina
PROFESSOR HAAGEN'S RESPONSE:
John in Carolina -
I understood that the forwarding of the message to me was for my information and expected to hear something further if you intended to follow up with me. During the four years that I have been on the Executive Committee of the Council, it has not been my practice to participate in official or institutional condemnations. I recognize that you found such an instance from a time when I was not on the Council. The person who you want to contact is Paula McClain. My last day in office is Saturday and I am in Germany teaching at the moment. Professor McClain is my successor. Her term begins on Monday.
Paul H. Haagen
Professor of Law
Duke University School of Law
Science Drive and Towerview Road
Durham, North Carolina 27708-0360
I plan in the next week or so to follow-up on Haagen's suggestion and contact Professor Paula McClain. I'll include in my letter much of what you’ve read here.
I'll ask McClain to put my letter and the matter of a statement by the Academic Council before the Council for its consideration. I'll also ask her if she can conveniently provide a list of the Council members so I can contact them directly.
Concerning Haagen, I plan to write him in a few days. When law school professors remained silent during the Civil Rights Movement when students engaged in peaceful activities were threatened, it didn't go down well with me. And neither does Haagen's silence last May 18 and since regarding the threats directed against Seligmann.
I'll post copies of my letters to McLain and Haagen as well as any responses I may receive from them.
I'm sending Haagen a link to this post.
In a few minutes I'm taking the comments from the thread of "INNOCENT:To Prof. Haagen re: Seligmann threats" and posting them as a separate post: "INNOCENT: Duke's Haagen & Seligmann comments."
Those thread comments all concern how to change Duke from a place where the students on the lacrosse team were treated as they were and the University was silent on May 18 and since to a place where those kinds of things no longer happen and Duke's President doesn't keep telling us "the facts kept changing" and now we all need to "move on."
I hope many of you add your thoughts and suggestions to the thread of that post.
There need to be many changes made at Duke.