Friday, October 05, 2007

The Coleman-Kasibhatla Letter

The Chronicle published a letter today which Duke School of Law Professor James Coleman co-authored with Professor Prasad Kasibhatla of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. The letter follows, after which I offer some commentary.
______________________________

To the editor:

We are impressed with President Richard Brodhead's continued attempts to reach out to all members of the Duke community to promote healing and reconciliation in the wake of last year's lacrosse incident, as evidenced by his recent remarks at the Duke School of Law. We are disheartened, however, by the continued drumbeat of destructive criticism of the administration and faculty by some within and outside the Duke community.

More importantly, as chairs of two of the five committees that examined various issues brought to light by the lacrosse incident last spring, we take issue with the biased and inaccurate rhetoric espoused by some of these critics.

Firstly, we reject the characterization put forward by critics like Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson that the Lacrosse Committee report, that examined the past behavior of the lacrosse team, is a "stunning vindication" of the team (Washington Post, September 7, 2007).

On the contrary, the report very carefully details a pattern of behavior that the committee characterized as "socially irresponsible" that should "have been a cause for alarm." Dismissing this finding as trivial is a biased and unjustified misrepresentation of the facts.

Secondly, there is a recurring theme advanced by critics like Taylor and Johnson that the faculty at Duke and at other universities are increasingly a bunch of ideologues who care less about the their students and more about promoting their own extremist agendas.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Faculty at Duke, as at other universities and colleges, care deeply about students and are passionately committed to their personal and intellectual growth. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the daily life of a faculty member will quickly appreciate the time, effort and energy that faculty put into teaching, advising and mentoring students. To suggest otherwise, on the basis of isolated and selective incidents that occur over the course of complex events and are taken out of context, is nothing more than a tragic rush to judgment.


James Coleman
Professor of the Practice of Law
Duke School of Law

Prasad Kasibhatla
Associate Professor
Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
_______________________________________


Folks, it is very hard for me even now, nine hours after I first read the Coleman-Kasibhatla letter, to provide some reasoned commentary and to express how I feel.

When the Duke students who played on the Men's lacrosse team were subjected to obvious lies, targeted by some with threats and a “CASTRATE” banner, had their faces plastered on an anonymously produced “Vigilante” poster, were harassed on campus by some faculty and students, had reasonable cause to fear for their safety, and very few Duke faculty spoke out against the vilification and endangerment of the students, I was surprised, disappointed and disgusted.

I had the same reactions when almost every Duke faculty member said nothing in response to the threats shouted by racists at Reade Seligmann last May 18.

Ten or so days after that, when the students on the Women’s lacrosse team were viciously slimed by many in media for saying “Innocent,” I was disappointed and disgusted by the failure of just about every member of the Duke faculty to say anything on the women students’ behalf.

But I was no longer surprised. As a body, the Duke faculty by late May 2006 had made it clear that it was at best indifferent to one group of students in grave jeopardy and another that had been viciously slimed.

There were, of course, some honorable exceptions to the indifference. Everyone who’s followed the Duke Hoax knows Professor Coleman is one of them.

And then there were those faculty, many more than the honorable exceptions, who could never be termed indifferent.

Professor Houston Baker comes to mind. He called for the expulsion of the white members of the Men’s lacrosse team right at the time now disbarred Durham DA Nifong was calling them “Hooligans” and ridiculing them for following the advice of their parents and attorneys. Both Baker and Nifong were praised at the time by many faculty members.

Duke’s faculty Group of 88 could never be called indifferent.

Who will forget that just days after Duke students were cautioned by Vice President Moneta to be extra vigilant for their safety in the wake of rumors of possible drive-by shootings, and just days before President Brodhead, NCCU’s Chancellor Ammons and Durham’s Mayor Bell felt compelled to place full-page newspaper ads calling for public calm, the faculty Group of 88 felt strongly enough themselves to place a full-page ad in The Chronicle?

Among other things the 88 did in their ad was to thank the very people who had helped heighten the danger to Duke students. As far as I know, only one of the 88 has ever apologized for the ad which it's now widely agreed made an already dangerous situation more dangerous.

Now today in The Chronicle we have the Coleman-Kasibhatla letter telling us faculty at Duke “care deeply” about students.

And in the same letter the Professors castigate KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor, two of the people who have been most diligent and effective in speaking out for Duke students and exposing the investigative and legal travesties of Mike Nifong and others.

Meaning no disrespect by ignoring Professor Kasibhatla about whom I know almost nothing, I was absolutely shocked to see Professor Coleman had signed such a letter.

That’s why it is still hard for me to say much about the letter now. But I’ll say more soon.

Meanwhile ---

If you have not already done so, I urge you to got to the Chronicle site using this link which will take you to the letter and the comment thread.

The thread is lengthy and, like most lengthy threads, it’s a mixed bag. But there are some outstanding comments there.

One of those outstanding comments is from KC Johnson @ 11:02 AM; another is from Stuart Taylor @ 1:04 PM; and a third is from AMac @ 1:14 PM.

I left a brief comment on the thread. I meant it as a “toe in the water” first response. I’ll end this post with it:

I wish Professor Coleman had told us why the Duke faculty he praises so highly was, with very few exceptions, publicly silent when a Duke student, Reade Seligmann, was subjected to threats, including death threats, from racists last May 18.

Some of us believe had Seligmann been black and the threatening racists white, a great many Duke faculty would have spoken out loudly and passionately condemning the racists and offering their support to Seligmann and his family.

I don't agree with those on this thread who have attacked Coleman personally. I think he's a man of great integrity.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

John,

It isn't really complicated as to Coleman's motivation. Duke (and by extension, Brodhead) signs his paycheck. I'm sure he's been reminded of this fact often.

Anonymous said...

John:

"I don't agree with those on this thread who have attacked Coleman personally. I think he's a man of great integrity."

Correction. Professor Coleman WAS a man of great integrity. He sold his soul for a pittance.

Ken
Dallas

Anonymous said...

I beleive colemans letter is trying to prop up a once highly regarded university torn down by steel and brodhead. IMO coleman is too good to not care about all the "innocent" faculty" and the reputation of the university he loves. Soemtimes there is no choce but to defend the indefensable.

AMac said...

Perhaps Coleman's jumped into the deep end.

Perhaps he's harbored some long-standing secret grievance against KC Johnson: justified, imaginary, or somewhere in between.

Perhaps the tug of incompatible allegiances has grown over time.

Perhaps the letter is a calculated move, rather than a statement from the heart.

I don't know.

What I can say from my far-off perch is that the Spring and Summer of 2006 is when the men of the Lacrosse Team were in greatest jeopardy. That was when Duke needed respected voices to speak out about the importance of Due Process and the need for considered judgement.

Coach Kimel and the Women's Team stepped up.

Then, too, the Group of 88 and fellow Hard Leftists were willing to make noise.

But with very few exceptions, the remainder of the faculty turned away. 'Best to remain uninvolved.'

Professor James Coleman was the man who cautioned against Nifong's abuses and spoke up in favor of Due Process. And how easy it would have been to maintain street credibility by damning the lacrosse team with "no choir boys" faint praise in the Coleman Report (vindictive anonymous "Progressives" still do this in the comments of almost every Hoax/Frame-related blog).

Coleman did what was Right. He did it when it was the unpopular thing to do. He did it when most of his peers averted their gaze, and most of the rest took the side of the wrong.

Now, there seems to be a falling out. But today, the members of the team stand exonerated. Of the profs who have put pen to paper, about as many have signed the FODU petition as had joined the Listeners and the Clarifiers.

Perhaps the source of this Coleman/Johnson spat will become clear.

Meanwhile, I'll remember that he showed the courage of his convictions when it mattered most.

Anonymous said...

I think there are two motivations for this letter.

First, Coleman is right that many faculty care about their students. If you haven't taught in a university dominated by left wing activists, you can't appreciate how much junior faculty in particular, without tenure, would be rightly intimidated and concerned for their careers if they spoke up. Some of the faculty silence was undoubtably of that sort.

The second likely reason for speaking up would be if alumni contributions were significantly lower than normal, if the best employers were less enthusiastic about recruiting Duke grads or if good faculty candidates took jobs elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Just to expand a little farther on that last point:

This is also the time when promising high school students decide where to apply for admission to college. The negative publicity for Duke undoubtably has cost them some outstanding applications, although I'm sure the total number of applicants will continue to be quite high.

Anonymous said...

It makes no sense for Coleman to attack KC at this point. KC has actually offended some of his own "constituents" by appearing to be both supportive and forgiving of Brodhead, as indicated by his standing ovation at Brodhead's "apology" speech.

If anything, that should have indicated to Coleman that KC was willing to make a public statment of reaching out to see if some healing might begun.

My suspicion is that the powers that be at Duke have applied INTENSE pressure in Coleman, especially during this time when comments are pouring in to Dan Blue who is reviewing Brodhead's performance as Duke Prez over the past 3 years.

Brodhead, IMO, is still holding out hope of weathering this storm. If he does, it will not because of his leadership, but because of his backers. Coleman's backing of Brodhead, and distancing of himself from the LAX HOAX exposers would be a major coup for the Broadhead forces.

Everybody knows KC is winding down this phase of his involvement, and is leaving the country. And like it or not, KC kept his finger in the proverbial dike for a long time with his relentless pursuit of truth and astonishing ability to connect the dots.

That the case is now going to trial means that there will be MORE dots, and more truth to find and defend.

I would not be surprised to find others try to cozy up to Duke, if they think that Brodhead has a chance of survival. After all, if he does, they will want to keep their jobs. And we can assume that the Gang of 88 will have job security first, and right after them the people who kept their mouths shut.

I know Coleman is a distinguished man, and one whose honor has been extolled. But he is also human. We do not know what pressures have been brought to bear, nor what has caused his sudden apparent defection. Time will clear it up.

bill anderson said...

The main problem with the Coleman report was its statistical analysis. Judgments were made with data that would be considered next to fraudulent for the purposes of the kind of analysis that the committee did.

In statistics, we look both at reliability and validity, and the report simply does not pass the smell test, at least in its comparison of the lax players to the rest of the student body.

bill anderson said...

I am NOT accusing Prof. Coleman of misconduct. The university provided the numbers in the Coleman Report, and Prof. Coleman is not a statistician.

My point is that the comparison was fatally flawed, and in a report like this, we simply cannot have such glaring errors without there being consequences.

Anonymous said...

Bill Anderson:

I agree totally with your comments on the statistical validity.

What Duke is attempting to do is provide a diversion (or isolation) from what is happening in Durham. Nice try but it won't work.

Discovery has provided the vital link to the meeting that took place between Duke and Durham personnel. That represents the motherlode for the defense team.

You can mortgage the house to bet that the partcipants of that meeting will be under a great deal of pressure on what to say. Will they all be able to get their story right? Doubtful. Someone will flip. Where those trails will lead is anyone's guess. In any case, that will be the end of Brodhead and company

You follow what may eventually happen, I presume. If Durham conspired to violate constitutional protections and requires a court monitor, why not Duke?

Intense pressure on Prof Colemmen? Oh my, yes. Very intense.

Ken
Dallas

AMac said...

Coleman's and Kasibhatla's letter says:

"Firstly, we reject the characterization... that the Lacrosse Committee report... is a 'stunning vindication' of the team... On the contrary, the report very carefully details a ['socially irresponsible'] pattern of behavior... that should 'have been a cause for alarm'...

"Secondly, there is a recurring theme... that the faculty at Duke and at other universities are increasingly a bunch of ideologues who care less about the their students and more about promoting their own extremist agendas. Nothing could be further from the truth. Faculty at Duke, as at other universities and colleges, care deeply about students and are passionately committed to their personal and intellectual growth..."

For context, I re-read The Coleman Report. Coleman and Kasibhatla are correct on narrow grounds. Presumably, this is the irritant that prompted them to write the Chronicle: contra the take-home message of Johnson and Taylor, the Report detailed many incidents of misconduct by Lacrosse players (even if Bill Anderson is right about flaws in the accompanying statistical analysis).

Still, Johnson and Taylor are arguably more correct: almost all of the incidents are what most people (teetotalers and Puritans aside) would consider minor. The report is populated with accounts of 19 ad 20 year olds caught with alcohol (a cup of beer?). Some noisy parties. Some public urination.

This Committee was empanelled to provide context to a fantastic accusation of a brutal, racist gang rape and a team-wide cover-up ("You know. We know you know"). Unless one believes that Jaywalking leads straight to Serial Murdering, the Report was indeed a "stunning vindication" of the team.

Coleman and Kasibhatla go on to talk about "faculty." They imply that all or very nearly all faculty could not reasonably be called "ideologues who care less about the their students and more about promoting their own extremist agendas." Similarly, they suggest that all or very nearly all "care deeply about students and are passionately committed to their personal and intellectual growth."

As a description of many or most Duke faculty, that's probably spot-on. But then there's the statement that claims of poor conduct by Duke faculty are based only on "isolated and selective incidents that [occurred] over the course of complex events and [were] taken out of context."

Coleman and Kasibhatla are certainly welcome to make a compelling case on behalf of Lubiano, Baker, Holloway, Curtis, Starn, Wood, Chafe, Wells, Davidson, McClain, and the dozens and dozens of Listening and Clarifying professors.

But this letter is not that.

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

I enjoy your blog and your polite and generally on-target analyses of the Duke hoax.

Regarding the Coleman-Kasibhatla letter, I wouldn't be too hard on Prof. Coleman. He stood up for due process and the falsely accused when it counted most. He did this notwithstanding considerable professional (and other?) risk to himself.

The falsely accused are no longer in peril, and they are being rightly compensated for their ordeal.

Prof. Coleman is an attorney, and has other ethical obligations he must also consider. Attorneys are accustomed to putting the interests of their clients above their own.

Prof. Coleman may not represent Duke, but he is an employee of Duke. Moreover, due to his principled stands he has been repeatedly identified as speaking truth to power at Duke.

To the extent he is perceived as being employed by Duke and a cause of damage to Duke, I am sure he is not comfortable with the ethical implications.

I think his letter was intended to be damage control for Duke. (Who really cares if he wants to deflect attention to the bloggers? You guys are big boys.)

There is no reason to assume he was either blackmailed to sign the letter, or that he has somehow sold out. I will assume he believed it was his ethical duty (given his visibility) to try to brunt the damage that the UPI book (and future HBO movie) are doing to Duke's reputation.

In my opinion he did a lot more good for Duke's reputation by showing that there are Duke faculty who will stand up for its students, and who can actually think in a straight line.

IMHO, the Coleman-Kasibhatla letter has backfired badly. But that would only reflect poorly on a Prof. Coleman's judgment, and not on his character.

He is still a hero of this whole mess. Just my thoughts.

-RD

Debrah said...

TO 1:44 PM--

Just my thoughts.


You are right about one thing.

Those are just your thoughts.

Debrah said...

"What Duke is attempting to do is provide a diversion (or isolation) from what is happening in Durham. Nice try but it won't work.

Discovery has provided the vital link to the meeting that took place between Duke and Durham personnel. That represents the motherlode for the defense team."



Exactly.

Coleman was willing to sacrifice the respect he has received for his past performance and go after KC and Stuart---two men who built him up to really an exaggerated degree because, frankly, there were so few honorable people in this saga---to help cover up the role Duke University has played---alongside the DPD and Durham city officials---to facilitate the Hoax.

The civil suits will show the true character of all of these people in the end. If you have character, you don't just lose it all of a sudden when the stakes get a bit higher.

If you do that, you end up looking like the dishonest, fair-weather-adherer-to-justice that Coleman has now shown himself to be.

Just stop all of those silly fairytales about "heroes" and grow up!

Anonymous said...

Debrah:

"Coleman was willing to sacrifice the respect he has received for his past performance "

You made an interesting comment that caused me to reflect a bit. Who could Duke use to attempt to discredit KC and Stuart? Certainly not someone associated with the lynch mob. It had to be someone who had built some credibility.

Coleman was, obviously, their first choice.

Integrity fades quickly when the paychecks stop.

Ken
Dallas

DukeEgr93 said...

I think the "fair-weather" people are those who were willing to ascribe to Professor Coleman every accolade imaginable when he said what they wanted him to say - or what they spun into what they wanted him to say - but are unwilling to consider him as having anything but a paycheck or relief from some imagined pressure play in mind when he says things they don't want to hear.

There are parts of the letter from him and Dr. Kasibhatla that I disagree with, but that disagreement is not suddenly going to make me forget the service they provided during the course of the case nor to throw out everything and anything they have said. In fact, it is because of the integrity that they have shown throughout that, at the least, there letter should be cause for thought.

And if at the end of the thought, we disagree - great. But the various motives ascribed to them are disingenuous at best.

Anonymous said...

Dukeegr93:

"But the various motives ascribed to them are disingenuous at best."

I hardly think so. Duke flipped Prof Coleman. He was made to play the fool. The only question is how much pressure was needed.

Ken
Dallas

DukeEgr93 said...

Ken - you know this - how exactly? Because you are basically making such an extraordinary statement that there needs to be something other than mere belief and repetition to support it. Your quote, "Correction. Professor Coleman WAS a man of great integrity. He sold his soul for a pittance." is highly provocative and, given Professor Coleman's position in the universe - full professor of the practice, highly respected in his profession, highly mobile if he were to have some great clash between his own ethics and those of the institution - highly unlikely.

Anonymous said...

Dukeegr73:

"Ken - you know this - how exactly?"

I can read english.

"Your quote.... is highly provocative"

Factual, not provocative.

"given Professor Coleman's position in the universe - full professor of the practice, highly respected in his profession..."

Yes. I believe he made a very bad decision.

Ken
Dallas

DukeEgr93 said...

"I can read english."

Okaaaaaay. And what English are you reading that says Professor Coleman was in any way paid for his statements?