Thursday, April 17, 2008

President Brodhead’s “Marley problem”

Under the heading, "Brodhead responds to threats on student," The Chronicle today published a letter from President Brodhead. It follows in full, after which I comment below the star line.

To the editor:

I am distressed by the news reported in Wednesday's Chronicle that a Duke student and her family in China have been subjected to attacks as a result of the student's participation at a rally last week at Duke. Physical intimidation is the antithesis of reason, and there can be no justification for such attacks.

The deepest principle involved in the discussions at Duke about the current conflict between China and Tibet is not the principle of free speech, as important as that is. It's the principle of education through dialogue. Universities, in particular, must give wide latitude to free speech and free debate because the pursuit of truth through the encounter of divergent points of view is the very stuff of education.

This community must stand united in its affirmation of the principles of open and unfettered debate. I am pleased that the leaders of the Duke Chinese Students and Scholars Association and others at Duke have strongly condemned the attacks against our student.

Richard Brodhead


I applaud President Brodhead’s letter as will all decent people.

But a great many people will then ask: why didn’t Brodhead speak out when Duke students on the Men’s 2006 lacrosse team were threatened by a hate-filled crowd which included Duke faculty, staff and students and carried CASTRATE and GIVE THEM EQUAL MEASURE banners?

When racists at the Durham County courthouse shouted death threats at Duke Sophomore Reade Seligmann, why did Brodhead decide to remain silent? Why were there no words of condemnation for the racists and no words of compassion for Seligmann and his parents?

Many of you recall what happened on Mar. 29, 2006.

For those who don’t, I offer this letter which appeared in the Apr.2, 2006 Raleigh News & Observer:

To the editor:

As one of the organizers of the March 29 Take Back the Night (TBTN) march and speak-out at Duke University, I want to clarify that we did not plan, nor do we endorse, the distribution of names and pictures of members of the Duke men's lacrosse team. ( The letter writer is speaking about what’s known as the “Vigilante” poster which contained face photos of 43 white members of Duke’s lacrosse team. – JinC )

The distribution of the pictures, the targeting of the lacrosse team, and the violence implicit in the defacement of the pictures are nothing less than violations of the space that TBTN exists to create. The event is neither a protest of the kind we've witnessed recently, a forum for accusation nor a place to target and defame. That some attendees tried to make it so is saddening and not at all in the spirit of the event.

That being said, TBTN was a resounding success. It was inspiring to see that students, administrators, faculty and community members from Durham and N.C. Central University could come together in incredible numbers for what was, on the whole, a beautiful event.

I hope that, in the future, the Duke community, and the Durham community at large, can continue to unite to address these issues and offer support to survivors.


Geoffrey Lorenz was listed as the letter writer. As far as I know, he has no formal connection to Duke.

The terrible events Lorenz describes took place within sight of President Brodhead’s office windows. To this day, he’s said nothing critical of those who distributed the “Vigilante” posters and perpetrated the other threatening acts.

However, Brodhead did subsequently tell a Durham audience that whatever the players did “was bad enough.”

He remained through late December 2006 one of the now disbarred Mike Nifong’s most important enablers.

In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley warns his old partner Ebenezer Scrooge to repent lest he suffer Marley’s fate of carrying “the chains forged in life” through eternity.

Richard Brodhead will always carry “the chains” he forged when he abandoned the Duke lacrosse team.

His letter today is a reminder of that.

Duke needs a new President.