Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What will Duke’s trustees do?

Duke senior Adam Zell writes today in The Chronicle about the two lawsuits recently brought against the University, many of its leaders and others in connection with what’s widely-acknowledged to be Duke’s bungled and disgraceful response to the lies of Crystal Mangum and Mike Nifong, and the racially inflammatory and often fraudulent reporting of the Raleigh News & Observer.

Excerpts from Zell’s column follow in italics; my comments are in plain.

Zell begins - - -

How should the student body regard the two ongoing lawsuits by the men's lacrosse team? Given that the vast majority of us have been relatively unaffected, should we care?

In this column, I will attempt to examine the different sides in this case and how the case will impact Duke going forward.

When judging these lawsuits without regard to their moral worth, Duke students must weigh two competing claims: 1) the damage to the University's prestige as a result of airing our dirty laundry, and 2) the benefit of learning how and when decisions were made, and by whom. This enables the Duke community to hold actors accountable for their misdeeds.

Zell has a good opening; he’s asking questions all of us who care about higher education and justice in America should be asking. Duke's actions and inactions during the frame-up attempt and to today as the cover-up of the frame-up continues are matters with national implications.

Just as there are times when the courts and the public should take a hard, close look at private corporations – think Enron – there are times when the same should happen to a major university, even one that says “but we’re private.”

Should this lawsuit go to trial, the threat of our university's damaged reputation should not be taken lightly. Admitting this threat assumes that some administrators acted in a manner embarrassing to the University. …

That some administrators acted in ways that embarrassed decent people who care about Duke is indisputable. What the suits will reveal is how much more was done that was embarrassing and very possibly illegal.

Knowledge gained as a result of the suits will enable those who care about Duke to take necessary corrective actions and acknowledge those who served the University’s best interests.

If we’ve learned anything these past two years it’s that there is much at Duke which needs correcting. Example: At present Duke operates under a two-race policy so that it is possible for some faculty and students without fear of consequences to physically threaten white students, something which would never be tolerated were similar threats made to black students.

Even President Brodhead’s sharpest critics acknowledge he would not have remained silent when the CASTRATE banner waved, when the Vigilante posters circulated within sight of his office windows, and when racists made death threats in a courtroom against a Duke student, if the targeted students had been black instead of white.

I can understand why some trustees would want to avoid suits that will bring to light actions, inactions, conversations, emails, and conspiring the trustees have worked hard for two years to hide.

It's surely in the best individual interests of some trustees to keep all that hidden.

I just hope there are enough trustees and alums with the care for Duke and justice to push to bring what happened out into the light of day.

After proceeding carefully and fairly to further examine the questions he raised, Zell reaches a conclusion as to what’s best for Duke.

I empathize with the argument that Duke should "move on" from this scandal in order to focus attention on more pressing matters. However, these lawsuits are not trapping Duke in the past nor disabling our University from looking towards the future. In fact, these lawsuits could have a profound positive effect on Duke's prospects.

The massive uncovering of evidence that will occur if these cases go to trial can serve as an impetus to fix what are quite possibly fundamentally flawed institutional practices. These trials can help Duke restore its respect for and protection of students' rights.

An open trial justifies the costs of a drawn-out process by providing a simple, yet so far elusive, good: the truth. Administrators can be cross-examined and presented with any contradictory statements in a forum where they are compelled to respond. …

On a moral plane, I also support the lawsuit going to trial. I think it is the height of hypocrisy that an institution of higher learning, whose motto sanctifies the search for knowledge, would so callously hamper students' attempts to discover the truth. I am simply morally appalled at the lengths a university would go to obscure the truth.

After considering the costs and benefits of a trial, I firmly support the lacrosse players in their lawsuits, on one condition: Do not accept any University settlement.

I do not pretend to know the details of the case nor will I accuse any individual of poor judgment or malicious actions. I simply think the Duke community deserves the truth.

I’ll say more about Zell’s column soon.

Today I’ll just end with congratulations and thanks to Adam Zell for a column that’s an outstanding service to Duke University and the pursuit of justice.

Zell’s entire column is here.

Hat tip: BN


Anonymous said...

Excellent article by Zell. Thanks for commenting on it.

mac said...
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Anonymous said...

John -

At least Zell demonstrated that Duke has some deep thinking, honest people in its student body. That's more than can be said for a good chunk of the faculty and probably all of the administration, starting with Sheldon award winner Brodhead, and working down from there.

Jack in Silver Spring

Anonymous said...

Duke Law 72

Notice how much better the kids are at writing than are the Gang of 88 contingent. Perhaps the kids should reverse their roles with the faculty.

Anonymous said...

Thanks John

You did quite well with the Comment on his article also!


mac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.