Sunday, December 21, 2008

Did Duke's trustees just follow Steel's lead?

On the thread of a Why did Duke's trustees enable the frame-up attempt? Anon @ 12:34 asked:

Were the trustees just following the lead of the chairman of the board of trustees?

My answer - - -

BOT chair Robert Steel's Apr. 7, 2006 public statement included the following :

The trustees of Duke University have been in active conversation with President Brodhead and the university’s senior leadership since the outset of the controversy involving the men’s lacrosse team. We appreciate the constancy of President Brodhead’s responsible leadership at a time when the facts are not clear and emotions run high. …

As President Brodhead has noted, we need not -- and will not -- wait on the resolution of this case to address broader issues that range from the social culture of our students to difficult questions involving race, class and Duke’s relationships with its Durham neighbors.

We endorse the steps President Brodhead is taking to deal with both the immediate situation and these wider challenges. (emphasis added)
By Apr. 7, 2006 Brodhead had, to name just a few of his questionable actions, apologized unconditionally in Duke’s name to “the first caller” who we were told at the time was “unknown,” but who had been known since Mar. 13/14, the night of the party, to Durham police and many others. (Maybe Brodhead, members of “Dick’s senior team,” and at least some trustees, do you think?)

What’s more, by Apr. 7 Brodhead had already forced Coach Pressler’s resignation; canceled the lacrosse season; and, for reasons he and Steel have never disclosed, failed to correct a number of deliberately false and malicious statements attacking the lacrosse players made by now disbarred Mike Nifong and the Raleigh N&O.

Brodhead and Steel had failed to counter those statements, even as other Duke administrators recognized those false statements were adding to the risks of physical harm Duke’s students, the lacrosse players especially, were facing from angry, hate-filled people in the community who’d rallied to CASTRATE and GIVE THEM EQUAL MEASURE banners by East Campus and distributed the notorious “Vigilante” posters within sight of Brodhead’s office windows.

Do I believe that by the time of Steel’s Apr. 7 statement all Duke’s trustees (the BOT usually has 37 members) agreed with Steel’s and Brodhead’s actions?


Because, for one thing, I can't believe all Duke's trustees agreed by Apr. 7 that Brodhead and Steel were right to say nothing critical of those whose odious actions were endangering Duke's students and others?

What’s more, by Apr. 7 reasonably intelligent, fair-minded people could see “the wheels were coming off” the Duke/Durham hoax and framing.

Surely by then at least some Duke trustees recognized what was happening, don’t you agree?

I've been told by people I trust and in a position to know, that some trustees by Apr. 7 had shared with Brodhead and Steel their concerns and disagreements about what's now recognized as Duke's disgraceful "throw them under the bus" strategy.

I believe that.

But no trustee publicly expressed by Apr. 7 even a slight concern about what “Dick and his team” were doing, including their going along with Nifong’s false public statements and their agreeing to provide him with federally protected student key card information.

And no trustee has to date expressed publicly any disagreement with how Brodhead and Steel led Duke’s disgraceful response to the false accuser’s and Nifong’s lies and the endorsement of those lies by many administrators, faculty, staff and students.

Why not?

In 2009 the “why not” question will get a lot more attention as the pending suits move through the court system.

Perhaps before 2009 ends some trustees will step forward and give us their answer to the question.

That said, there remains the question I raised in my post Why did Duke's trustees enable the frame-up attempt?

Why did the trustees allow Duke to go along in the first place with what was obviously a crazy hoax?

Why on March 14 or 15, 2006 or as soon thereafter as they learned about Crystal Mangum's lies, didn't the trustees say the equivalent of: "We have to tell our Durham police friends that this one is too absurd, too vicious and too public for us to go along with it?

The questions won't go away.


Anonymous said...

Duke's BOT consists of 37 members. This is much larger than the number of members who sit on the boards of large corporations. For example, I believe IBM's and Johnson & Johnson's Boards consist of 12 and 11 members respectively. The Duke Trustees consist of a much wider range of individuals in terms of age, experience, wealth and influence. I also sense that compared to corporate boards, the Duke Board ( and maybe most college boards )is more loosely connected and typically does not deal with as many difficult issues. My point here is that , at least in the lacrosse incident, the actions of Duke's BOT were driven by a few strong and powerful individuals who have extensive corporate related experience and who were able to effectively limit or completely eliminate the influence of most of the Trustees. In particular, Bob Steel played a major role in directing Duke's actions.

3) In response to the AG's dismissal of the charges, Bob Steel issued a letter to the Duke Community on 4/11/07. The following observations on his letter are, I think, relevant.

a) Steel states " The Attorney General's investigation places responsibility for this miscarriage of justice with the District Attorney..." In fact, I believe that this was the first time that anyone from Duke's Board or administration publicly called this a miscarriage of justice even though it was completely obvious many months earlier that this was the case. Blaming the DA was/ is a big part of Duke's strategy for justifying its actions and abdicating its responsibilities in enabling this miscarriage of justice.

b) Steel states "...we believe that it was essential for the University to defer to the criminal justice system.
As imperfect and flawed as it may be, it is that process that brings us today to this resolution." This is another part of Duke's strategy, namely to say that they were correct all along by letting the legal system run its course . Of course, in this case it was obvious early on that the legal system was operating illegally. The lacrosse players and their families went through hell for over a year. In deferring to an " illegal system " Duke acted irresponsibly and helped place its students in very serious jeopardy.

c) Steel states "...President Brodhead consulted regularly with the Trustees and has had our continuing support.....the board agreed with the principles that he established and the actions he took... anyone critical of President Brodhead should be similarly critical of the entire board." With these statements Steel was sending a couple of messages, namely
i) to the lacrosse players and their parents-- if they were considering legal action against Brodhead,
they should understand that they would be taking on the entire Board and all of Duke University,
an obviously very formidable opponent.
ii) to the other Trustees, many of whom may not have been fully aware of Duke's ( including
Steel's) actions and decisions-- if they now believed that the University may have treated the lacrosse
players unfairly and were thinking about " breaking ranks " and speaking out, that they should
reconsider since they were every bit as responsible as Steel, Brodhead etc. and would be equally liable.

Steel decided fairly early on in the case to continue down a certain path, which seemed to presume the guilt of the lacrosse players. As evidence emerged which continued to show their innocence, he had ample opportunities to reverse course and start to support these students. He chose not to do this. Maybe this was to support the actions of a president which he strongly endorsed and selected, maybe he felt changing direction would be admitting mistakes and would expose Duke to litigation or maybe he was just stubborn. Obviously Steel had been a very successful businessman who was probably not used to dealing with many failures ( he had not yet become the Wachovia CEO.) In the lacrosse incident Duke University failed miserably. In fact, no university ever treated its students worse than Duke treated the 3 wrongly indicted lacrosse players. These failures happened under Steel's oversight and will forever be a part of his legacy.


Anonymous said...

"Why did Duke's trustees enable the frame-up attempt?"

I'll suggest some possible answers :

1 ) They weren't paying attention. They lend the prestige of their names to the BOT, but leave the day to day running of affairs to a small executive committee (Brodhead and Steel).

2 ) They were fed disinformation by Brodhead and Steel, and believing that they had the "insider" information, were deceived; or

3 ) They are callous captains of industry who simply don't care when little people get squashed as they bulldoze their way forwards.

I'll opt for # 3 until I know otherwise (providing the BOT members with the same presumption of guilt as they provided the wrongly-accused in the lax case)

Anonymous said...

Your coverage of the Duke/Durham frame of innocent students is excellent.

I'm sure I speak for many when I say keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis.