Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Brodhead Can’t Escape His “Marley Problem”

Yesterday The Chronicle published Duke President Richard Brodhead’s eloquent appreciation of the late Duke Professor John Hope Franklin, whose life and scholarship contributed so much to informing his fellow citizens and making America a more inclusive and just country.

While I’m sure Brodhead meant his remarks only as a tribute to Franklin, they inevitably caused many people to reflect on Brodhead and his leadership, particularly when he mentioned the “exclusion, discrimination, and physical menace” Franklin faced as an undergraduate at Fisk University.

On the comment thread of Brodhead’s tribute, John Steed directly addressed Duke's President:

Thank you for your eloquent and timely tribute to John Hope Franklin. I am pleased to see you using the Chronicle's "Guest Commentary" section to share your views, and those of your administration, with the Duke community.

Last week saw the third anniversary of the Potbangers' Rally, a demonstration which included (among other outrages) the raising of banners reading "Castrate!!", "Confess!" and "Give Them Equal Measure," and the distribution of vigilante posters, all directed at falsely-accused Duke students.

Next month will feature the anniversary of the "Listening Ad" in which 88 Duke faculty members and 15 departments and programs applauded the demonstrators and thanked them for "not waiting."

Perhaps this might be an opportune time for you to write a guest commentary in the Chronicle reflecting on those events and explaining to the Duke community, with the benefit of three years hindsight, why your administration acted (or refrained from acting) as it did and whether it has learned anything from the episode.
And in an email a friend said (excerpts):
… Dr. Franklin, to his credit, showed good judgment and compassion by not mentioning the lacrosse incident in his [2006 commencement address].

But now to Brodhead who, unlike Franklin, used his very influential position to evoke the passions of racism and dangerously prejudice the case against the lacrosse players.

Below are some excerpts from Brodhead's April 5, 2006 letter to the Duke Community which was issued concurrently with his firing the coach and canceling the season.

At the beginning of the letter Brodhead says,
" Rape is the substitution of raw power for love, brutality for tenderness and dehumanization for intimacy.

"It is also the crudest assertion of inequality, a way to show that the strong are superior to the weak and can rightfully use them as objects of their pleasure.

"When reports of racial abuse are added to the mix, the evil is compounded, reviving memories of the systematic racial suppression we had hoped to have left behind us."

Brodhead goes on with this type of passionate and inflammatory language for four more paragraphs. …
What Steed and my friend’s comments (and those of others I’ve heard from) brought to mind was what in an April 2008 post I called Brodhead’s “Marley problem:”
In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol Jacob Marley's ghost 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.
I ended the post with:
Duke needs a new President.
That was true in April 2008 and it’s true today.

The Trustees need to act.


Anonymous said...

This excerpt from Brodhead's April 5, 2006 letter was particularly damaging to the players at a very dangerous time for them.

" ... there have been reports of persistent problems with the men's lacrosse team including racist language..." This statement was completely unsubstantiated and irresponsibly false. There was no historical evidence that the lacrosse players had persistently used racist language. In fact, the Coleman Report stated that

" By all accounts the lacrosse players are a cohesive, hard working, disciplined and respectful athletic team .... Their reported conduct has not involved fighting, sexual assault or harassment, or racist behavior."

Brodhead's April 5, 2006 letter was replete with inflammatory race based rhetoric. Coupled with his actions of firing the coach and canceling the season, the letter clearly gave the impression that Brodhead believed that the lacrosse players were guilty of the horrible crimes of which they were falsely accused. It was also very telling that in this lengthy letter, Brodhead never once mentioned the presumption of innocence.

Except for possibly Nifong, I believe Brodhead did more to fan the flames of racism in the lacrosse incident than anyone, particularly when one considers his very influential position at Duke.


Anonymous said...

BN - I would agree with your conclusion. Brodhead allowed those under him to trample all over the rights of the accused and implied on more than one occasion that those who were accused were guilty of a heinous crime.
By permitting the Group of 88 to act unfettered and by the unwillingness to even consider any other possible scenario (for instance that Crystal Mangum might be lying), Brodhead and his minions deserve to be in the lowest circle of the Inferno with Nifong. Given the treatment of Katie Rouse and the utterances of those in the administration about the case, it is obvious that Duke's personnel have learned nothing since 2006. Once again, further reason why discovery needs to go forward and the civl suits should be heard.

Anonymous said...

Ultimately, the responsibility for Brodhead's continued presence at Duke rests on the Board of Trustees, who have merited many titles, but none of them having to do with the concept of Trust.

They simply abdicated, and therefore were complicit with this whole shame and disgrace for the University they were supposed to protect.

Trustees job is to protect... to perpetuate the high calling and purpose of an institution.

The BOT at Duke may excape legal responsibility, but the moral indictment must be laid on their heads.