Blogs > Cliopatria > Shifting the Goalposts

Jun 17, 2006 9:08 pm

Shifting the Goalposts

As the presumed “facts” initially associated with the Duke lacrosse case have melted away, those on campus who aggressively condemned the lacrosse players have found themselves in an uncomfortable position. While a few columnists (such as David Brooks and Nicholas Kristof) have revised their opinions in light of the Coleman Committee report and the recently released prosecution documents, no one at Duke has publicly done so. A small minority have ignored the new material, and even leveled new charges against the lacrosse players. But most still condemn the lacrosse players, though now with a focus on issues relating to alcohol—acting as if their earlier critiques, which centered on allegations of the players’ alleged racism or sexism, or insinuations about the likelihood of rape, never occurred. This shifting of the goalposts is at best intellectually dishonest, and at worst shameful.

It will surprise no one who’s followed the case that the faction impervious to new facts is oriented around Houston Baker. In late March, Baker penned an inflammatory open letter that seemed to demand the immediate expulsion of all the lacrosse players (Ralph Luker has disagreed on this point); Duke provost Peter Lange deemed Baker’s remarks as based on prejudice. Tuesday’s Durham Herald-Sun revealed that 15 professors of African-American Studies have rallied to Baker’s defense. The group, which includes such prominent names as Columbia’s Robin Kelley, Northwestern’s Dwight McBride, and Penn’s Thadious Davis, sent a missive accusing Lange of assuming “a lofty and condescending position of White authority over the insufficiencies of minority reason, thereby exemplifying one of the problems at Duke.”

Having asserted as fact something for which absolutely no evidence exists, the signatories applied similar reasoning to the lacrosse case. They deemed their critique relevant “whatever the outcome of the criminal investigation of the rape of a Black woman college student by members of Duke’s lacrosse team.” In the words of one signatory, the letter writers were"too far away to make any judgment about who did what to whom”—except, of course, to say unequivocally that a “rape of a Black woman college student” occurred.

The African-American Studies professors proceeded from these two “facts”—that a “Black woman college student” was raped; and that Duke has a problem of the “condescending position of White authority over the insufficiencies of minority reason”—to criticize Duke for “concealing its contributions to a social order defined by inequities and racial preferences.” (It’s worth remembering that Kelley, et. al., were speaking about a university whose former philosophy chairman jokingly explained away the faculty’s overwhelming ideological imbalance by noting, “If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.”) Duke, they argue, needs to recognize “that the academics and departments that work assiduously to impart the best ethical and intellectual wisdom of their disciplines, which are always race, class, and gender inflected, are the most marginalized and under-appreciated among high administrative personnel and traditional disciplines across all academic domains.” [emphasis added] Having screened out dissenters from the academy’s prevailing race/class/gender orthodoxy, Kelley, et. al. recommended that Duke coordinate “major universities and colleges in a campaign of active, enlightened strategies to reduce the huge structural, material and social inequities in our society.” That blatantly politicizing universities could threaten their fundamental mission to educate their students? Not a problem. That the Coleman Committee found no evidence of racist or sexist behavior by members of the lacrosse team; or that anyone who spends 30 minutes reading through the transcript of the photo ID session or the key prosecution witness statements can recognize that this case suffers from massive evidentiary and procedural flaws? Irrelevant.

To put it mildly, the Kelley, et. al., letter isn’t a high point in the history of African-American Studies. But at least the signatories only have the lacrosse players committing one rape. Houston Baker is now suggesting that they could have committed multiple rapes. In a series of e-mails, including at least one to a reader of this blog, sent out before his departure from Duke for Vanderbilt, Baker asserted that “46 white guys on the Lacrosse Team at Duke were very bad actors in the aggregate and may well have raped more than one woman.” His evidence for this claim? “The consumer entitlement of rich . . . students at Duke,” which includes “more than a fair share of license for rape, marauding, violence against women, etc.” My office-mate, Margaret King, has often said that many in the academy seem to be intellectually frozen in time, circa 1968. Baker proves the point: “White athletes (46 of them) at Duke; concentrate on that and figure that in 1968 at Duke it was whites who terrorized formerly forbidden black students.” That in 1968 some whites did terrorize black students in no way justifies Baker’s leveling unsubstantiated accusations against white students at Duke in 2006.

Most of Baker’s former colleagues have taken a craftier approach. Despite the new evidence, they have maintained their condemnation of the lacrosse players’ character. But to do so, they have reinvented themselves as temperance activists. That this shift has occurred without any acknowledgement of shortcomings in their earlier critiques casts doubt upon the sincerity of their newfound prohibitionist sentiments.

A few people—Ralph Luker is the best example—have expressed a strong concern over the alcohol issue from the start, arguing that a culture where alcohol is prominent conflicts with their vision of Duke. But for the Duke administration and activist faculty, the interest in temperance has increased in inverse proportion to the decline of the perceived strength of Mike Nifong’s case and the credibility of claims that the players were sexists or racists. In short, rather than admit that their initial attacks on the lacrosse players’ character contributed to what David Brooks correctly has termed a “witch hunt,” the Duke administration and the players’ faculty critics have acted as if their negative judgments always revolved around the alcohol issue—despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Take, for example, the Group of 88. Its so-called “listening” statement, issued in early April, lamented a “social disaster” that had befallen Duke. The statement described the lacrosse players’ actions as part of a broader pattern of racism at Duke, and thanked protesters who had branded the players as rapists. But while race and rape were on the minds of the Group of 88, alcohol was not. Nowhere did the signatories assert that excessive alcohol consumption formed part of Duke’s “social disaster”: the statement contained not even a single mention about alcohol-induced behavior among Duke undergraduates.

But times change, and so, apparently, do arguments. Compare, for instance, two columns published by William Chafe, the most academically distinguished of the Group of 88. In a March 31 article in the Duke Chronicle, Chafe argued:

The events that occurred on Buchanan Boulevard two weeks ago are part of a deep and troubling history, [in which] . . . sex and race were both instruments of domination. White men of means could access and exercise power. Through most of our history, African Americans and women could not—and those who tried to act otherwise were perceived as"uppity," and slapped down. Worst of all, sex was an instrument by which racial power was manifested and perpetuated. Why are most African Americans of a lighter hue than Africans from Nigeria? Because at some point in the past, or present, white males have"had their way" with black women . . . and then, in a perverse form of projection, created the specter of black men seeking to rape white women. That is why most lynchings of black men in the late 19th and early 20th century were justified by accusing black men of lusting after white women—even though there was little evidence that such attacks ever took place. So sex and race have always interacted in a vicious chemistry of power, privilege, and control. Emmett Till was brutalized and lynched in Mississippi in 1954 for allegedly speaking with too easy familiarity to a white woman storekeeper . . . What has all this to do with America today, and with Duke? Among other things, it helps to put into context what occurred in Durham two weeks ago. The mixture of race and sex that transpired on Buchanan Boulevard is not new.

Chafe’s early analysis has failed to stand the test of time. Indeed, while some (Nicholas Kristof comes to mind) continue to place events at Duke in the “context” of such past civil rights travesties as the Scottsboro Boys case, they are doing so because of the unethical behavior of state, not of the defendants. And it’s turned out that even the two items specifically related to the case about which Chafe claimed “there is no question” actually rely on either the testimony of the second dancer, who after a recent interview with NPR has now offered three mutually exclusive versions of events; or statements incorrectly attributed to the second dancer by an anti-lacrosse local activist, Victoria Peterson.

Yet while Chafe’s March 31 piece made not a single mention of alcohol, his May 3 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which was as hostile to the lacrosse players as its March 31 predecessor, detected the previously-unmentioned alcohol issue as a major problem for the Duke campus. The May 3 column, in fact, contained no less than seven separate mentions of alcohol or campus drinking. This newfound temperance spirit was accompanied by a decline in claims that 19th or 20th century lynchings provided the best “context” to understand the lacrosse players’ behavior. Chafe’s piece in the Chronicle contained no high-minded comparisons between the accuser’s plight and that of Emmitt Till, or, indeed, any mention at all of his previously preferred “context” of lynching.

To date, neither Chafe nor anyone else in the Group of 88 has explained why, though neither the group’s initial statement nor Chafe’s early column did not even once mention alcohol, these heirs of the 1960s and 1970s free-spirited academic left have suddenly felt the urge to stage a revival of the Durham branch of the WCTU—and to do so, coincidentally, just as evidence that their earlier insinuations of rape, racism, and sexism began to vanish. Surely this newfound concern with temperance couldn’t represent a hypocritical attempt to pin something on the lacrosse players, now that the factual premises of the “listening” statement and other early remarks by group members appear unsustainable?

In the press, the “listening” faculty have gained warm support from Durham Herald-Sun columnist John McCann, another convert to the evils of Demon Rum. By participating in a “drunken orgy” over spring break, McCann asserted (in a June 1 column that is no longer available on the Herald-Sun’s website), “the lacrosse boys brought [the prosecution] on themselves—even if the accuser's lying.” I’d invite McCann to peruse the 48,593 photos that appear on by typing in “spring break drinking.” Is he seriously claiming that if a politically ambitious, ethically dubious prosecutor like Mike Nifong charged any of the people in these 48,593 photos with rape, they would have “brought it on themselves—even if the accuser's lying”?

Even more bizarrely, McCann targeted Reade Seligmann, the one defendant who has produced an airtight alibi (a video of himself someplace else while the crime allegedly was occurring). He noted that while Seligmann’s “mama and daddy” can keep him “out of jail on a $400,000 bond,” Seligmann won’t be able to attend classes until Nifong’s charges are dismissed or a trial occurs. But this, McCann sermonized, “is the kind of stuff that happens when you don't keep your nose clean.”

Really? We know that Seligmann did two things: he attended a spring break party that he played no role in organizing; and he drank some beer. And unless the Wachovia ATM video and a plethora of other evidence is manufactured, that’s all he did. He had no disciplinary record. His academic record was positive. Thousands of people—ranging from his former headmaster to casual acquaintances—have praised his personal character. Does McCann really believe that, by attending a party and drinking beer, Seligmann brought upon himself a suspension from school, death threats, being listed alongside Hitler by one MSNBC commentator, and having his photo branded on the cover of Newsweek under the headline “sex, lies, and Duke”?

Perhaps McCann is aiming to moonlight for the Duke PR office, where his ideas would seem right at home. As with the Group of 88, the administration of President Richard Brodhead has engaged in increasingly creative revisionist history. Brodhead’s first major statement on the case came in an open letter dated April 5. This document, which totaled 2401 words, contained a grand total of three sentences devoted to alcohol or campus drinking. And two of those passages were related not to the drinking issue per se but to the “attitudes” associated with groups who drank a lot. The focus of Brodhead’s remarks? Rape, racism, and sexism, with the lacrosse players the targeted group.

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 the objects of their pleasure. When reports of racial abuse are added to the mix, the evil is compounded, reviving memories of the systematic racial oppression we had hoped to have left behind us . . . The episode has brought to glaring visibility . . . concerns of women about sexual coercion and assault, . . . concerns about the culture of certain student groups that regularly abuse alcohol and the attitudes these groups promote, [and] . . . concerns about the survival of the legacy of racism, the most hateful feature American history has produced. Compounding and intensifying these issues of race and gender, they include concerns about the deep structures of inequality in our society—inequalities of wealth, privilege, and opportunity (including educational opportunity), and the attitudes of superiority those inequalities breed . . . The objection of our East Campus neighbors was a reaction to an attitude of arrogant inconsiderateness that reached its peak in the alleged event but that had long preceded it [How can anything “reach its peak” in an “alleged event”?] . . . The huge majority of Duke students are well-behaved and good-hearted, and many work hard for the larger social good . . . [the university will] suggest improvements in the ways Duke educates students in the values of personal responsibility, consideration for others, and mutual respect in the face of difference and disagreement. The goal of this [campus culture] initiative is not to tell students ‘what to think’ in some simplistic or doctrinaire way [Don’t bet on it.]. Nevertheless, this is our chance to take the ethical dimension of education much more seriously than heretofore.

So, to summarize: in his April 5 statement, Brodhead never once expressed doubt that a rape occurred, and offered several lines (“rape is the substitution of raw power . . .”) that seemed to accept one of Nifong’s central (and, as it increasingly appears, inaccurate) premises—that a rape actually happened. “Racial abuse,” he admitted, was confined to “reports”—but he then recommended a slew of campus initiatives based on the assumption that racial abuse had in fact occurred. The “alleged event” showed that Duke hadn’t been serious enough about either the “ethical dimension of education” or addressing the “inequalities of wealth, privilege, and opportunity (including educational opportunity), and the attitudes of superiority those inequalities breed.” And apparently the lacrosse players, unlike the “huge majority” of Duke students, weren’t “good-hearted.”

Exactly two months later, on June 5, Brodhead released his next major statement on the case. By this point, of course, no one outside of Nifong’s office or the Kelley/Baker orbit dared assert, as fact, that a rape occurred. Nor, in light of the Coleman Committee’s findings, could anyone responsibly claim that the lacrosse players were racists or sexists. Yet, as I’ve noted before, the 2342 words of the June 5 letter sustained the administration’s harshly negative style. But a new sin justified the condemnatory tone—consumption of alcohol. Brodhead fretted about:

questions of student conduct that range far beyond the March 13 party and that are sources of concern whether the legal charges are upheld or not, [including] behavior that is thoughtless of others, among them our off-campus neighbors . . . and the abuse of alcohol. In the wake of events of this spring, we have recognized the need to clarify the standards of behavior that will be expected of all Duke students. We also need to clarify our expectations for students in off-campus settings . . . If and when Duke resumes the playing of men’s lacrosse, we cannot return to the status quo as of March 12. Though it did not confirm the worst allegations against this team, the Coleman Committee documented a history of irresponsible conduct [which related solely to alcohol; all other mention of the players’ conduct in the report was unequivocally positive] that this university cannot allow to continue . . . Whether or not the felony charges are upheld against the three indicted students, the fact is that members of the team engaged in irresponsible and dishonorable behavior on the evening of March 13, and those who were involved bear responsibility for their actions.

Auditioning for the role of a 21st century Frances Willard, Brodhead pushed through a new “team standard” that prohibited consumption of underage alcohol or alcohol-involved parties at which underage students were present. He added a five-pronged “mission statement” to which all players had to pledge, with high-minded clauses unrelated to alcohol ("We will place primacy on our academic endeavors, and recognize the importance of intellectual growth throughout our undergraduate careers";"Through our interactions on campus and in the broader community, we will demonstrate the virtues of compassion, sensitivity, and respect"). The mere outlining of these standards suggested that the players hadn't met them—the administrative equivalent of asking a man when he stopped beating his wife. Yet the findings of the Coleman Committee unequivocally held that the behavior of nearly all team members had conformed to these values.

An emerging problem, however, threatens to bedevil Duke’s new temperance crusade. Before March 13, an informal win/win/win arrangement seems to have existed regarding consumption of alcohol by Duke students. The administration would look the other way, provided underage drinking occurred off campus. Students could drink as they pleased, provided they were willing to pay nominal (usually $100) penalties or perform minimal community service if cited by local authorities. Durham could increase its coffers with fines collected from non-residents, provided its officials didn’t abuse the privilege enough to invite pressure from Duke alumni or parents. The only losers in this arrangement were those who lived nearby the off-campus residences occupied by around 25% of Duke’s undergraduates.

Several weeks ago, however, Nifong revoked the deals regarding the 15 lacrosse players (but not the other 385 Duke students cited for comparable offenses). But an unexpected development has occurred: the drinking charges haven’t stood up. To date, judges have dismissed the two cases that have come to court; there’s every reason to expect more forthcoming dismissals. The net result: by the end of the summer, a good chance exists that the percentage of alcohol-related offenses by lacrosse players will be essentially the same as that for Duke undergraduates as a whole.

Since admitting their early condemnations were overstated isn’t an alternative for Brodhead or the Group of 88, expect Durham’s WCTU revival to abruptly end. Options for a new sin to pin on the players aren’t many, but one does exist. In spring 2004, Professor Peter Wood complained to the administration when some lacrosse players missed one of his Friday classes to attend a practice. (An extracurricular obligation leading students to miss one class? Shocking!) But after the scandal erupted, Wood’s tale expanded into previously unmentioned territory, assaulting the players’ academic integrity. The Coleman Committee found no evidence to substantiate these new allegations; even Wood’s T.A. could not confirm his revisionist claims. But she offered her professor a concession: the players, she said, had exhibited “aggressive body language.” She hastened to add that: (1) she hadn’t commented about this issue at the time; (2) she had received no complaints on the matter from any students in the class; and (3) she could recall no specific event in which the players’ “aggressive body language” was memorable. This is the perfect offense: since it’s wholly subjective and no one can remember it, it can’t be disproved.

As part of the team’s new “mission statement,” Brodhead required each lacrosse player to pledge to “display the courage necessary to advocate just causes in the face of public or social pressures.” Since March 14, that’s what each and every member of the lacrosse team seems to have done. They have faced extraordinary public pressure from a local prosecutor who has operated under the premise that state ethics guidelines don’t apply to him. On campus, their own administration refused to stand up for their basic rights, while they faced harsh attacks from the only faculty publicly commenting about their status. And yet the lacrosse players have maintained fidelity to the most basic of “just causes”—the belief that authorities should follow normal procedures for all, regardless of the race, class, or gender of the subjects under investigation. Unfortunately, operating in an atmosphere of academic groupthink, both Brodhead and the Group of 88 have seemed much more willing than members of the team to bend to “public or social pressures.” Perhaps it’s time for the Duke administration and faculty to adopt a new mission statement?

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Robert KC Johnson - 6/20/2006

The better solution would be for Duke to have all of its undergrads live on campus. Even in dorms, undergrads often are loud and party, especially on weekend nights. When I taught at Williams, I lived in a faculty apt. in a student dorm, and didn't particularly like it when neighbors were loud. But I wouldn't have implicitly supported the local prosecutor railroading them on trumped-up charges, or signed a Group of 88-like statement publicly denouncing them, either.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2006

I suspect that someone in Durham would be happy to sell 608 or 612 Buchanan Blvd to any of you who are complaining about local attitudes toward Duke lacrosse team players.

Robert KC Johnson - 6/19/2006

My apologies for overlooking this thoughtful post.

I plead guilty to the charge that I'm engaging in a bit of 20/20 hindsight in my critique of Brodhead--my original interpretations of him were far milder.

I changed perspective for two reasons: 1.) His failure to protest Nifong's decision to send police to campus to question the students outside presence of their counsel. This was an easy call--Nifong's actions were clearly wrong, and the matter was wholly procedural. In this circumstance, Brodhead's silence contributed to the witch hunt.

2.) His June 5 statement, which was phrased in such a way to suggest that the allegations against the players remained intellectually viable and seemed to suggest, without reason to do so, that Nifong was interested in "truth and justice."

Robert KC Johnson - 6/19/2006

I agree completely. I'm not of the 60s generation, and I admit that my college behavior mirrored Ralph's. But the idea that this particular group--60s radicals and their intellectual heirs--spent their college experience avoiding alcohol and drugs is a little hard to swallow.

Robert KC Johnson - 6/19/2006

Excellent point. I think that recruitment as a whole at Duke will suffer. The combination of the extraordinary local antipathy on display, Nifong's lack of ethics, and the institution's apparent willingness to join in the witch hunt I would think would give any parent considerable pause before sending his or her son to the school.

Duke Martin - 6/19/2006

Adding my own experience: Yesterday at a barbeque where the uncle of a local basketball phee-nom was present: the opinion was made that Duke will have a tough time recruiting from now on. He said his nephew was strongly leaning to Duke both because of Coach K and the academics but the recruiters from all the other colleges were pointing out the witch hunt at Duke complete with documentation. His nephew has all but ruled out Duke and is leaning strongly to Stanford, UCLA, or Georgetown with UCLA his most likely choice. You can bet every blue chipper in the country is very well read about the "rape" of that "poor Black Woman" and will consider options.

Oscar Chamberlain - 6/18/2006

Do remember that most of this evidence against the charged being filed has been released by the defense. Please also remember that it is a standard defense ploy in rape cases to bring the alledged victims veracity into question.

You have not heard her explanation of the discrepancies.

Henry Allen Mitchell - 6/18/2006

Good point. Most of the kids and professors today are so ready to be offended and hysterical at the drop of a hat, it leaves scarcely any time to contemplate something more elevated.

If a terrorist knows where a bomb is that will go off in :10 minutes, what do you do? Undergrad answer: ask him if he's hurt or sick, if he needs medical attention, and if his father beat him as a child.

Boom! We're all dead, but pleased with ourselves.

Henry Allen Mitchell - 6/18/2006

On the other hand, I was an early '80's spoiled professional's son, enjoying too much beer/liquor--it was legal to drink beer at 18 then--occasional sexual indiscretion, occasional rite of passage stripper show.

This kind of stuff used to be pretty tame stuff, but the climate is different. Then, the PC stuff was just starting to assert itself. I don't think we were in jeopardy of having the race rowdies like Jackson and Black Panthers come to complain about us hiring a stripper at a college party. It just wasn't a big deal.

Now, you have to get a written release to date a girl, or hire a stripper . . .

Henry Allen Mitchell - 6/18/2006

I am but 43. But I studied history at Davidson, and enjoyed that discipline.

And I was not directing this comment at all '60's students, but only those like the professorial class who were largely the devotees of the "free love/drugs" lifestyle as religion.

Most of the guys and gals populating the faculty lounge at Duke and other colleges and universities are cut from the same cloth due to the hiring biases that exist in higher ed.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/18/2006

If I may say so, you two sound like a couple of 60-somethings recalling your own decadence. As a matter of fact, I too am a 60-something. Whatever stereotypes you like to indulge, we were not all drinking and doping in the 1960s. Some of us were at Duke, were serious students, and honorably earned the local prosecutor's wrath in the civil rights movement. I wish I saw some of the same determination on positive social change in Duke's lacrosse team.

Ivan Fosheim - 6/18/2006

Outstanding point. The campus of this and every other university is inhabited and run by the “don’t trust anyone over30,” “if it feels good do it,” “f*** you, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today” generation. Raised in a climate of situational ethics, they did not hesitate a moment to throw the Duke players under the bus. After all, they were under attack by the professional race baiters, their natural allies and ideological brethren. Given a choice between right and expediency, there was never question. God, these people are vile.

Henry Allen Mitchell - 6/18/2006

I just read that Newsweek article. That's great. Blame the 'blogs!

Good comments here, KC. I agree with you. I initially thought the opposite when I first heard the unequivocal comments from Nifong. But, the prosecution is a joke.

I'm a lawyer in Durham although not a trial lawyer anymore. I rarely go to the courthouse (thank the Lord). But, I never got the sense that Nifong was a particularly good prosecutor. Now we know for sure.

The two items that stand out at least one of which ought to be persuasive a trial: the accuser's story changed when she was about to be involuntarily committed, and the reaction of the kids when the lawyer said they could give DNA samples or fight the subpoena. The kids all got up without indecision and drove downtown to cooperate, despite Nifong's assertion of "covering" for each other.

Robert KC Johnson - 6/18/2006

Newsweek has a lengthy story just out, given added credibility by the fact that it was co-authored by editor Evan Thomas. The conclusion: "Court documents in the case increasingly suggest that Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong had very little evidence upon which to indict three players for rape. Indeed, the available evidence is so thin or contradictory that it seems fair to ask what Nifong could have been thinking when he confidently told reporters that there was "no doubt" in his mind that the woman had been raped at the party held by the lacrosse team."

Nifong's sole comment: "None of the 'facts' I know at this time, indeed, none of the evidence I have seen from any source, has changed the opinion that I expressed initially"; and he lashed out at "media speculation," adding, "and it is even worse on the blogs."

Robert KC Johnson - 6/18/2006

If I believed that "Durham's crusaders against alcohol" were in any way sincere, I'd agree wholeheartedly with that you say. But if they were sincere, they would have used the initial reports as a "teachable moment," and said this is the sort of problem that comes when students drink too much. But, as the post above points out, they didn't do that. The initial statements on the faculty side--statements to which I've linked--contained absolutely no mention of alcohol consumption and its problems; Brodhead's initial statement basically ignored the issue, discussing it primarily in the context of the (racist, sexist) ideas associated with people who rank a lot. Instead, they did things like say "thank you" to the protesters who were branding the players rapists, or cite the lynching of Emmitt Till as the proper context for understanding events on the night of March 13-14.

In part I see no teaching role on this matter because I've seen how colleges have abused their teaching role on other behavior-related issues in the last 15 years. But I agree with you wholeheartedly in the ideal world, one would be possible.

The Duke people would have a lot more credibility on this issue if they accompanied their sudden obsession with alcohol in analyzing this case with statements that their initial insinuations and allegations about racism, sexism, and rape were wrong.

Robert KC Johnson - 6/18/2006

I agree with all three statements, most notably the problem of any traumatized woman in making an identification.

Given (2) and (3), it is possible at this point at say that even while Seligmann is demonstrably innocent--a strong statement, but one I think is wholly justified at this stage in time--another member of the team might be guilty; and if so, while this would still be a legal monstrosity, the Duke response might be somewhat tenable.

That gets into the question of proving a negative, but one that in this case I believe is possible. The general attack described by the accuser--a violent assault lasting 30 minutes--was (a) inconsistent with the version of events described by the second dancer and authenticated by photos from the scene; and (b) inconsistent with no DNA from any of the players. Even Nifong, in his court filing, confidently stated that given the facts of this alleged crime, DNA would have implicated the guilty. He then changed his tune when no DNA match arrived.

Those facts leave us with (1). I would submit that the only reason we still have (1) is that this case happened to coincide with the recent appointment of a prosecutor in Durham who has proven to be deeply unethical. I initially thought a combination of incompetence and bad judgment might explain Nifong's actions, but after the most recent defense filing, which released the initial statements of the second dancer, the policeman who initially responded, the man who had "driven" the accuser to four "appointments" in the 72 hours before the incident, and a sworn summary of the medical report--the whole evidence the authorities would have had, along with the accuser's multiple versions of events and the three captains' statements, which all denied that anything occurred, when Nifong first publicly proclaimed that a rape occurred, on March 27--I can't see any way a fair prosecutor could have believed that a crime occurred in this case.

Henry Allen Mitchell - 6/18/2006

One little problem. The accuser has substantial credibility issues outside the scope of identification of the "rapists."

She has accused her fellow stripper at one point of assisting the "rapists." The other stripper says the whole thing is a "crock."

The medical and other documentary evidence shows that the accuser only came up with a rape story when the cops had taken her to a mental health facility for evaluation and detox.

This is an important part of the story few are paying attention to. She had a motive to lie--to get out of the mental ward. And that's why her story changed so substantially over time beyond the identification issue.

Henry Allen Mitchell - 6/18/2006

Proceeds from its leadership, or lack thereof, rather from its students.

What do you think these same professors and administrators were doing when they were 18-21 year olds in school? Toking, drinking, and whoring per the zeitgeist of the age of Aquarius. Where do you think the students got the idea? These are the fruits of their parents' and professors' generation.

The faculty and admin. are purely reactive. There are no real standards except for those invented in the moment of a great "scandal." The scandal is higher ed.

Oscar Chamberlain - 6/18/2006

KC you have made it clear that there is a mess here, a bigger one that I thought at first.

However, I would say to you and even more to others above that

1. there is still a rape charge here

2. the main public argument against the charge involves something that is often a problem in rape cases--the difficulty of the rape victim in identifying the attacker. If her basic charge is true, that problem of identification could have been compounded by the sea of faces that surrounded her , and

3. if she was raped at that party, something that is not yet proven, even if she misidentified the rapist, it has pretty much has to have been a member of the team.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/18/2006

May the spirit of Carolyn Green Hutto forgive your libel.

Mark Mywords - 6/18/2006

Well...I guess Duke is where the money is, but I think I'd sue the professors.

Thomas M Comerford - 6/17/2006

Sorry for my parenthetical reference to subtraction of 1928 from this year. it was in the original e-mail I sent to a friend.

My bad editing


Thomas M Comerford - 6/17/2006

Plus ça change. Read Evelyn Waugh’s 1928 Decline and Fall (that’s 78 years ago since you can’t subtract), which starts on the night of the annual orgy of Oxford’s most aristocratic dining club:
“From the rooms of Sir Alistair Digby-Vane-Trumpington [a student] came a confused roaring and breaking of glass…

“At the last dinner… a fox had been brought in in a cage and stoned to death with champagne bottles….

“A shriller note could now be heard rising from Sir Allistair’s rooms; any who had heard that sound would shrink from the recollection of it; it is the sound of the English country families braying for broken glass. Soon they would be all tumbling out into the quad, crimson and roaring in their bottle-green evening coats, for the real romp of the evening…

“ There must be fifty of them at least’ said Mr. Postelwaite [the Domestic Bursar]…‘Fifty of them at ten pounds [fine] each. Oh my!’

“ ‘It’ll be more if they attack the chapel’ said Mr. Sniggs [the junior Dean] ‘Oh please God, make them attack the chapel’ ”

Mark Douglas Jaeger - 6/17/2006

Indeed. The case against the lacrosse players appears to be crumbling faster than a three week-old vanilla wafer. If I were a Vegas odds-maker, I'd say the following outcomes are likely:

1. All of the accused are going to be acquitted.

2. They will immediately turn around around and slap massive defamation lawsuits on Duke.

3. If the plaintiffs win, they may very well put Duke University, for all intents and purposes, out of business.

We'll see what happens, but, in my view, this case could be a tipping point; the beginning of the end of academic PC insanity.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/17/2006

To speak of "Durham's crusaders against alcohol" is to refuse to acknowledge that that is, in many ways, precisely what they are not. Those who insist that students consume alcohol responsibly are simply _not_ blue-nosed prohibitionists. It is they who believe that undergraduates are capable of being responsible young adults. One of my students at Antioch taught me this. He had finally gone on the wagon just after a binge, when he had a broken beer bottle in his hand and was about to attack his best friend. It's sad that KC sees no teaching role for administrators or faculty members who could help students to understand where that cliff is -- before they march right up to it themselves. Some, like my student at Antioch, will pull back from it. Others, like some of the Duke lacrosse players, will plunge right ahead and find themselves in a heap of trouble.

D. Forbes Tuttle - 6/17/2006

William Chafe, of the Group of 88, makes some observations and conclusions regarding relations between the races that reflect an ancient history at odds with contemporary facts. In fact, Chafe is attempting to use this ancient history to convict the lacrosse players--a history inapplicable and inadmissable when considering the contemporary facts.

In contrast to Chafe's allusion to the cause of the lighter skin hue of African-Americans, when compared to Nigerians, contemporary social science data would point out that black men date, and marry, white women at a vastly higher rate than the reverse. So it would be more accurate to say that it is black men that have "had their way" with white women, despite Chafe's contrary assertions.

More troubling though is Chafe's unironic bit of historical analysis that white males, "in a perverse form of projection, created the specter of black men seeking to rape white women. That is why most lynchings of black men in the late 19th and early 20th century were justified by accusing black men of lusting after white women—even though there was little evidence that such attacks ever took place." The "projection" is a result of the asserted fact that white males "had their way" with black women.

The irony of inserting this historical analysis into the contemporary story is that it is the opposite of the facts of the current era. A review of Justice Department crime statistics will illustrate that white males do not rape black women, and that white women are the victim of nearly one-half of all rapes committed by black males.

The tragedy of our country's racist past is just that, tragic. But worse still, is the perpetuation of that past into a type of "universal truth" at odds with the facts regarding race and rape in this country.

Statistics don't prove anything, but they do illustrate data at odds with the myths used as argument by Chafe.

Christopher Franklin Wilson - 6/17/2006

I am pretty much with you except for the critique of Prof. Brodhead.

The problems I have seem to arise from your using 20/20 hindsight. It does not shock me that B's first letter did not focus on underage drinking - is that what you would have focused on then?

Recall that the facts then were pretty sketchy and prosecutors with 27 years of experience win convictions in say 90% of their cases.

A lack of "rah rah" support for the lax team then was understandable, at that time.

I also think you set the bar too low in saying lax players do ok academically and that is all that matters.

Duke spends say $500,000 per year on lax, or say $10,000 plus per player per year.

If, instead, Duke said we will pay you that $10,000 but we want you to use it for say research in Haiti (helping Dr. Farmer), or working on your start-up next-generation Facepage venture, or building the next Microsoft, would that be better?

Recall, these Duke spots are for the "best and brightest." We may not be doing folks like EF&S any favors in pushing for lax in place of other sorts of ventures.

For example, if Evans and his family had spent say 8 years working on a robotics or genetics or nanotechnology genius, rather than a lax prodigy, would they and Duke be better off?

Just food for thought before we get too preachy about the Coleman report and the "clean bill" it supposedly gives the lax program.

One more gripe: when you say you are giving a summary, give a summary, not an argument:

"So, to summarize: in his April 5 statement, Brodhead never once expressed doubt that a rape occurred, and offered several lines (“rape is the substitution of raw power . . .”) that seemed to accept one of Nifong’s central (and, as it increasingly appears, inaccurate) premises—that a rape actually happened."

As I recall, he made it clear that the guilt issue was to be decided in court, and the factual versions varied markedly. He was not properly called on to say "I think they are not guilty" or "I think they are guilty."

"'Racial abuse,' he admitted, was confined to 'reports'—but he then recommended a slew of campus initiatives based on the assumption that racial abuse had in fact occurred."

This is not summary, this is your spin. The campus iniatives were logical and have proved useful (Coleman report, B&C report, judicial procedures report), or at least not harmful. They were based on neutral charter documents.

"The 'alleged event' showed that Duke hadn’t been serious enough about either the 'ethical dimension of education' or addressing the 'inequalities of wealth, privilege, and opportunity (including educational opportunity), and the attitudes of superiority those inequalities breed.' And apparently the lacrosse players, unlike the 'huge majority' of Duke students, weren’t 'good-hearted.'"

The Pres. did not opine on the heart of the lax players. The lax team tradition of hiring a stripper each spring (or going to a strip club) and its tradition of underage tailgate party drinking, with Coach meeting all drunk players at the flag pole to make sure they stop drinking and go see the football game, suggests room for improvement. Pres. B was well within his rights in saying we are not going to accept the status quo.

Generally, thanks for some fine writng about an interesting subject!

Robert KC Johnson - 6/17/2006

As Stuart notes above, I fully confess to hyperbole. And with a purpose: the WCTU activists were, at least, genuine in their beliefs. I see no evidence that the newfound crusaders against alcohol at Duke are: that was the whole point of this essay. If they were so concerned as it applied to this specific case, why no mention of the issue in their initial condemnations? Given (as you note) the alcohol issue seems to have been a campus concern for many years, you'd think it would have immediately come up. Yet it's not in the Chafe article, it's not in the Group of 88 statement, and it's barely in the Brodhead statement. Only once the initial allegations in these statements became unprovable did we start seeing large-scale mentioning of alcohol/underage drinking from the folks at Duke. The timing of that, to be blunt, strikes me as highly suspicious.

On the affair itself: the captains themselves have admitted that it was a mistake holding the party. I don't know of anyone who has claimed otherwise--I certainly haven't. But it's worth remembering that the worst alleged aspects of the affair--which, as you point out, were "racially hinged remarks and team players releaving themselves from the front porch"--come from one and only one source: Ms. Roberts, a/k/a Ms. Pittman, the second dancer. (All sides, including the neighbor, have conceded that as Ms. Roberts/Pittman departed, she said a nasty racially charged remark to one of the players, and one of the players responded similarly. But Ms. Roberts/Pittman is the only witness to the claim of repeated racial taunts, just as she is the only witness to the broomstick comment--which she has not described in three, mutually exclusive, ways.) Ms. Roberts/Pittman has, as I noted in the post, told at least three general versions of events, and sent an email early on to a publicist asking for help in how she could make money off the case. Without corroboration, I find it hard to take what she says at face value.

But I have no problem with condemning the event. What I do have a problem with is the general condemnation of a group of students whose personal behavior was thoroughly investigated by the Coleman Committee and found to be, by and large, commendable; and with what seems to me the cynical use of campus drinking to obscure the fact that lots of people at Duke contributed to a witch hunt atmosphere that, in retrospect, is impossible to defend.

Stuart Taylor - 6/17/2006

Methinks the gentleman (Ralph Luker) doth protest too much. Perhaps someone could introduce him to a professor who could explain what most of us learned in 9th grade English about a rhetorical device called hyperbole.

Bruce Rheinstein - 6/17/2006

Publicly labeling someone a rapist is about as close to the dictionary definition of defamation per se as you can get.

Tim Pfister - 6/17/2006

It is obvious that no rape occured. The idea that college students,of any age, drink alcohol is not exactly new. Even traditionly Black colleges have this as a daily event. The gloried '60s were filled with drugs AND alcohol. I know, I was there. The continued pandering to race hustlers is painful to watch but all too common. The rush to judgement will unravel but the race-baiters will be undeterred,now and in the future.
The black "college" student could also be described as a stripper/prostitute.

Ivan Fosheim - 6/17/2006

This time there are real rapes going on at Duke. And in broad daylight. The intellectual rapists on the Duke campus are reacting as the actual charges against the lacrosse players are proving more and more likely to be perjured.

The reaction of the faculty and the bleating of the administration is right out of the grievance industry playbook and it works every time because the nuclear weapon of these race hustlers is so terrifying to the people who head these universities that all they can do is grab their ankles and bend over.

It puts me in mind of the Iran-Iraq war; they both deserve to lose.

As you may be able to tell, I am not a member of the faculty of any university. The antics of the inmates of this asylum would be funny if it did not involve real lives and real people.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/17/2006

KC, The tone of this is just so way off the mark that I despair of reasoning with you. A) All the sneering references to WCTU, prohibition, temperance, etc., plays to stereotypes every bit as denigrating as any that the people you've criticized for that have done. It ignores all evidence that the temperance movement arose in protest against widely irresponsible and destructive over-consumption of alcohol in 19th century America. That it arose primarily among women is pretty good evidence of its male abuse and destructive effects on family life. B) No one has re-created a blue-nose temperance movement in Durham for the blue devils. Your cynical attitude about the possibility of Duke students behaving in a responsible manner -- constraining the alcohol-released racism and sexism -- is deeply depressing. It entirely ignores the fact that this is a problem that has been repeatedly identified as peculiarly deep and difficult at Duke for at least 15 years now. It isn't something that anyone discovered as a fall-back charge from rape. By _any_ construction of events, the party at 610 Buchanan Blvd. was a disgraceful affair -- one that was informally sponsored by the lacrosse team, featured female strippers, underage drinking, racially hinged remarks and team players releaving themselves from the front porch. To act as if this is undergraduate behavior as we must accept undergraduate behavior must be is to insult _all_ undergraduates. You have gone way overboard. Sober up.