The ‘Group of 88’ and Richard Brodhead

By November 20, 2007

I’ve posted a few times on Stuart Taylor Jr.’s and KC Johnson’s wonderful and frightening book Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case. FIRE friends need no introduction to the disregard for due process and common decency permeating the academy, but let the following serve as yet more anecdotal evidence.

Eighty-eight Duke professors released an advertisement on April 6 calling the lacrosse party and alleged rape a “social disaster” and remarked that, no matter what the “results of the police investigation” were, something “happened to this young woman.” Duke President Richard Brodhead would lend the credibility of his position to this absurd claim at a meeting before the Durham Chamber of Commerce, stating, “If our students did what is alleged, it is appalling to the worst degree. If they didn’t do it, whatever they did is bad enough.”

Except that the students did nothing—at least, nothing that would deserve a thirty-year prison sentence and nothing that should deserve the public condemnation of their university president. They did, of course, hold a stripper party. The basketball team had also held a stripper party two weeks before the lacrosse party. In fact, there had been over twenty stripper parties that year at Duke.

Of course, the right to free expression protected the Group of 88’s advertisement. Even denouncements of legal fairness and due process are protected. But whatever such professors might say, Brodhead had an institutional and moral obligation to offer his students institutional protection. He failed to do so.

Lacrosse player John Walsh was given a bad grade for a make-up assignment by Professor Claire Ashton-James. When Walsh met with her about it she said, “If you guys really were innocent, I would feel sorry for you.” Visiting Professor Kim Curtis flunked one of the lacrosse players. He sued and Duke changed his grade to a pass. Other faculty members took class time to publicly demonize the students and discuss their presumed guilt, even with some of them present in the class. Professor William Chafe compared the students to the murderers of Emmett Till. Professor Sally Deutsch, now a dean, still believes that the rape occurred, the overwhelming evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has taken the extraordinary step of declaring the young men innocent, an unnecessary measure in the American judicial system that demonstrated the absurdity of the claims against them. But the Duke faculty never seemed to care about the facts.

The administration never took any measures to protect Duke’s lacrosse players from hostile faculty members other than a single e-mail sent on April 3 by Dean Robert Thompson to the faculty urging caution, a warning the faculty failed to heed because they knew Brodhead would never challenge them. Johnson and Taylor appropriately quote Richard Bernstein’s 1994 book, Dictatorship of Virtue: “[I]n the era of political correctness and craven university administrations, the charge of racism, unsubstantiated but accompanied by a few demonstrations and angry rhetorical perorations, suffices to paralyze a campus, to destroy a reputation, and to compel an administration into submission.”

One Duke professor called the Duke lacrosse players “farm animals.” Following that theme, I think an apt designation for Brodhead is “chicken.”

Schools: Duke University