Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bon Voyage

“During the meeting, we pleaded with Alleva to amend his statement to say that Duke officials had met with the team captains, knew they were cooperating with the authorities, and believed they were innocent. When Alleva refused to do that, we asked to meet with President Brodhead. After a short break, Alleva returned with Trask and Moneta, who told us flatly that Brodhead would not meet with us. When we asked them to put out a statement from Brodhead saying that Duke was confident that its students were innocent, they refused, and informed us that no further statements would be released by anyone at Duke. They also told us that no further action would be taken by Duke against the team until the legal investigation was concluded, and that steps would be taken to ensure that the team members would be treated fairly by their professors.

As it turned out, none of these assurances from the Duke officials were true. Less than an hour after the meeting broke up, Brodhead issued a statement praising Alleva's action and stating that "physical coercion and sexual assault are unacceptable in any setting and have no place at Duke. The criminal allegations against three members of our men's lacrosse team, if verified, will warrant very serious penalties." Brodhead also urged everyone on the team to cooperate with the authorities. With this statement, Brodhead turned his back on his students, and threw them to the wolves, and helped create the media firestorm that erupted."
Reading a history of former French President Charles de Gaulle, I found a funny cartoon. France was in turmoil and de Gaulle, who some historians believe craved "popularity", had abruptly resigned. The cartoon showed airplane passengers gaping at the sight outside their windows... "Captain" de Gaulle parachuting from the plane while in flight. "This is your Captain speaking...Bon Voyage."

Don't you think we could easily restyle this cartoon to describe the Lacrosse parents and their experience at Duke University last year, under the reign of Not-so-Good Richard Brodhead? When I read the heart-wrenching letter above, one phrase strikes me above all others..."Brodhead would not meet with us."

"Brodhead would not meet with us." These are families facing the crisis of their lives, their sons at risk, their world unraveling. Uncertainty, fear, confusion, and despair were the order of the day. These are members of the extended Duke family to which Brodhead is the "Father" figure. A good "Father" may have stern words or opposing positions that he feels he must deliver. He may have to disappoint or debate his family or flock. But not SEE them? Not deliver those words in person, face to face, with whatever grace he can muster? Incredible. It takes my breath away.

Perhaps it was not "politically" expedient, but it seems a matter of simple moral decency for Brodhead to have met with these parents that day, in their "hour of lead." What does it say about this man to barricade himself behind closed doors at such a crucial moment? C.S.Lewis says "courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point."
The Duke Lacrosse Hoax, among many things, was the hour of testing for Brodhead's leadership and his courage. It was his archetypical moment in Time. That image of him, hours before he is to deliver a harsh statement about their sons, cowering from the parents, is one to remember always. It defines his leadership style. It reveals the man.

"Brodhead would not meet with us." Hm-m-m-m? Some, I've read, had been generous contributors to the University over the years. I imagine Brodhead was happy to take their calls and meet with them on those heady days that brought promise of hefty donations. But, now, in crisis, he is unavailable. I wonder if some of the parents sat there, remembering the Brodhead of their better doubt eager to be in their presence when the perfume of possible monetary contributions filled the air. Now with only an allegation and no evidence, he holds his nose and hides in his office.

"After a short break, Alleda returned with Trask and Moneta, who told us flatly Brodhead would not meet with us." The cowardly Godfather taking to his mattresses and sending his capos out to the streets. The craven Politician peeking from inside his office, watching his Press secretary take the pounding. The cowering General shirking in his tent, while his lieutenants lead the fight. That was Brodhead in crisis. That image will never fade. The gang of 88 saw his weakness and emasculated him. In the absence of a powerful President, their voices became the voices of the University. They set a tone that said these boys were guilty. Brodhead, rudderless and reticent, let it be.

Albert Einstein said,
"Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius...and a lot of courage… to move in the opposite direction."
No genius or courage here, folks. Buffeted by the loudest voices, unable to find his footing or his focus...Brodhead became that very fool. Vacillating, we see him first allowing, then denying an armed hate group the right to assemble on campus and "confront the players." We observe Brodhead turning his eyes away while the young men were heckled in the classroom and harassed on campus by professors…within his employ and area of influence. With only an allegation and no evidence, these faculty members behaved as if the verdict had been read and God had spoken. Brodhead never publicly called them out or called them on the carpet. Once charges were filed, he became a font of limp, legalistic platitudes. Now, as the Hoax unravels, he offers tepid, political pronouncements, only remarkable in their ambiguity. "The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, but conformity." Here is the president of a great university only able to articulate the simplest assurances of our justice system..."innocent until proven guilty" with a brevity that belies his belief. Powerless, he seems unable to balance others' powerful "agendas" with fairness and fact. Spineless, he turns aside these parents in their moment of most need, while appearing at public forums to stroke the masses.

But, "whatever", as my children might say. Duke's Board of Directors seem pleased as punch with the man. Have you heard the faintest outcry from those quarters about the Brodhead regime? I'm "listening for voices" now and I'm not hearing them, are you? Well, Lacrosse parents, in their stead, I offer you this quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet myself, dedicated to our hamstrung Hamlet, Richard Brodhead…
"Leave him to Heaven, and those thorns that in his bosom lie, to prick and sting him."
I've read that airline captains receive the salaries they do...not for those placid moments as we soar through the friendly skies, but for the gut-wrenching white knuckle ones when the landing gear won't come down, or an engine fails. Brodhead grabbed his parachute at the first sign of severe turbulence, and left the cockpit in charge of the passengers screaming loudest.
"This is your Captain speaking…Bon Voyage."
Joan Foster
Statements and Letters By Broadhead:
*Notably absent from this list is the Letter to the Lacrosse Parents.
Perhaps because there was none.


Anonymous said...

But Brodhead DID meet with the faculty and the pot-bangers...

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, Joan, would that Broadhead knew the meaning of the word "shame." Can your letter and the accompanying links be sent to all of the trustees? It should be required reading.
Texas Mom

wts said...

A serious question - What was Broadhead doing at the time he refused to meet with the parents?

wts said...

Dear Mr. Brodhead,

I graduated Trinity in ‘75 and Duke University Graduate School of Business in ’78. I have written twice before and received only form responses.

I am disappointed more and more each day by the failure to demonstrate leadership in the LAX case.

You should write a letter to the Chronicle, the N&O, and the Herald. Let me help you write it:

RE: The case against 3 Duke Lacrosse Students

Dear Editors,

The following is too little too late, and for that I apologize, recognizing my apology is simply not enough.

I believe in legal due process and in our Duke Students. They are innocent. I encourage our Duke Family to assist in their defense. I personally will assist in their defense in whatever way their families would like.

I failed at a very important time in this process to meet with and offer my support the families of our students. I was wrong. I will be meeting soon with each of the students and their families involved in this case, beginning of course with the students that have been charged.

I recognize I cannot reverse the errors of the past. However, I can make sure they are not repeated and I can make sure to lead our students through example.

I will call to task myself, newspapers, bloggers, students, police, DA’s, lawyers, and all others in this case to higher standards.


President Richard Brodhead

Try it out. You might find that leadership suits you.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Texas Mom. Where are these Board of Directors? Please, Joan, send your letter and the accompanying links to all of the Board Members/Trustees. They should be ashamed of themselves.

gc said...


Thanks for another masterpiece. "Brodhead would not meet with us" sounds an awful like
the defense attorneys saying "Nifong refused to meet with us".

My heart aches for those families.

Anonymous said...

Joan, you are a saint! If Broadhead owned any integrity, he would turn in his resignation now.

William L. Anderson

Anonymous said...

Joan is skillful and masterly - a great piece.

Thank you Liestoppers !