Some Questions from Friends of Duke University
In a recent Duke Chronicle article, Group of 88 member Ronen Plesser maintained that the new statement of a group calling itself “Concerned Duke Faculty” would form a “basis for a conversation on campus . . . a conversation that will eventually lead to some understanding.”.Friends of Duke University endorses this conversation. But we also believe that the basis for one aspect of this conversation—the meaning of the Group of 88’s April 6 ad—needs more clarification. In that light, we would like to offer some questions for the “Concerned Duke Faculty.”
Principles of Due Process
The April 6 ad explicitly thanked “students speaking individually” and “protestors making collective noise” for not waiting. The fundamental question is what was not worthy of being awaited. Time for reason to assist emotion? Time for evidence to be gathered and assessed? Time for a defense to be made? If you were so attuned to due process, why did you fail to mention it in your April 6 ad?.In your recent statement, you stated “We do not endorse every demonstration that took place at the time. We appreciate the efforts of those who used the attention the incident generated to raise issues of discrimination and violence.” Do you or do you not endorse the “potbanging” protest that was widely covered in the media? Could you explain to the University community what criteria you used in the April 6 ad to determine which protests were worthy of your endorsement and which protests merited your disapproval?.In your recent statement, you claim to “stand firmly by the principle of the presumption of innocence.” What, then, should readers of the April 6 ad have inferred from your reference to “what happened to this young woman”? Given that she had accused members of the Duke lacrosse team of rape, isn’t that the obvious inference, carrying with it implied guilt of some members of the lacrosse team?.Do you believe that Mike Nifong acted properly when he went to the grand jury on April 17 to seek indictments against Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty?
Statements of Your Fellow Signatories
Do you agree with the March 31 Chronicle op-ed of your colleague and fellow signatory, Bill Chafe, who suggested that the whites who lynched Emmett Till provided an appropriate historical context through which to interpret the actions of the lacrosse players?.Do you agree with the claim of your colleague and fellow signatory, Karla Holloway, that innocence and guilt have been “assessed through a metric of race and gender. White innocence means black guilt”? If so, which pieces of evidence cited by defenders of the players relate to race and gender?.Your colleague and fellow signatory, Alex Rosenberg, told the New York Sun on October 27 that he signed the ad because he was bothered by “affluent kids violating the law to get exploited women to take their clothes off when they could get as much hookup as they wanted from rich and attractive Duke coeds.” Was raising this issue one of the ad’s purposes?
The University and Its Students
Will you document the methodology used to obtain a representative cross section of campus opinion for the “listening” statement?
The April 6 ad contains the following anonymous quote from an alleged Duke student: “Being a big, black man, it’s hard to walk anywhere at night, and not have a campus police car slowly drive by me.” Have any of you approached the Duke police force to ask if it has a policy of slowing down when officers see a Black man on campus? Have any of you experienced or observed this phenomenon?.In your recent statement, you criticized those who read the April 6 ad “as rendering a judgment in the case.” That ad quoted an anonymous student, who allegedly said, “no one is really talking about how to keep the young woman herself central to this conversation”; another anonymous student allegedly said, “If something like this happens to me . . . what would be used against me—my clothing?” Would you agree that these anonymous students appeared to have rendered a judgment in the case?
Given that in your new statement you decried an atmosphere that allowed “sexual violence to be so prevalent on campus,” would you recommend that female students accepted to the Class of 2011 attend Duke? If so, how could you support their entering an environment that you have publicly described as so dangerous?.Would you be willing to sign a statement, such as that of the Economics Professors, saying that all students, including lacrosse players and other student-athletes, are welcome in your classes?.These questions were gathered from comments made on our website, and on Professor KC Johnson’s website. Friends of Duke University does not endorse anonymous e-mails and does not endorse efforts to threaten or harass members of the lacrosse team, or any other Duke University students. Nor do we endorse efforts to threaten or harass signatories to the original Group of 88 ad or the “Concerned Faculty” statement. We do, however, believe the public statements by faculty members in both instances raise important questions and we support a dialogue about the questions presented in this ad and elsewhere.
Press ReleaseFriends of Duke UniversityDate: February 8, 2007Subject: Our response to the Open Letter posted by “Concerned Faculty” at Duke UniversityContact: Jason Trumpbour, Spokesperson.Background.On April 6, 2006, a group of 88 Duke University professors published an advertisement in the University newspaper The Chronicle. This ad, entitled “We are listening to our students,” contained several references to the Duke lacrosse case. It made reference to “what happened to this young woman” and stated, “To the students speaking individually and to the protestors making collective noise, thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard.” It contained quotes from students such as “If something like this happens to me . . . What would be used against me--my clothing”? And “no one is really talking about how to keep the young woman herself central to this conversation.”.These professors who became known as the “Group of 88” were widely criticized for prejudging the guilt of members of the men’s lacrosse team and for attempting to advance whatever agenda they had at the expense of these students and their reputations. Their ad was also cited by defense attorneys in their motion for a change in venue as evidence of extremely prejudicial pretrial publicity..Nine months later, on January 16, 2007, a group containing most of the same members and now calling itself the “Concerned Faculty” posted an open letter on their website defending their original ad. Claiming that the original ad had been “broadly, and often intentionally, misread . . . as rendering a judgment in the case,” the group rejected calls to retract or apologize for it. The complete text of the Concerned Faculty statement as well as a link to their original ad can be found here..Our Response.One of the group’s members, Ronen Plesser stated, “My personal hope is that this will be the basis for a conversation on campus . . . a conversation that will eventually lead to some understanding.” However, the January 16 open letter begs more questions than it answers about the purposes of the “Listening” ad and the sort of conversation being sought given the peculiar language used to express its points and communicate its premises. The Friends of Duke University thought it appropriate to request further clarification. To that end we have today published an ad in the Chronicle asking a series of questions gathered from comments posted on our website and that of Professor K.C. Johnson’s Durham in Wonderland site..Friends of Duke University has repeatedly reached out to these faculty members. Our first open letter published on July 19 stated,
As for those who were quick to prejudge the accused, particularly the group of 88 professors who signed an earlier call to action, we look upon them not with malice. Instead, we ask that they now count themselves among those victimized by this spring’s false accusations. We hope that all will realize now that our enemies are not each other, but those who would profit from the unfair denigration of our university and its members.A few days before the Concerned Faculty posted their letter, we attempted to find common ground with them by asking if they would join the University in calling for due process for Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, an issue on which we hoped everyone could agree. All of our overtures have been ignored or rebuffed..We remain sincere in our efforts to reach out to them. We are dismayed that, not only would they chose to ignore our efforts, but that they would instead respond with a defiant refusal to admit mistake either in judgment or expression and that they would insult the motives and/or intelligence of their critics. We do not begrudge members of the Group of 88/Concerned Faculty their right to call attention to social issues of concern to them. We instead condemn the unfair public vilification of members of the lacrosse team done in the course of expressing their concerns. We conclude our latest ad with an earnest question: “Would you be willing to sign a statement, such as that of the Economics Professors, saying that all students, including lacrosse players and other student-athletes, are welcome in your classes?”.A copy of that statement, originally published as a letter to the Chronicle, may be found here..Friends of Duke University supports academic freedom for both faculty and students. We have no political agenda and have a diverse following representing all sorts of political views and walks of life. What all of us have in common is a deep commitment to ensuring justice for Reade, Collin and David and fair and equitable treatment for the rest of the team and Duke students generally both on campus and off. We hope that Duke University can once again be a place of civility and mutual respect among all of its members..