Press Release No. 4
Date: December 19, 2006
Subject: Duke University President Richard Brodhead responds to our previous press release
Jason Trumpbour, Spokesperson
Tel: (443) 834-3666
Yesterday’s press release and President Brodhead’s response
Yesterday, the Friends of Duke University enthusiastically endorsed Congressman Walter Jones’ call for the Justice Department to open an inquiry into the misconduct of Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. We also urged Richard Brodhead, President of Duke University; Robert Steel, chairman of the Duke University Board of Trustees; and all other members of the Board of Trustees to publicly endorse Congressman Jones’ request.
In response to our press release, President Brodhead issued a statement that stopped well short of directly criticizing Nifong and made no mention of Congressman Jones’ call for an inquiry. Instead, it merely reminded everyone that “our students must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.”
The full text of yesterday’s press release by the Friends of Duke University can be found here: Press Release No. 3.
President Brodhead’s statement can be found here: Statement by Duke President Brodhead Following Last Friday's Court Hearing in Lacrosse Case.
Our reply to President Brodhead
While we are pleased to see that our Monday morning press release apparently generated a public response from Richard Brodhead, Friends of Duke University is distressed by the president’s meager statement and apparent refusal to endorse the request by Congressman Jones that the Department of Justice investigate the conduct of District Attorney Mike Nifong..
Despite revelations that the district attorney and the director of a private DNA lab entered into an agreement to withhold exculpatory evidence, President Brodhead offered nothing more than the same banal truisms that we have been hearing for months.
He said, “It is of the essence that everyone involved in the legal system act fairly in pursuing the truth and protecting the rights of the individuals involved.” Does he mean to imply that Nifong has acted “fairly”? He said, “The DA’s case will be on trial just as much as our students will be.” This statement would apply to virtually every criminal trial in the country, the vast majority of which are not characterized by prosecutorial misconduct. Such oblique language minimizes the scope of Nifong’s violations of ethical and legal canons by suggesting that obtaining a guilty verdict would justify such misconduct. In fact, the desire to obtain a guilty verdict despite overwhelming evidence of innocence is precisely what appears to have caused the misconduct at issue. Given all that has been revealed, President Brodhead’s unwillingness to comment further on the treatment of Duke students by the district attorney and Durham authorities is unacceptable.
In his statement, the president even appeared to provide a subtle endorsement for Nifong’s case, when he spoke of the time “when [the case] goes before a judge and jury.” Did the president intend to dismiss defense motions that would terminate the case before it “goes” to a “jury”? Did he intend to suggest that the evidence merits a trial and not a dismissal? If not, we urge President Brodhead to issue a statement clarifying his meaning.
President Brodhead should recognize that it is the job of a university president to provide a moral compass for his campus. That job includes going beyond empty rhetoric to take concrete actions, or at least support the concrete actions of others, when a local prosecutor consistently denies due process rights to Duke undergraduates.
The president’s remarks yesterday conveyed the unfortunate impression that Congressman Jones is willing to do more to uphold Duke students’ due process rights than is the president of Duke University. When the rape allegations were first made, the president’s statement included the following remarks:
Whatever that inquiry may show, it is already clear that many students acted in a manner inappropriate to a Duke team member in participating in the March 13 party. I applaud Athletics Director Joe Alleva for responding to the conduct that is not in question even as we wait for the investigation to determine the truth about disputed parts of the events
If this statement contains any substance at all as the proper way to proceed in such cases, why is it not now appropriate to respond to the unquestionably unethical and unlawful conduct of Nifong and applaud Congressman Jones for asking the Justice Department to respond to that conduct accordingly? The longer President Brodhead remains silent and evasive about the conduct of the district attorney, the greater the impression becomes that other concerns are trumping the appropriate concern for students.
Our Group and Its Mission
The Friends of Duke University consists of alumni, parents, faculty and friends of Duke who are deeply concerned about the University’s response to the lacrosse case. We want to ensure fair and equitable treatment for Reade Seligmann, Colin Finnerty and David Evans and feel that the University itself has not done enough to pursue such treatment.
Although we have been happy to take a leadership role in speaking out on behalf of these falsely accused students, we have done so with the recognition that our efforts have largely gone toward filling a vacuum left by Duke’s own leadership. We believe Duke University needs to stand up for its students and for itself.
On the Web:
Friends of Duke University