Last April I wrote to The Chronicle in support of Mike Pressler, former coach of men's lacrosse at Duke. At that time I was concerned that the decision to fire him had been premature, coming only a few weeks after the fateful Buchanan Street party, and certainly long before all of the facts were known. Now, six months later, it is quite clear that my concerns were justified.
I do not ascribe to President Brodhead's position that someone had to fall on his sword to atone for the March 13 lacrosse party. But even if one does buy into that silly notion, why was it coach Pressler? Certainly the several reports emanating from President Brodhead's committee's looking into the lacrosse incident identified a number of individuals more culpable than Pressler. If the goal were to send a message, wouldn't firing Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, Athletics Director Joe Alleva, Vice President Larry Moneta or Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek-or all of them-have been more appropriate?
As displeased as I am with Pressler's firing, my biggest concern has always been with Duke's treatment of the student athletes at the center of the storm. These kids were abandoned by their university. At least one of the indicted students, perhaps all three, was trespassed from Duke property. They were denied the presumption of innocence, despite the mounting evidence that the case against them is made of smoke and mirrors and is fatally flawed procedurally. They have been pilloried by their faculty and scorned by the administration. They are pariahs.
As a Duke faculty member I regard my students in much the same way I regard my children. When my kids do something wrong, I demand accountability. When they break the rules they pay the price, whatever that might be.
With that accountability, however, comes support. My kids know I love them and that I will do everything I can to help them through the rough times. That is what families do. I treat my students the same way.
Duke students should expect nothing less from their university. The day they set foot on the Duke Campus for the first time they became members of the Duke family. For most this was the beginning of a life-long relationship that generates intense loyalties and deep love. The assumption is that the relationship is reciprocal, that Duke holds all of its students in high esteem-loves them-and will support them through the rough times as well as the good. Instead, Duke has disowned its lacrosse-playing student athletes. Their treatment has been shameful.
Over the past six to eight years, I can recall having only a single men's lacrosse player in one of my undergraduate classes. That young man was bright, focused, respectful and engaged. He earned one of the highest grades in a large, difficult and very competitive class. He is now in medical school, well on his way to a career as an orthopedic surgeon.
I mention this because I believe the young man would not mind my describing him in these terms. On the other hand I do not believe that a faculty member publicly describing any student in pejorative terms is ever justified. To do so is mean-spirited, petty and unprofessional, at the very least. The faculty who publicly savaged the character and reputations of specific men's lacrosse players last spring should be ashamed of themselves.
They should be tarred and feathered, ridden out of town on a rail and removed from the academy. Their comments were despicable. I suspect they were also slanderous, but we'll hear more about that later.
Finally, I urge the Duke community to take a reality check. Speak your minds. Do what you think is right. Tell the administration that you are not satisfied with the way they have handled the lacrosse affair. Demand better.
Steven Baldwin is a professor in the Chemistry department.