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Letter from the President

This is an excerpt from President Richard Brodhead's Letter to the Duke Community Monday.

On April 5, in the face of allegations arising from a party held by the men's lacrosse team, I wrote to outline steps the university would take in response to this complex situation. At term's end, I am eager to update you on what we have done and to announce further steps going forward....

After weeks of absorption in a story that often made Duke seem synonymous with bad student behavior, Commencement weekend was deeply refreshing. It gave a powerful reminder of the human promise we are privileged to work with and of the growth students get by attending this great school.

It's important to keep this larger picture in mind as we try to put the men's lacrosse story in perspective. But it is essential that we take that episode seriously as well. Only by facing up to the challenges of this situation will we get the good of these difficult times.

Since I wrote last, three members of the men's lacrosse team have been indicted on felony charges arising from the March 13 party. The students proclaim their innocence on all the counts. As you probably know, initial reports circulated through the media advanced the case against the students; more recent reports have made the case in their favor. But none of us has direct access to the criminal investigation, and until the full evidence is presented, none of us can know with certainty what did or did not happen.

As I have said, it's essential that we allow the criminal justice system to run its course, and that we wait for the truth to be established before we reach final judgment. In the meanwhile, we need to remember that the American legal system is based on the principle of the presumption of innocence. When he handed down his third indictment on May 15, District Attorney Nifong stated that no other students were under investigation; with the cloud of suspicion lifted from other members of the team, the legal case has taken on finite boundaries. Now we must wait for the legal process to do its work.

In the past month, I have received reports from three of the committees I announced on April 5. These include an inquiry into the adequacy of Duke's disciplinary procedures, especially as they relate to off-campus behavior; an inquiry into the prior history of behavior of the men's lacrosse team; and an assessment of the response to this event by the Duke administration. In the wake of events of this spring, we have recognized the need to clarify the standards of behavior that will be expected of all Duke students. We also need to clarify our expectations for students in off-campus settings. A committee is at work to propose the needed adjustments and I expect a report this fall, once students have returned and become involved in the discussion.

But important though they are, regulations and enforcement mechanisms alone will not solve the problem. We must also promote our institution's values in positive fashion, and create an atmosphere where students will have frequent opportunities to reflect on their choices and internalize an ethic of responsibility and mutual respect. The Campus Culture Initiative... has been given the task of assessing current needs and making recommendations....

None of the issues we are grappling with is peculiar to Duke. But if they are widespread on American college campuses, that's not a reason for us to ignore them. The current crisis gives Duke an opportunity to "step up" and take a leadership position on issues of broad concern in American education.

If we make this a place where students will learn as much at the level of character and ethical reflection as they do of academic intelligence-if we make this the kind of place where all students will grow in their ability to act thoughtfully and responsibly and to treat one another with dignity and respect-we'll have made Duke a better school....

Let me also say a word about the players. These students have lived through an extraordinarily painful situation for the last eight weeks. Whether or not the felony charges are upheld against the three indicted students, the fact is that members of the team engaged in irresponsible and dishonorable behavior on the evening of March 13, and those who were involved bear responsibility for their actions. For all that, few of us have suffered an ordeal like the one that unfolded as intense media interest turned this event into a worldwide news story.... We have work to do outside our walls as well. When this story is over, however it is resolved, we must continue to work together to strengthen this city, and I pledge that Duke will do its part. I said early on that this university will be judged not by the events that happened here but by how we face them and learn from them. I am committed to drawing the lessons of recent events, and it's my hope that by doing so, we will make a great university better.... Let's use this occasion to make further progress.

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