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Research reveals impact of lax scandal on Duke's image

For months, allegations of rape surrounding the men's lacrosse team splashed across the headlines of the country's most prominent publications, from Newsweek to The New York Times.

But according to research recently acquired by The Chronicle, most alumni and the larger public have since rebounded from the negative impact of the controversy, giving Duke an overwhelmingly positive favorability rating.

Commissioned by the University's office of public affairs, the study was drawn from two sets of data collected in late April and mid-June to analyze the effects of the controversy on public impressions of Duke.

Researchers compiled data from 786 and 801 telephone interviews conducted in April and June, respectively.

"The overall conclusion that we came to was that this ultimately was not an issue of Duke University's reputation," said Brian Hardwick, vice president for Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, the firm hired to conduct the research.

The study showed that as early as late April, alumni-and to a lesser extent, the public-displayed strong approval of Duke despite the negativity of March's media blitz.

"I must confess, I felt some sense of relief," said John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, of the earliest results. "On one level, you're encouraged, and on another level, I don't think you can ever feel, after what happened, complacent or confident."

Although there was a greater than 5 percent margin of error for some statistics, the "directional trends" in the data between the two months confirmed the study's conclusions, Hardwick added.

In the April results, 97 percent of alumni respondents rated Duke in the "Top 2 Favorability" choices-meaning they felt "very favorable" or "somewhat favorable" toward the University.

By June, the Top 2 Favorability among alumni rose to 98 percent.

"People have voiced a wide range of feelings to me very candidly," President Richard Brodhead said. "I have found, however, a wide level of recognition that the University is taking this seriously and in a balanced way. And I was interested to see that reflected in the research."

In other categories, there were marked changes between months.

In April, among "engaged" respondents-or those who followed the news consistently-Duke received a 67-percent favorability rating from the general population.

This rating placed it more than 10 percent below the favorability of comparable institutions such as Yale University or Stanford University, Hardwick said.

But by June, Duke had risen back to 82 percent-consistent with its pre-scandal numbers and the ratings of peer institutions, he added.

Although the University's administrative response to the controversy was rated lower than the institution itself, results were still favorable.

Despite the response from 19 percent of alumni interviewees that Duke "moved too swiftly in canceling the lacrosse season," 67 percent said Duke displayed "strong leadership in the face of difficult circumstances."

Brodhead's approval rating was similarly positive, with more than than 50 percent of the general population giving him a Top 2 Favorability.

Among alumni, approximately 80 percent gave Brodhead a Top 2 Favorability.

Additionally, the data challenges the popular national media image of strained relations between Duke and Durham.

Hardwick said the results from the Durham community were "fairly consistent" with those of the broader general public, and thus predominantly positive.

In fact, Durham residents rated many administrative decisions-such as the reinstatement of the men's lacrosse team-as higher in favorability than did any other studied demographic, including alumni.

Of all the research, there was one category that respondents appeared to question-the University's selection of former Duke player Kevin Cassese as interim coach of the reinstated men's lacrosse team.

Cassese-who was interim coach at the time of the June study-was replaced by John Danowski when he was named head coach in July. Approximately 50 percent of both alumni and the general public gave the selection of Cassese a favorable rating.

Burness, however, said that since his appointment, Cassese had risen in popularity among the general public.

"I think the response to his selection, once he was out there, was quite positive," Burness said.

As evidence has arisen supporting the innocence of the three indicted Duke lacrosse players, an increasingly prominent voice of Duke supporters has begun to criticize Brodhead and the administration.

In July, a group calling themselves "Friends of Duke" published a letter in The Chronicle in which they accused the administration of abandoning students and lacrosse players.

Burness said, however, that much of the recent research and analysis of correspondences with the University suggest that this sentiment is limited to a small group of alumni and community members.

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