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Brodhead on the record

When President Richard Brodhead came to Duke two and a half years ago from Yale University, he could never have predicted what awaited him. Coach K's possible departure. The Palestinian Solidarity Movement conference. A high-profile mixup at the Duke University Medical Center. And now, the lacrosse case.

Brodhead recently sat down for an exclusive interview with The Chronicle's Rob Copeland to discuss his handling of the lacrosse case, his opinion on Duke's increasingly vocal faculty and his treatment of the accused players. Assailed by critics of all persuasions for his actions in recent months, Brodhead is holding his ground even as calls for his resignation grow louder-although mostly from the blogosphere.

"I'm not surprised that people have criticized me," Brodhead said. "I think that all fair-minded people understand that the choices the University made had a logic to them."

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The Chronicle's Rob Copeland: Are you surprised at all by the attention this case has received, and continues to receive nine months later?

President Richard Brodhead: When I heard that 60 Minutes was going to do a show with two parts-one on the president's new Iraq strategy, the other on the Duke lacrosse story-I thought to myself, "What a world, where this story is the equal of that." If you look back nationally for the last nine or 10 months, very few stories have gotten the sustained, energized, emotional attention that this one has.

C: Do you have any regrets about your handling of the scandal?

B: My principal regret is that the situation ever arose. I wish the party hadn't taken place. If the party had taken place, I wish the accusations had never arisen. I certainly wish that the district attorney had not made the statements that gave everyone such a degree of certainty about the matter. Once the situation existed, it had to be dealt with. I'm really not immune to self-criticism in any way, I believe we've handled this as straightforwardly and honorably as we could have, given the extraordinary nature of the situation and the changing nature of the facts.

C: Do you stand by all of your previous actions? Would you have done anything differently?

B: Let me take you back. You're talking about a series of events that were announced on the fifth of April, when 46 players were said to be under investigation. Every member of the Duke, Durham and national community had heard repeated statements on the certainty that the rape had taken place.... Duke was not free to say, "give us another year until we know the facts for certain."

C: To be fair, you did fire the coach and cancel the season.

B: The first thing we announced was the suspension of the season. Everytime I came near that subject, starting with the first day, I said this was not a presumption of the guilt of the players. It was not a disciplinary measure.... Many people have said to me in retrospect, "When you suspended the sport, that was your judgment of guilt." I say to them, "You are misinformed." It was an inevitability given the situation we were in. But I've tried then and in every other possible occasion to separate those acts from any question of judgment of the team.

C: Then why fire men's lacrosse head coach Mike Pressler?

B: When the coach's resignation was announced on April 5, I tried to take great care to indicate that I was not fingering him as responsible for this. What I said was that given the history that we were in the middle of living through, if and when we started the replaying of lacrosse, it couldn't be on the same terms as in the past. We needed to close one chapter and start a new chapter. Changing the coach was just one of the necessities that came along with that. There was no pleasure to be taken in any of these decisions, but I think they were inevitable and it's all very well 10 months later to look back and say, "You should have done things differently."

C: Knowing what you do now, would you still ask for coach Pressler's resignation?

B: If I were put in the same circumstances again, I would do exactly the same thing.

C: Why did you not hold Athletics Director Joe Alleva responsible for the team as well? Why not ask for the resignations of Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, or any of the other administrators who were previously aware of the lacrosse team's issues. Why stop at coach Pressler?

B: The party was a team event. It wasn't just a group of people, it was something convened by the captain of the team. The Pressler resignation was not my attempt to say that he was responsible for the situation. It was simply a resignation of the inevitability that given where we were, we would need to make some differences to go forward with lacrosse.

C: There are numerous documented instances of fraternities, sororities and other organizations holding parties with underage drinking and strippers. Why not go after them as well, or replace their advisors?

B: You said there are documented cases. I would say that to my knowledge, there are rumored cases. The difference between this and other cases is that this one came to our attention.... It's not my idea of how to run an undergraduate school to have dragnets and police officers to investigate people and trap them in bad behavior.

C: Regarding Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, you've released several statements over the past month about his conduct. Before then, especially before the election in November, why weren't you more outspoken, even when his improprieties were becoming more obvious?

B: I just can't believe I would have done anybody any good if I had made it my business to release a new statement everyday. All of us have spent far too much of our lives responding to yesterday's newspaper. The whole nature of this case is that we've got to get through the reports-and misreports-back into the truth of it.

C: Why didn't you call for Nifong to step down, or for a special prosecutor to replace him?

B: There is absolutely no provision in the state of North Carolina for a special prosecutor to be brought in, except at the request of the DA. Why didn't I join with the defense team and file motions with them? Because it was essential that we not be seen as a partisan player in this, but that we uphold the process that looks out over all parties and renders justice at the last.

C: On "60 Minutes" last week, the parents of the accused students said they would not want to send their children back to Duke. In particular, they said, "Who would want to send their kids back to a University which did not support them?" Do you understand that sentiment?

B: I'm a parent, and if my child were an object of such allegations, I can't imagine how appalled I would be. One of the very difficult things this whole time has been people's desire for Duke to stand up for its students. At the press conference on the 25th of March, I looked into 40 cameras and said, "These are my students too." This whole situation is a human issue.

C: If you were Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, would you want to come back to a campus where professors have denounced them and where students have held protests against them personally?

B: Everyone on this campus has lived through a great long complicated drama. I'm sure the drama has been far more intense and complicated for them than for any of the rest of us. I don't know what decisions they will ultimately make. And it isn't over yet. There still are serious judgments against them that have not been resolved. At the same time, this is the only university where they're known, this is the place they have friends and this is the place they chose in the first place. I hope they will come back.

C: If they came to you and said they could not return to Duke and wanted to transfer, would you do everything in your power to help them find another school?

B: Reputable universities don't admit students because one president called another. I don't know what decisions these students will make.... I will say that I made clear to Coach Pressler that I would speak on his behalf as he looked for positions elsewhere and in fact I did. To the indicted students I say: this University welcomes you to return and respects whatever decision you make.

C: Let's talk about the attention Duke's faculty has received in this case, in particular the members of the so-called "Group of 88." Do you hold the faculty to a higher standard? Should they understand the legal process, and recognize that it's not appropriate to speak about their individual students to the national press?

B: The president of a university has to exercise great care when commenting on the individual utterances of faculty members. Faculty members do not, and should not, speak for my pleasure or my approval. I was careful not to make statements that could make it seem like I was on one person's side rather than another, or to say,"Watch out when you engage in free speech, because the president is watching."... If faculty members talked about those underlying issues, that is their right. Quite a number of people have assured me that the ad said the students were guilty, but if you go back and look, that's not what the ad says. I look forward to the day when we can all look back and draw a box around that whole situation and everything that arose from it, and let's come together as a community, show respect for each other, find ways to engage and listen to people who don't already agree with us.

C: Do you agree with the faculty members who, in letters to national publications and postings online, have asserted that this university has deep racial problems, and who have added that they are not unhappy that the lacrosse allegations came about?

B: Do I agree with what they said? The side I take is in favor of thoughtful dialogue and inclusive debate about these subjects.

C: But there were people calling Duke "the plantation" and comparing Duke students to slaveowners. You've got national media printing these words about the university of which you are president. Why didn't you ever stand up and say, "Regardless of the allegations, it is completely offensive to liken this University to slavery?"

B: Those words go back a long way. I can't tell you how many times I have spoken in defense of this University.... Last April, I spoke to all but one of the groups of visiting students when there were press cameras on campus. The press doesn't cover what I want it to cover. I read in a student newspaper recently something suggesting that I should have stopped the media coverage being so intense last spring. My reply to that is, "Dream on." That's not the way the media works.

C: An advocacy group, Friends of Duke University, recently called for an independent committee to investigate your administration's conduct of the past few months. Will you call for such a committee?

B: When the dust settles, we'll figure out what is right to do. Last spring, when we set up a number of committees, many of them turned out to be quite helpful to us and to the whole community.

C: Another committee, the Campus Culture Initiative, has been met by widespread antipathy by students as an effort by the administration to control student life. And when you appoint divisive individuals such as Vice President Moneta, it's fair to say you invite such criticism. Why do you continue to pursue the CCI?

B: The Campus Culture Initiative is an effort to visualize the best world for students here. I read in your paper this week a student expressing great indifference and hostility to the work of the Campus Culture Initiative, but I also know that at the committee's public meetings, they have had hundreds of students participating. I'm not going to accept the notion that students are some unanimous group.

C: Does it bother you when Durham residents and city leaders criticize the University as insular in spite of its goodwill?

B: People will say what they think. I am a believer in individual freedom, but that does not mean I agree with everything that is said. Duke doesn't give money to city projects in order to buy people's kind words. We make investments where we think we are the right partner and the appropriate benefit that can be delivered.... One of the things that has been quite depressing to me in recent months is that the further away you get from Durham, the more the story becomes about Duke vs. Durham, or white, privileged Duke vs. black, destitute Durham. These are extraordinary simplifications. The single thing I wish for the world after this episode is for people to take a little less pleasure in thinking in caricatures.