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Brodhead responds, calls for Nifong to step down

After months of limited public statements on the lacrosse scandal, President Richard Brodhead released three statements this past month, in addition to a lengthy open letter to the Duke community sent Monday via e-mail.

It remains uncertain, however, whether Brodhead's actions will pacify his vocal critics, who have assailed the president for his actions in recent months.

In a statement released Dec. 22, Brodhead explicitly criticized Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong for the first time.

"The district attorney should now put this case in the hands of an independent party, who can restore confidence in the fairness of the process. Furthermore, Mr. Nifong has an obligation to explain to all of us his conduct in this matter," Brodhead said.

Monday's letter re-affirmed the need to continue examining campus culture, while confirming the University's offer to reinstate Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.

"We still have work to do on this campus," Brodhead wrote. "We must work together to restore the fabric of mutual respect."

Kevin Finnerty, Collin's father, told The Chronicle last week that he approves of the University's evolving attitude toward the case.

"I'm very pleased that Duke has made their offer and that they have reconsidered their position," Kevin Finnerty said. "We were disappointed with how they handled Collin and the case up until now but we're pleased that they've gotten to this point."

Some of Brodhead's critics offered tempered praise for the president's actions.

"In the short term, Brodhead's position is very good, though it's a better-late-than-never sort of approach," said KC Johnson, a professor at Brooklyn College who publishes the blog "Durham-in-Wonderland."

Johnson said Brodhead is still ignoring some important issues.

"He doesn't address the longer-term problems in the case, the rush-to-judgement attitude by some of the faculty and the administration's unwillingness to stand up against Nifong even long after the depth of his improprieties had become revealed," Johnson said.

Brodhead did not respond immediately Tuesday night to a request for comment.

Another frequent critic, "Friends of Duke University," said it was disappointed by the president's "rationalizations and justifications" expressed in the letter.

"We're hoping that in the future there will be some inquiry to look into the administration's handling of the case," said Jason Trumpbour, the group's spokesperson.

"I also think it was unnecessary for him in the letter to try and defend the Group of 88.... It's very disappointing to see him try to defend that ad," Trumpbour said, referring to an advertisement placed in The Chronicle April 6, which was signed by 88 professors and asked "What Does a Social Disaster Sound Like?"

In his letter, Brodhead alluded to "vile abuse" that some professors have suffered in past months.

"A group of Duke faculty members (including a number of African-American faculty) have been widely attacked in blogs and emails-and in some cases personally attacked in highly repugnant and vicious terms-based on caricatured accounts of their statements," Brodhead wrote.

Trumpbour rejected that analysis, noting that much of the criticism has been polite and that some professors have responded with "intemperate responses."

"It's grossly unfair for President Brodhead to try and paint us with a broad brush," Trumpbour said.

Johnson echoed that sentiment.

"Brodhead's statements in the letter [Monday] were a step backwards," he said. "I don't think treating all students with respect is an unreasonable demand for a president to make of his faculty-there are things Brodhead could have done other than censorship."

Trumpbour said his group is generally pleased with Brodhead's recent actions.

"It took him a while to do the right thing, but now we're happy," Trumpbour said. "In the past few weeks, he's done exactly what we've asked him to do."

Toward the end of his letter, Brodhead called for civility on both sides.

"We need to be less quick to take offense at the words of others, and work harder to understand what others are actually trying to say-even if we disagree with it," he wrote.

Ryan McCartney contributed to this story.