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Has lax case changed alum support, giving?

It's no secret that private schools depend on their alumni to bankroll the billion-dollar endowments necessary to sustain a modern university.

And although it remains unclear what effect the lacrosse scandal has had on Duke's alumni relations, one thing is certain-there are strong opinions all around.

"The conduct of the administration and certain parts of the faculty has had a chilling effect. I'm less excited about the prospect of sending money back to Duke," said Peter Bove, Trinity '99. "It was the exact inverse effect of a successful basketball season."

Duke alumni are involved at every level of the case. Jim Cooney, defense attorney for indicted lacrosse player Reade Seligmann, graduated from Trinity College of Arts and Sciences in 1979.

One other alumnus with deep ties to the University is Dave Sandridge, who served a fellowship at the Duke University Medical Center, in addition to sending his daughter to Duke. He said, though, that the lacrosse case has deterred him from supporting the University financially.

"I won't be giving Duke any more money," Sandridge wrote in an e-mail. "My daughter's women's studies professors were annoying to me in the '80s. What I read now is not only annoying, but frightening."

But the alumni by no means share a unanimous opinion, and though those ceasing to donate may be vocal critics, they may be in the minority.

"I've probably spoken in 30 alumni settings since last April, and very few have cut off their donations," President Richard Brodhead said in an interview last week. "Gifts did not go down after March of last year. I regarded those gifts as a vote of confidence."

There may be a middle ground.

Though he often posts criticism of the administration on online message boards, W. Tate Scott, Trinity '75 and Fuqua '78, said he has not reduced his contributions and continues to interview prospective students.

He said he is avoiding a rush to judgment of the administration's actions and that the real culprits in the scandal are the "Group of 88" professors who signed a controversial advertisement in an April 6 issue of The Chronicle. Many members of that original group followed up on the ad with a second statement this month.

Scott added that professors from the School of Law and Department of Economics should speak to the media as individuals, without invoking their association with the University.

"The Group of 88 was despicable," he said. "They pushed this from a small case to international scrutiny."

That sentiment is shared by many alumni, including Tom Truscott, Trinity '75 and Grad '81, who said the Group of 88 became "the de facto spokespeople of Duke."

Truscott said he paid his annual alumni dues and then, before giving additional donations, waited to no avail for Duke to break its silence and defend its students.

"Words do matter and Duke's were abysmal," he wrote in an e-mail. "I waited, Brodhead's Dec. 22 statement ended my wait. No contribution."

Even though some alumni have refrained from donating to the University, the case's long-term impact is impossible to measure at this time, said Peter Vaughn, Duke's executive director of alumni and development communications.

His office has received thousands of letters in response to the scandal, but the majority are supportive of the University, he said.

Vaughn noted that even some of the most fervent critics continue to donate to their alma mater.

"A great many people-even when they disagree with the University-continue to support it financially," Vaughn said, adding that this principle has held true during previous controversies.

"The truth is that the vast majority of what goes on at Duke has nothing to with lacrosse, but you certainly wouldn't know that reading the media," he added.

Donations are on track for this fiscal year, although the total number of donors has fallen, Vaughn said.

"Do I wish that the lacrosse incident hadn't happened? Absolutely, for all kinds of reasons-but, if nothing else, it illustrates that people care about this place whether they're angry or not," he said.