Reinstatement sparks fiery faculty response

Faculty response to President Richard Brodhead's reinstatement of indicted former lacrosse players Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann took two very different forms this week.

In a letter to the editor published in The Chronicle Wednesday, 19 members of the economics department expressed support for the indicted players, affirming that they welcome all student athletes, including members of the men's lacrosse team, in their classes.

But administrators confirmed Wednesday that Karla Holloway, professor of English and chair of the Campus Culture Initiative's subcommittee on race, resigned from the CCI steering committee, protesting Brodhead's decision, which was made public Jan. 3.

"The decision by the University to readmit the students, especially just before a critical judicial decision on the case, is a clear use of corporate power, and a breach, I think, of ethical citizenship," Holloway wrote in her resignation letter. "I could no longer work in good faith with this breach of common trust."

Holloway declined to comment for this story.

"Karla has made valued contributions to our work, and I am saddened by her decision to resign from the committee," CCI co-chair Robert Thompson, dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an e-mail.

CCI co-chair Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, said he had no information about Holloway's resignation beyond the fact that she had stepped down.

Duke Student Government President Elliott Wolf, a junior and CCI committee member, said he was disappointed by Holloway's decision.

He said her departure will make the task of gathering support for the committee's findings more difficult and said he disagreed with her opinions on the reinstatement.

Holloway told Diverse magazine that the indicted players received undue support from the administration, while faculty members who had spoken out last spring and received widespread criticism for their public stance were not backed by the University.

"The argument isn't consistent-on the one hand she's saying the University shouldn't defend the students [just] because they're students, but it should defend the faculty because they're faculty," Wolf said.

The University's role is to defend the right of all members of the community to free speech, but not to take sides in a debate, said John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations.

In another demonstration of that freedom, the economics professors' letter, penned by Professor Roy Weintraub, also voiced support for Brodhead's call to investigate the handling of the lacrosse rape accusations by the police and district attorney.

The letter refers to an advertisement placed in The Chronicle April 6, 2006 by 88 professors-including Holloway-titled, "What Does a Social Disaster Sound Like?" The economics professors wrote that the ad had been the only collective statement made by Duke faculty members until their letter.

"We are aware too that the advertisement was cited as prejudicial to the defendants in the defense motion to change the venue of the trial involving three Duke lacrosse team members," Weintraub wrote. "We regret that the Duke faculty is now seen as prejudiced against certain of its own students."

Weintraub explained that the idea for the letter was planted after reading about a request by the defense for a change of venue in the trial. He said he did not write the letter, however, until Brodhead's decision to reinstate the two players was announced. David Evans, the third defendant in the case, graduated last May.

"I've been at Duke for 37 years," Weintraub said. "I was very disturbed that there was an impression out there that the faculty didn't care about the students. I found that appalling... I hope that students realize that the faculty care about them as individuals."

Thomas Nechyba, professor of economics and public policy and chair of the economics department, signed the letter but emphasized that it was an individual and not a departmental effort.

He added that he has received an outpouring of support for the letter.

"It's essentially been e-mails thanking us for standing up and saying something and creating an atmosphere in which students feel faculty respect them," he said. "There seems to be a sense that that's something that needed to happen."

Rom Coles, associate professor of political science and member of the so-called Group of 88, said he had two concerns with the professors' letter. First, he said it did not address the veracity of accusations made about the original ad, and second, he said there was a "possible insinuation" that the signatories to the ad did not support and welcome members of the lacrosse team-a suggestion for which Coles said there was "absolutely no evidence."

"All of us who signed that have received hundreds of hate mail and hate calls-it's an unbelievably vitriolic set of representations," he said. "By citing the citation [in the blogosphere] without any kind of questions, the effect of the letter is to continue to circulate a false rumor."

Coles said he supports a healthy and constructive dialogue, but added the letter did not fit his definition.

"I don't want to countenance it as a good intervention, because what it does is feed an engine of hate-maybe not directly-a wheel of hatred that's bound up with the blogs," he said. "What we were doing was raising larger questions, as opposed to insinuating the guilt. What you don't see is 'Those conservatives in the economics department don't care enough about racism and sexism.'"

But Daniel Graham, professor of economics and law, said he saw no such suggestion in the letter he signed.

"Someone said something like that to me yesterday, so I went back and read the letter, and I can't find anything like that in here," he said. "That wasn't my intent-to insinuate that-when I signed the letter."

Holloway is not the only member of the Group of 88 to speak out in the last week. Cathy Davidson, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies and professor of English, explained her decision to support the ad and attacked its critics in a Jan. 5 column in the Raleigh News and Observer.

She wrote that if professors had indeed sided against the lacrosse players, they would rightfully deserve the influx of hate mail they received. But she added that that was not the case.

"Most of my e-mail comes from right-wing 'blog hooligans,'" Davidson wrote. "These hateful, ranting and sometimes even threatening folks don't care about Duke or the lacrosse players. Their aim is to make academics and liberals look ridiculous and uncaring."

Davidson declined to comment for this story.


Share and discuss “Reinstatement sparks fiery faculty response” on social media.