The independent news organization of Duke University

Chutzpah

Those of us who arrived on campus prior to Fall 2006 remember the University's purchase of 12 houses and three vacant lots immediately adjacent to East Campus.

At the time, the University was forthright about the primary motive behind the $3.7-million deal: stopping parties in the Trinity Park neighborhood that attracted the ire of neighbors, Durham Police Department officers and Alcohol Law Enforcement agents.

Following increased on-campus enforcement of the drinking age and the arrival of residence coordinators in 2003, hundreds of students flocked to house parties in the surrounding community that lasted long into the night.

"If the students had been angels and had parties not [exceeding] 20 in number, this would not have happened," said Jeff Potter, Duke's director of real estate administration.

To prevent similar occurrences, Duke required the new owners to sign covenants obliging them to occupy the houses themselves (i.e., not rent them to students) and work with the University to develop and execute a plan to rehabilitate the damage done by decades of neglect.

Now, nearly two years after the February 2006 purchase, the University has unloaded all of the properties except for the house at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. "Of the 12 houses, we've sold nine of them, two are under contract and one is rather infamous," Potter said.

With the near-completion of the deal, we also now know the full cost of the transaction.

Potter said Duke expects to earn a total of $2.4 million from the sale of the houses, constituting a $1.2-million loss. If the $3.6 million spent on the houses had been invested in our endowment, it would have grown to $5.4 million today, adding an opportunity cost of approximately $1.8 million to the entire transaction.

All in all, the University spent $3.1 million and provoked the ire of the undergraduate population in order to turn around the properties. This was a cost that was almost entirely borne by the students. Money that could have been used for our benefit was spent on the transaction; houses available to seniors wishing to live off-campus are scarcer than they were previously; social outlets, frequented by hundreds of students, were eliminated.

But the deal is done, and the costs are sunk.

Of current import is the University's unwillingness to take such costly and controversial steps when the students themselves are the ones who need help. Although Duke outwardly and controversially intervened on behalf of residents of Trinity Park-who have only a proximate connection to the University-it has thus far refused to do the same for us.

Instances of police misconduct are as well-documented and perhaps more numerous than those of student misbehavior in the areas surrounding East Campus. Such incidents range from differential treatment apparent from data on multiple arrests to numerous violations of students' constitutional rights.

There's the oft-told tale of DPD Sgt. Mark Gottlieb, who arrested 10 times more Duke students than he did other members of the community, and his alleged criminal mishandling of the lacrosse investigation. There's also tales of 2005 ALE raids that netted more than 140 students for underage alcohol possession in violation of the students' Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.

Although Gottlieb was recently reassigned in order to prevent further interactions with Duke students, such incidents continue.

According to court records and the individuals involved, ALE agents followed, pulled over, individually interrogated (without counsel) and cited four students on the basis of their "youthful appearance" and the purchase of beer by the two 21-year-old students riding in the car. After a short hearing in December, a North Carolina District Court judge ruled that the detainment of the students occurred in contravention of the Fourth Amendment and threw out the charges.

Although Duke is not in a position to prevent every occurrence of police misconduct perpetrated against its students, it could express some interest before and after the fact.

Unfortunately, Duke has never made a single public statement condemning any specific action by DPD or ALE. In addition, the Office of Judicial Affairs has adjudicated every student cited by Gottlieb, other DPD officers or ALE in violation of their rights.

If anything, Duke is making the situation worse by providing law enforcement officers with a means to punish students without treating them fairly or respecting basic constitutional rights.

As is the case in Trinity Park, one group (this time, law enforcement), is harming another (this time, the students), and the University is in a position to intervene. Having set the precedent that it did in 2006, the University's reluctance to act in this matter is all the more distressing.

Academic programs, financial aid, new buildings, auxiliary services and everything else the University affords us are tangible signs of Duke's monumental commitment to undergraduates.

I just wish chutzpah could be included in that list as well.

Elliott Wolf is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Thursday.

Discussion

Share and discuss “Chutzpah” on social media.