The hype has subsided and I can work out at the gym without having to see Jerry Sandusky everyday in his perp walk finest. But I’ve been stewing over this for weeks and weeks and waffle back and forth between anger, sadness and thankfulness. Lets take these one at a time.
Anger hits me when I see people who I have come to admire, or even envy, turn out to not be towers of character and strength, but rather self-serving cronies that flaunted their privilege. I read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about how the faculty at Penn State have gone from a bunker mentality to mustering the resolve to tell their colleagues (and themselves) that they, too, do not know how this could have happened. To this day I still harbor anger at the Duke Lacrosse scandal both from the shame that it brought Duke and from the helplessness that one feels when you cannot legislate away senseless behavior. When it comes to the behavior of students, all you can do is approach it much like changing the oil in your car or eating right—each quart of oil of fork full of cauliflower added may not specifically prevent a crisis, but ignoring it can precipitate catastrophe.
Sadness hits me when I am reminded that we still live at a time where asking questions and pointing out misbehavior is discouraged. Unfortunately, being a whistle blower only assures one thing—that your life will surely get difficult, if not miserable, if you dare to question. And your speaking up may not even stop the questionable behavior. Bigotry. Date rape. Cheating on exams. Loud and obnoxious hall mates. All are tolerated way too often because nobody wants to rock the boat. I once made the mistake of calling a coach here to point out that the father of an athlete had accepted a free hotel room charged to one of my grant codes. Surely the coach would want to hear about this! Did I get a call back from the coach asking for more details when I left a message? No. Instead I got a call from the father’s lawyer threatening to sue me. Nice.
So what about the thankfulness part? This all sounds pretty bleak.
I am thankful on several levels. First and foremost, the vast majority of students, faculty and staff at Duke are honest and want to do things the right way. Thus, misbehavior tends to accumulate only in pockets where illumination can be avoided. (Can you say off-campus housing?) Second, I work where the university leadership had the courage to call off the lacrosse season before Duke became a full-blown three-ring circus. President Brodhead and Provost Lange did this knowing full well of the blow back that was sure to come. If only Penn State had these gentlemen at the helm, maybe things would have been different. Finally, Duke has dedicated administrators like Steve Nowiki, Lee Baker and Larry Moneta who span the gap between opportunity and irresponsibility. They change the oil at the University everyday by cautioning, communicating, encouraging, participating, strategizing, checking and challenging.
Well.... Time to hit the gym. Maybe no perp walk again today.
Dr. William Reichert, professor of biomedical engineering
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