A Spring of Sorrows

The lacrosse episode has, in the words of President Brodhead, "brought to glaring visibility underlying issues that have been of concern on this campus and in this town for some time."

Late one afternoon at the end of March, just in front of the Allen Building, a Duke University Transit bus caught fire. In the midst of the smoky spectacle, a student bystander, junior Florence Noel, told The Chronicle: "I'm not too concerned. With the climate around here, it's not the first thing on my mind."

At Duke this spring, one-day setbacks weren't the first thing on anyone's mind--not since members of the men's lacrosse team were accused of sexually assaulting a woman hired to perform as an exotic dancer at a March 13 off-campus party. Witnesses alleged hearing players yell racial slurs at the woman, who is black and a student at Durham's historically black North Carolina Central University. Protests were sparked on campus and in front of 610 North Buchanan Boulevard, the site of the party. By early April, the university had cancelled the men's lacrosse season--reacting, university officials were quick to point out, not to a prejudgment of guilt but rather to the inappropriateness of taking to the field in the midst of an unfolding criminal investigation; accepted the resignation of the team's coach, Mike Pressler; and suspended a team member after learning of an e-mail message--sent just after the party ended--that mentioned killing strippers. (Some press accounts noted that the offending language came from a movie, American Psycho.)

A Spring of Sorrows, by Robert J. Bliwise

Photo: Jon Gardiner

Then, two players, sophomores Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, were charged with first-degree rape, sexual offense, and kidnapping. They were released on $400,000 bond each.

In an April 5 letter to the Duke community, Duke president Richard H. Brodhead wrote, "It is clear that the acts the police are investigating are only part of the problem. This episode has touched off angers, fears, resentments, and suspicions that range far beyond this immediate case. It has done so because the episode has brought to glaring visibility underlying issues that have been of concern on this campus and in this town for some time--issues that are not unique to Duke or Durham but that have been brought to the fore in our midst. They include concerns of women about sexual coercion and assault. They include concerns about the culture of certain groups that regularly abuse alcohol and the attitudes these groups promote. They include concerns about the survival of the legacy of racism, the most hateful feature American history has produced."

The lacrosse episode, he added, also put into high relief "the deep structures of inequality in our society--inequalities of wealth, privilege, and opportunity (including educational opportunity), and the attitudes of superiority those inequalities breed." Whether they intend to or not, universities like Duke might be seen as participating in this inequality and supplying "a home for a culture of privilege."

The culture of the campus, in all of its aspects, was among Brodhead's immediate concerns. He announced the formation of committees to focus on the men's lacrosse team, with the aim of assessing reports of a pattern of objectionable behavior; the response of the administration to the allegations; student judicial process and practices, including how Duke deals with problems of student behavior and the applicability of its Community Standard to social life; and campus culture, a longer-term effort fueled by a commitment to "take the ethical dimension of education much more seriously than heretofore." Brodhead also revealed plans to create a Presidential Council, an advisory group of "wise figures from within the university community, from the larger Duke family, from the national higher-education community, and from the city of Durham."

Media message: camera operator for The Abrams Report films Butch Williams, center, and Kerry Sutton, right, lawyers representing some members of the lacrosse team

Media message: camera operator for The Abrams Report films Butch Williams, center, and Kerry Sutton, right, lawyers representing some members of the lacrosse team. Megan Morr

Controversy, not committee studies, turned the media focus on Duke. On a single day in late March, more than 550 news outlets featured some version of the story, headlined on The New York Times' front page, "Rape Allegation Against Athletes Is Roiling Duke." By mid-April, a Web search produced 2.3 million hits under the heading "Duke Lacrosse Scandal."

There was nonstop coverage on television and radio networks and in newspapers and news magazines around the country--including a cover story in Newsweek (with the cover line, "Sex, Lies & Duke"), a long segment on Nightline on ABC, an entire hour of Larry King Live on CNN, and even The Daily Show's biting look at the mindlessness of the media onslaught. The online world offered at least one blog, "Justice 4 Two Sisters," newly created as a "watchdog, information hub, and activism website" devoted to the alleged victim. Blogs centered on sports, politics, feminism, and race continued to feed off the episode, as did blogs ranging in tone from the Huffington Post to Duke New Sense, driven by the writing of conservative Duke students. Talk radio's Rush Limbaugh weighed in; so did National Public Radio's Frank Deford.

For weeks, a half-dozen TV satellite trucks took over a good part of the Bryan Center parking lot. More than a dozen TV cameras documented an interfaith vigil in front of the Chapel; some reporters planted themselves in the midst of admissions tour groups. The president of the student government and the editor of The Chronicle were interviewed separately by some twenty media outlets. The local ABC affiliate ran a banner on its website showing lacrosse equipment, the Duke Blue Devil logo, and, in huge letters, the words "Rape Investigation."

Inevitably, many of the media accounts have painted a picture that contributes to gripping storytelling even as they overlook the deep complexities of reality. The head of the Durham Chamber of Commerce lamented, "Rich white school, poor black town, makes a better story than the complexities of the real story, which is diverse school, diverse town." As Brodhead put it in response to a question following his "State of the University" address over Reunions Weekend in late April, the early stories seemed to be "written in the key of hysteria. They are all written to inspire hysteria, and they teach the lesson that hysteria breeds extraordinary mental simplifications: Every student at Duke was filthy rich, right? At a school where more than 40 percent of the students are on financial aid, and the average grant from the university is $25,000 of financial aid. Every student at Duke is a white preppy, right? And every person in Durham is a penniless black person. You know, there are such people at Duke, and there are such people in Durham--and it's important to remember it--but the truth is, it just teaches you that in the world of passion is the world where people just reach for any old stereotype."

Brodhead, in his reunion remarks, said a conversation that had touched him most profoundly was with the head of the North Carolina NAACP, who told him, "'If you ever want someone to come and stand by you and talk about the damage that can be done by prejudging, by judging people because of a group they belong to and some theory you have of that group rather than actual evidence, you come to me.'" Brodhead added. "And actually, there has been so much prejudgment in this case. It has been a powerful lesson in how deep the passions of prejudice run, all kinds of prejudice--prejudices against athletes, prejudices against the South, have been very, very visible in the Northern media all through this."

Commentators on media practices observed that this was the perfect story, with elements of dramatic tension and themes that captivate American society. "Here is the embodiment of men acting badly," wrote columnist Mike Lopresti in USA Today. "Or maybe it's alcohol abuse. Possibly the arrogance of the privileged. Or jocks beyond control. It is race. It is sex. It is class. It is gender. Enough inflammable material there to start an inferno."

If not outright inflammable, some of the media coverage, close to home and beyond, hasn't been a model of clarity. One opinion column in The Chronicle declared that, in the immediate wake of the incident, the lacrosse team had gathered at an off-campus bar and boisterously expressed contempt for the criticism directed at them. That observation has since been called into question--but has still reverberated through the outside media.

The New York Times, which published more than twenty related stories and five corrections between first word of the incident and the subsequent indictments, reported that there was never a review of the lacrosse team's off-field problems. A later account in the same newspaper quoted Tallman Trask III, the university's executive vice president, as saying that he had reviewed that record a year ago. In a Sunday Times op-ed column, writer Allan Gurganus characterized Duke as a campus increasingly populated by richer and richer students; he also referred to the university's practice of housing athletes together. In fact, the university has become more diverse in socio-economic terms as well as in other respects, and it doesn't cluster athletes. At the reunion forum, Brodhead noted wryly, "Durham was referred to as a middle-class town in The New York Times the other day; this is astonishing progress."

The media correspondent for National Public Radio, David Folkenflik, says the press pile-up is to be expected. For three years in the early 1990s, Folkenflik was the Duke-beat reporter for the Durham Herald-Sun. More than a decade ago, he points out, he was writing about the university's so-called "work hard, play hard" culture and about questions of whether that culture was undermining intellectual life and the ability to prize independent thinking. "Duke is a place of privilege," he says. "There are people in Durham who do not make as much money as it costs to attend Duke for one year. That's true of every major private university and its community. But Duke is not every university."

Duke's standing, Folkenflik and others observe, makes it a logical target of media scrutiny. The university has long highlighted the exceptional quality of its athletics program, notably the high graduation rate for its athletes. "Duke has not been shy about trading on that image," Folkenflik says. So when something is seemingly awry in the conduct of Duke athletes, attention will be paid.

Its compelling content notwithstanding, Folkenflik says the story has been over-covered. "There is a relentlessness to it, and it has become grist for the tabloid mill. There are real issues at play--layers and layers of issues--and competing narratives. But that isn't to say that Duke should be undigested meat for cable TV to chew on night after night, when those reports are detailing non-events and are not really adding knowledge to the story."

March 25  Candlelight vigil held at 610 N. Buchanan and another house rented by lacrosse players.

March 25 Candlelight vigil held at 610 N. Buchanan and another house rented by lacrosse players. Chris Hildreth

The facts of the story continue to be confusing, and reactions on campus reflect the different ways the story is read. "The idea of hiring strippers, the drinking and boorish behavior, is upsetting, embarrassing. And that's clearly one thing that you've seen a strong reaction to," says Paul Haagen, a Duke law professor and chair of the Academic Council, the faculty senate. "And, of course, all of that is against the background that something very bad could have happened. In addition, the allegation of racial epithets has really upset people. Is our education so ineffective that this kind of behavior is something we would see in our students? Have we tolerated be-havior that would cause people to believe they can treat other people without respect? These kinds of anxieties or anguish are driving a lot of people's responses."

"There is a lot of pain associated with these revelations," Haagen continues. "And people want the pain to go away. People who believe we have tolerated it for too long are fearful that it will be tolerated in the future, whatever the 'it' is that they've identified." Of course, he adds, "some people are deeply distrustful of any authority and always believe that there is timidity and non-seriousness" in any institutional response--even though that response is guided by values and imperatives that sometimes can be competing. "So they imagine the worst and interpret every statement of 'we need to gather information' as a kind of prevarication in the face of things which certainly are known. Some people believe this is the moment to address things, and, therefore, we must mobilize ourselves to address deep and underlying issues. Some people, I think, recognize that there is a vulnerability and that they can push a particular issue now."

Many of the issues surrounding the case reflect the vexing mix of race and class. (Forty-six of the forty-seven lacrosse players are white.) In a candidates' debate, District Attorney Michael B. Nifong, who was running for election after his appointment to serve out an unexpired term, said, "The reason that I took this case says something about Durham that I'm not going to let be said." He added, "I'm not going to allow Durham's view in the minds of the world to be a bunch of lacrosse players at Duke raping a black girl from Durham." After the indictments of the two players, widespread media reports accented the fact that both are products of wealthy New York suburbs. As The News & Observer put it, "They came from a world of hushed golf greens and suburban homes with price tags that cross the million-dollar line."

Happier days: Duke lacrosse team defeats Butler University early in the season, later canceled

Happier days: Duke lacrosse team defeats Butler University early in the season, later canceled. Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer

All of the attention arising from the lacrosse episode has brought to the surface "the great divide within our community around privilege," says the Reverend Carl Kenney M.Div. '93, founding minister of Compassion Ministries of Durham and a local newspaper columnist. "I don't think it would be fair to paint the picture that Duke is an institution of a bunch of spoiled brats who come from a background of privilege. But that is a perception that Duke often has to fight within this community."

He says many residents of Durham believe that "those who attend Duke are isolated from the community," that out-of-control students "are not being disciplined for their behavior," and, with respect to this particular case, that "justice is not being served because of privilege."

"When I was a student at Duke, the campus was referred to as a plantation," he says. "If you walk around campus and if you go to the eateries, what you discover is the majority of people who serve are black. And you often see students condescend toward those who are servers. Many of the students who come to Duke from Northern privilege have gone through the educational system without having seen a person of color. You have kids from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut who go to prep schools; they get the best education that money can buy, and they may never, ever meet an African-American student."

March 27 Rally on campus protests team's silence and university's response. DNA samples delivered to N.C. Bureau of Investigation. Search warrant issued for a dorm room on campus.

March 27 Rally on campus protests team's silence and university's response. DNA samples delivered to N.C. Bureau of Investigation. Search warrant issued for a dorm room on campus. Megan Morr

One prominent African-American student at Duke, Nick Shungu, a senior, says he has had constant conversations around the issues prompted by the lacrosse incident. In his view, the administration was too slow in responding. "I had a few [African-American] friends who were here over spring break who were extremely upset and felt extremely vulnerable after learning that this had happened," he says.

"With an issue of this magnitude, I think we should know about it immediately, but there was nothing like prompt notification. I really wanted to see from the start not necessarily a formal apology, but an acknowledgement of sympathy for the alleged victim--an acknowledgement that, sure, it's still up in the air legally, but there was something not right about what was going on. I'm very happy that the administration is now taking this seriously. But I was disappointed with the amount of time it took."

Shungu is a Reginald Howard Scholar (the merit-scholarship program is named for the first African-American president of the student government), as well as a facilitator for Duke's Center for Race Relations; a co-instructor for a house course on leadership in the black community; a member of the President's Council on Black Affairs; and a volunteer for a mentoring program for African-American boys.

From his own observations and experiences, he says that Duke has some distance to travel in race relations. As a freshman, he was visiting a friend (another black student) when the friend's roommate said what was meant to be a joke: "How do you stop black people from hanging out in your backyard? Hang one in the front." In the wake of the lacrosse troubles, another friend was trying to get into a dorm after having lost her DukeCard. A student confronted her at the dorm door and, according to Shungu, told her, "I'm white, I'm rich, and I don't want to be charged with rape." He then slammed the door shut in her face.

Troubled by such accounts, Shungu would like to see the creation of a bias-response team to address specific cases of racial discrimination, along with a required program in diversity and inclusion. Both, he argues, are as vital to the ultimate success of students as the mandated writing-skills course.

Other voices have been even louder on the theme of racism. In late March, English professor Houston Baker wrote a blistering "Letter to the Duke University Administration." Baker, who is African American, mentioned a period of "silent protectionism" that "left all of us vulnerably ignorant of the facts." He added that "we have been deeply embarrassed by the silence that seems to surround this white, male athletic team's racist assaults (by words, certainly--deeds, possibly) in our community." And he asked, "How soon will confidence be restored to our university as a place where minds, souls, and bodies can feel safe from agents, perpetrators, and abettors of white privilege, irresponsibility, debauchery, and violence?"

Some weeks later, his anger had hardly subsided: "Many of us are afraid," he said, "a great many of us are feeling helpless at this point. Traumatized is not really too strong a word. I think the reputation of the university has been injured forever by this event. And I think that didn't have to be."

Provost Peter Lange, the university's chief academic officer, responded to Baker with his own strong-minded message. The university "will not rush to judgment nor will we take precipitous actions which, symbolically satisfying as they may be, assuage passions but do little to remedy the deeper problems," he wrote in an open letter. "These problems will certainly be easier, but not easy, to understand than they will be to repair. The latter will take less rhetoric and more hard work, less quick judgment and more reasoned intervention, less playing to the crowd, than entering the hearts and lives of those whose education we are charged to promote and who we must treat as an integral part of the community we wish to restore and heal."

As Baker's letter was circulating, several academic departments bought a full-page advertisement in The Chronicle calling attention to "a social disaster" illuminated by the events of March 13. The text referred to "anger and fear" on campus. "We're turning up the volume," it said, "in a moment when some of the most vulnerable among us are being asked to quiet down while we wait." 

Though he says he would have wanted a committee focused specially on race issues, Shungu is more upbeat about the process and the eventual outcome. This is "a period of empowerment," in his words. "This is really the first time I can remember that students are mobilized around an issue. We've had rallies in the past that were, like, an hour, and then we would all go back to class. But with this issue, there are professors still holding forums on it, and different groups are still meeting about it. If you want to be at a university that is dealing with issues and has a core of people who are trying to produce positive social change, this is a great place to be."

Coming together: interfaith prayer vigil on steps of Duke Chapel to promote healing in the Duke and Durham communities in wake of lacrosse allegations

Coming together: interfaith prayer vigil on steps of Duke Chapel to promote healing in the Duke and Durham communities in wake of lacrosse allegations. Chris Hildreth

And how good a place is the university for its women students? Donna Lisker, director of the Women's Center at Duke, says the alleged sexual assault underscored the significance of national Sexual Assault Prevention Week; the annual event followed the first reports of the incident. "We certainly saw more people coming forward who are survivors, as well as people who are just stirred up by this incident and want to talk about it," she says. "Folks who have some sort of assault in their background--many of them have never dealt with it, and they try to put it aside, they try to forget about it, they try to move past it." But with all the lacrosse-related attention, the issue was impossible to avoid. "Anywhere they went, they were constantly reminded."

Even apart from the allegation of an off-campus rape, some aspects of the campus climate are unsettling to Lisker. (See "The Silent Epidemic: Sexual Assault on Campus," Duke Magazine, March-April 2005.) "A common scenario is two students who connect at some social event, they've had too much to drink, and they do not communicate well with one another," Lisker says. "One thinks he has consent; the other doesn't. That situation we tolerate. I might even say we facilitate it, in terms of the kind of socializing that happens on this campus."

Many Duke women insist that they don't like the party scene, Lisker adds. "They'll say it's shallow, it's superficial, it's controlled by men. Men often literally control the real estate. And they also, to a certain degree, set the rules." In a project to raise awareness, sophomore Claire Lauterbach and Kate Guthrie of the Panhellenic Association, also a sophomore, have been collecting posters advertising student parties with themes like "Snowjob," "Sec's and Execs," "AOPimps," and "Pussy Galore." The posters were turned into a large laminated display, with blank paper inviting comments, in the Bryan Center.

Lisker says she is frustrated by the slowness of women students to engage in a collective protest. If women were to refuse to attend parties promoted with offensive expectations, the scene would shift in a hurry, she says. "Many students will tell me that their goal on Saturday night is to get drunk and then hook up. Women and men will tell me that. There's such a subtle difference between getting drunk and hooking up, and getting drunk and hooking up without clear consent. So it can be very hard sometimes for students to judge one another in that context. That's certainly part of the issue. There's also the traditional judgment against women who 'get themselves in the situation,' who by drinking, the theory goes, bring it upon themselves. There's a fair amount of blaming the victim, both externally and internally: Many women think that it was their fault, and, therefore, they don't tell anyone."

March 31  Brodhead meets with NCCU Chancellor James Ammons, Durham Mayor William Bell, and other local leaders. Duke Student Government issues statement condemning sexual assault, violence, and racial intolerance. After threats of violence, police increase patrols in area surrounding East Campus.

March 31 Brodhead meets with NCCU Chancellor James Ammons, Durham Mayor William Bell, and other local leaders. Duke Student Government issues statement condemning sexual assault, violence, and racial intolerance. After threats of violence, police increase patrols in area surrounding East Campus. Mark Dolejs/Herald Sun/Polaris

Much of that party scene has shifted off campus, with often unhappy consequences. Duke has hardly been immune to the extremes of a drinking culture that afflicts colleges and universities nationwide. Nationally, nearly 2,000 college students die each year from alcohol-related injuries; each year, more than a half-million college students are assaulted by fellow students who have been drinking. A Harvard School of Public Health survey of 119 campuses showed that two out of five college students down five drinks in rapid succession at least once every two weeks.

In a single week last fall, as classes were beginning, almost 200 Duke students received citations for underage drinking, using false identification, or aiding and abetting underage drinkers in the Trinity Park neighborhood, near East Campus. (Many of the citations were dismissed after a judge ruled that the methods used by Alcohol Law Enforcement agents were unconstitutional.)

At the end of February, the university announced that it had purchased a dozen properties adjacent to East Campus that had been rented to students--among them 610 North Buchanan Boulevard, where the lacrosse party was held. The goal was to sell them to owners-occupants. That was welcome news for the residents of the neighborhood. But the aftermath of the lacrosse party, which occurred just two weeks later, renewed long-simmering tensions.

"I think the response from Duke has been, at least historically, not as strong as I would like," says Barker French '63, who has lived in the neighborhood for eleven years. French is a former president of the Duke Alumni Association. "I know that some of my neighbors feel even more passionately about that than I do."

Duke has considered the misbehavior of off-campus students "really a Durham problem," according to French. "We've always seen it, though, as a problem for the university, because the university has caused, by its own set of rules on the campus, the predilection for these folks to do their partying off the campus." He says neighbors have had a hard time understanding why Duke wouldn't employ a mechanism like the Undergraduate Judicial Board to take stronger action against off-campus students who have been rowdy and reckless. Other universities, he says, routinely deal with the problem "more proactively."

It's been clear for years, French says, that off-campus houses have been rented as the outposts of fraternities and sports teams--irrespective of city ordinances that limit the properties to no more than three unrelated individuals. The outside aesthetics are predictable from interior features like built-in bars and elaborate piping systems for dispensing beer. Nearby lawns become the deposit areas for discarded cups and the miscellaneous detritus of extreme socializing. The houses were "set up as party places," in French's words.

NCCU hosts panel: Chancellor James Ammons, right, moderates discussion of lacrosse incident with, bottom to top, Durham Mayor William Bell, DA Michael Nifong, City Councilman Howard Clement III, NCCU student body president Deondra Ramsey, and Duke Student Government president Jesse Longoria

NCCU hosts panel: Chancellor James Ammons, right, moderates discussion of lacrosse incident with, bottom to top, Durham Mayor William Bell, DA Michael Nifong, City Councilman Howard Clement III, NCCU student body president Deondra Ramsey, and Duke Student Government president Jesse Longoria. Kevin Seifert/Herald Sun/Polaris

"The parties frequently start out with maybe ten, twenty, thirty students. And they grow to 200. In some cases they spill out onto the sidewalks and into the street. They go on until one, two, or three in the morning. And the students are yelling and screaming and honking horns. You can't move 100 to 200 people quietly, particularly if they've been drinking, which most of these folks have."

The incident is particularly unfortunate in the context of community relations, French says. He applauds the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership--on whose board he serves--for marshaling resources and volunteers to help with tutoring students and training teachers, fostering residential ownership in the community, and providing health care for the needy. (Now ten years old, the neighborhood partnership aims to revitalize neighborhoods close to campus and to engage more Duke students and staff members in community service.) "For some people, it will never be enough. But that's life. For others it represents a good-faith effort, which is what I think it is, to make Durham a better place to live," French says.

"The lacrosse thing will be, when we look back on it, one of those unhappy events, both for Duke and for the community, however it is resolved," French adds. "There's tremendous anger at the purported events. There's tremendous anger over the fact that this is racially related and that it has brought the dynamics of Trinity Park, which is a very integrated community in every sense, into question." But if the university deepens its sensitivity to community concerns, "good can come out of events that are bad," he says.

A big part of that bad story, as many read it, relates to the way that college athletes live their lives--the subject of the book The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values (2001), co-authored by James Shulman and William Bowen. Bowen, president of the Mellon Foundation and a former president of Princeton University, headed the Duke committee set up to examine the off-campus record of the lacrosse team. In the book, he and Shulman write that "a distinct 'athletic culture' is appearing in essentially all sports and at all levels of play," and that athletes tend to travel along trajectories apart from other students. "Athletes at all of these schools, in the low-profile sports as well as in the high-profile sports, seem to be heading in their own directions--and in directions that may or may not be consistent with the missions of the colleges and universities that admitted them." Intercollegiate athletes of today, across schools and across sports, "differ in important respects from those who played for schools like Columbia, Duke, Penn State, and Swarthmore in the 1950s," they observe.


 Mark Dolejs/Herald Sun/Polaris

Controversy has always accompanied intercollegiate athletics, says the Academic Council's Paul Haagen. Haagen, an expert on sports law who played lacrosse at Haverford College, is working on a major study of intercollegiate athletics. From its earliest days, college sports produced "a variety of pressures relating to identity, success, and mission," he says. "Yale built the largest stadium other than the Coliseum in Rome in order to accommodate one football game every other year. The University of Chicago was going to present itself to the world as a great intellectual center but also as an athletic powerhouse."

Cultural-anthropology professor Orin Starn, who has taught many athletes at Duke, says he's concerned about the demands placed on their time. "I do feel that many varsity athletes end up getting a kind of 'Duke education lite.' They have time to turn in the assignments, to do the minimum of whatever it takes to get by. But they seldom have time to really explore a certain theme in depth, to participate in the full range of activities that constitute the educational experience--going to a film series, a concert, or a lecture."

Those sports-driven demands have grown, he says. "It's not just in revenue-producing sports, but in all Division I sports. So even a sport like women's golf or women's soccer or men's lacrosse, in this case, are demanding hours and hours of practice every day. During a semester, these students will make trips for competitions where they may be gone from, say, Wednesday to Sunday. We're asking them to give so much of themselves to athletics, and yet wanting them also to be good students. Many of them feel perpetually behind in their work. They feel that they can't do their best work in a classroom because of all the time that they're doing sports."

Duke finds itself working at cross-purposes, he says. "It wants to be absolutely committed to a first-rate intellectual climate, committed to students who are engaged with the world of social issues, committed to students who have an array of engagement in campus life. Duke has struck this very uneasy balance between, on the one hand, wanting to be this top-notch university, and on the other hand, wanting to be a big-time sports school."

For college athletes, coaches are major figures in sustaining, or tipping, that balance. If varsity coaches are seen as vital to the education of those athletes, that's a weakness in the system, according to Starn. "I'm concerned that the coach may be the person that a student at Duke will have the closest relationship to. What a university is fundamentally about is the pursuit of knowledge, gaining a better understanding of the world, learning to think, to know more about history, about society, about culture. And what coaches are about is teaching kids to be better athletes and winning games. I do not think that winning games and spending thirty or forty hours a week at getting better at your sport should be central to the mission of a great university."

A history professor who has taught at Duke for more than thirty years, Peter Wood, agrees with Starn that academic and athletic achievement have come to represent fundamentally competing missions. No one wants to see Duke become "a pretty good institution with really good sports teams," he says. "That would make us 'Cruise Ship Duke'--a fun place to be, a lot of sports, a lot of sex, a lot of movies, a lot of games--where people earn pretty good grades for doing pretty good work. We should be shooting much higher than that."

Duke has become increasingly attractive to students who are intellectual achievers in search of an intellectual community, he says. But he worries about institutional pressures that can warp student priorities. "Years ago, a player told me that he had been instructed not to get too interested in his classes. Surely that's an exception, but I was amazed. At a strong university, academic work comes first. Duke has a chance to revive the real meaning of scholar-athlete. I hope we can do it."

Two years ago, Wood--who played lacrosse at Harvard University, was captain of the team at the University of Oxford, and coached women's lacrosse at Duke when it was a club sport--wrote a letter to academic and athletic administrators. He mentioned what he called "mission creep": the impression that "sport by sport and year by year, it has become more acceptable and common for players to miss classes and spend inordinate time on the road." One coach, he wrote, had called a "required" extra practice during class time at the end of the semester. "I was shocked to lose at least a dozen students for this reason this spring, during the important last week of class. They had no option. Needless to say, even when such drills are billed as voluntary, students on athletic scholarships feel that they must give first allegiance to coaches, not to professors."

Panthers march: members of New Black Panther Party staged demonstrations May 1 at the entrance to West Campus and, here, on Buchanan Blvd., next to East Campus wall

Panthers march: members of New Black Panther Party staged demonstrations May 1 at the entrance to West Campus and, here, on Buchanan Blvd., next to East Campus wall. Getty Images

Such concerns notwithstanding, the faculty committee set up to review the lacrosse program painted a more nuanced picture. The committee surveyed faculty members whose courses included significant numbers of lacrosse players. Broadly speaking, those faculty members who were able to identify lacrosse players found that they took their academic obligations seriously--even as they tended to stick together in class.

A basketball star as an undergraduate, and later a lawyer and analyst for ESPN, Jay Bilas '86, J.D. '92 says the lacrosse incident has focused attention unduly on athletics. He says commentators are too ready to flag an athletic subculture when an offense is committed by a student-athlete. Why wouldn't they harp on an English-major subculture, he wonders, when an accusation targets an English major? "Companies spend a lot of money in team-building exercises, trying to get teams to spend more time together. That's looked upon as being a good thing," he says. "Teammates have spent time together off the field for years without anything like this having happened," he adds, referring to the lacrosse party and its aftermath. "I just don't believe that these allegations were born out of the Duke environment. I think these are issues of individual responsibility and collective responsibility within one particular group."

And Bilas says he doesn't see an appreciable divide between the student-athlete and other students. "I don't think there's any question that participating in sports, especially in revenue sports, requires a pretty big time commitment. But the idea that it somehow gets in the way of an education is wrong. We can all find instances where, you know, this student-athlete didn't perform as well in the classroom because of an 'over-emphasis on athletics.' But I can find you just as many 'regular students' who spent too much time engaging in social activities that took away from their education. Or, maybe the student is heavily invested in theater or in student government, so that their academic performance may have suffered as a result. Now, if they graduate but don't take out of Duke as high of a grade point average because of their participation in these areas, does that make the enterprise not worthwhile?"

Bilas says there were times when his athletic performance suffered because of the work he was putting into his classes--and times when his classroom performance suffered because of his commitment to basketball. "You have to make choices. But that's true of just about every walk of student life."

As he sees it, Duke has made the right choice in valuing athletics, and athletes. "I think athletics is a really important part of the university community. It is not only a way to bring people together--and I think it does that extraordinarily well--but it's also part of the university's identity. The university expects excellence in the classroom, excellence in the research lab, and excellence on the field of athletic competition. And I think the Duke community also expects that it is going to have students who are versatile enough to be able to excel in different areas."

Haagen, the Academic Council chair, says athletics will be one among many themes in the studies now under way. In his view, the university's process of self-scrutiny will, in time, strengthen the community. "I think my faith in Duke as an institution has actually gone up," he says, "because I haven't seen any flinching from moving forward. We are going to face up to the hard questions. Maybe we are not going to come up with all the hard answers. But that won't be through a lack of seriousness of purpose."

It was a campus atmosphere of utter seriousness when this very vexing spring semester ended in late April. On the last day of class, students in a journalism seminar were asked to reflect on the past few weeks--the events that began with the off-campus party on March 13 and that set off a cascade into chaos. Many students spoke to the mood on a campus now distracted, day after day, from the basic business of teaching and learning by a single inescapable theme.

They complained about the simplifying and stereotyping that they perceived in the media. Many expressed annoyance at the reporters who had descended on campus and who were in a constant search for fresh viewpoints on hard-to-evaluate events. Said one, "the biggest thing I've struggled with is how to refrain from judgment based upon what the media reports. The notion of this case being tried through the media really bothers me, and I think it's inappropriate for anyone to make claims of guilt or innocence based on what we read. It's a very convoluted situation."

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