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Committee Finds Administration's Response to Be "Much Too Slow"
Durham, N.C. - Duke University's administration "was much too slow in understanding and addressing the serious and highly sensitive issues raised by the rape allegations and associated events" involving the men's lacrosse team, a committee reported Friday to President Richard H. Brodhead.
The committee found "no evidence, however, that this delay represented any effort to cover up the problems revealed by these events, to deceive anyone, or to play down the seriousness of the issues raised. The slowness was primarily the result of two failings -- both errors of judgment."
The first was "a major failing in communications, and here the Duke Police Department and those to whom it reports bear primary responsibility," the committee said. The second was that key Duke administrators "seriously underestimated the seriousness of the allegations," relying too heavily on initial reports from members of the Durham police force that the alleged victim "kept changing her story and was not credible."
Julius Chambers, a veteran civil rights attorney and former chancellor of North Carolina Central University, and William G. Bowen, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and former president of Princeton University, led the committee, which also included Danielle Carr Ramdath, who received her Ph.D. in mathematics from Duke and now serves as a member of the Mellon Foundation staff.
The authors "have helped us learn from this difficult situation, and they have given those outside Duke an independent assessment of our actions," Brodhead responded in a statement.
"I welcome the support in today's report for our general response after learning about the incident and for the multiple steps announced in my letter of April 5," Brodhead added. "I read with considerable interest the report's analysis of why the administration did not respond more swiftly to the incident and of how our work was complicated by the sporadic fashion in which information came to light. As Drs. Bowen and Chambers note, the situation was one of rapidly changing circumstances and considerable uncertainty -- indeed; the events at the heart of the case remain in dispute to this day."
On April 5, Brodhead announced he would establish this and four other committees to investigate issues raised in the wake of the lacrosse team controversy. On May 1, two other committees issued reports on the men's lacrosse team and Duke's student judicial process. A fourth committee, called the Campus Culture Initiative, will submit by Dec. 1 its preliminary study of "the ways Duke educates students in the values of personal responsibility, consideration for others and mutual respect in the face of difference and disagreement." Also, a presidential council will scrutinize Duke's responses to the incident, advise the president on best practices in other university settings and consider ways the university can promote its values.
The three reports, Brodhead's responses and extensive other information are available on the website that Duke has created about the lacrosse team situation.
In the latest report, the committee said it took far too long to notify Brodhead about the March 13 party at which white lacrosse team members have been accused of raping an African-American dancer, a charge the players have consistently denied. "Once he was in possession of the necessary information, President Brodhead has provided strong, consistent, and effective leadership in a situation that would try the talents and patience of even the most skillful leaders and crisis managers among us," according to the committee, which expressed "compassion" and "support" for the president.
The communications problems began on the morning of March 14, according to the committee. Duke Police Director Robert Dean told Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek by telephone about the previous night's incident but did not mention that the woman was African American. Wasiolek immediately contacted members of the athletics department and her supervisor, Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta. The committee calls "extraordinary" the fact that Wasiolek, Moneta and senior administrators, including Brodhead, remained unaware until March 24 of the situation's racial aspects, which would later become prominent.
Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III was notified early on about the incident, but other key officials, including Brodhead, did not learn of it "until much later." Nor did Duke Police pass along information about a 911 phone call in which a woman complained of racial slurs coming from the house where the party occurred. Duke officials also were not aware of an inflammatory email message in which a lacrosse player proposed to kill and "skin" strippers until they read about it in an April 5 news story.
Compounding such communications gaps, it was "a major mistake" by Duke police, Wasiolek, Moneta and others to take "at face value the reported comments of Durham police officers (and perhaps others)" on the morning of March 14 that the alleged victim "was not credible." Their assessment affected not only the senior administration's perception of the incident, but also that of lacrosse players who "may have been lulled into a false sense of security about the events shortly to unfold and might well have sought legal counsel sooner had they been aware of the stakes," according to the committee.
Echoing findings from the previous two committees, the new report found "long-standing problems of campus discipline" and said "the lacrosse team was seen by at least some part of the Duke/Durham community as a manifestation of a white, elitist, arrogant sub-culture that was both indulged and self-indulgent." It said "the athletics department, and certainly those responsible for the lacrosse team, did not oversee properly the conduct of members of the team or succeed in instilling proper values," adding that "clearer and firmer actions in earlier days might well have reduced the likelihood that the party of March 13-14 would have unfolded as it did."
However, the committee found "no evidence to support suggestions that the administration may have encouraged the athletes, or the athletics department, to cover up any conduct." Rather, "the administration tried to learn what it could about the events of March 13-14 directly from the lacrosse players and encouraged the players to be forthcoming."
The committee praised Brodhead for his "unequivocal acceptance of responsibility for addressing the myriad issues raised by the allegations and the public reaction to them" once he began to learn what had occurred. "The depth of President Brodhead's personal commitment to address all of the issues associated not just with the allegations of rape and sexual assault at the party, but also with the party's "surround' seems clear to us -- and to almost everyone else with whom we have spoken," the committee said.
However, it also said "the core group advising the President consisted largely of white men" and "the senior leadership of Duke was handicapped by its own limited diversity." Noting that the senior leadership was largely "inherited from a prior administration that was headed by an extremely able and outgoing white woman," the committee encouraged Brodhead "to find ways to bring a wider range of talented individuals to his council table."
In his statement, Brodhead responded that he is "committed to bringing a range of perspectives to bear on discussions by the senior leadership." Later this month, Pamela Bernard will become Duke's vice president and university counsel. Her appointment, announced Jan. 31, was Brodhead's second vice presidential selection, following his decision a year earlier to name Benjamin D. Reese Jr. as vice president for institutional equity. Reese had been serving in the position on an interim basis.
In another finding, the report called on Duke to consider changing its organizational structure to reduce "silos" and better integrate issues involving academics, athletics and student life. It also noted the perception of some local residents that oversight of community outreach efforts by the public affairs office can make it appear that Duke's "genuine interest in the welfare of the community" is instead driven by public relation concerns.
The committee's suggestions include clearer guidelines for student conduct, a review of policies involving off-campus housing and alcohol consumption, a fresh look at the role of athletics and continued efforts to "promote better and stronger relationships with the Durham community."
Citing "full cooperation from everyone with whom we have had contact at Duke," the committee said it reviewed "extensive written materials, including police reports, internal memos, email chains, and press clippings. To the best of our knowledge, nothing was kept from us."
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