Committees Report on Lacrosse Team Behavior, Student Judicial Processes

James Coleman, right, and Prasad Kasibhatla discuss their committees' reports at a Monday night news conference.

Members of the Duke University men's lacrosse team are "academically and athletically responsible students" who were not out of control before their party of March 13, but too many have been irresponsible in their use of alcohol and engaged in "repetitive misconduct," a faculty committee that carried out a comprehensive review of the team reported Monday to Duke President Richard H. Brodhead.

Another committee, which reviewed Duke's judicial practices for students, said inconsistent enforcement of the university's alcohol policy "severely undermines" its effectiveness. Duke's judicial policies are "quite comprehensive" and "reasonable" for dealing with students facing criminal charges, but students need clearer expectations to guide their behavior outside the classroom and in the community, the committee said.

The committees "were not asked to investigate any of the events related to the criminal allegation, which is properly the responsibility of the Durham Police and the District Attorney," Brodhead said.

The two committees delivered their reports to Brodhead following nearly a month of intensive study. Brodhead appointed them April 5 as part of a five-part response to allegations that lacrosse team members raped a woman at an off-campus party. All of the players, including two who have been charged criminally, deny the allegations. Emphasizing that the legal system must determine what occurred at the party, Brodhead established the five committees to examine broader issues raised by the incident.

In addition to the two committees that delivered their reports Monday, a third committee is expected to report by May 15 whether Duke's administration was slow in responding to the incident. 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." In addition, a new 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.

"We now have something we have lacked to date, namely, careful, evidence-based inquiries into student behavior and institutional process," Brodhead said in response to the reports. The first report "will give us useful information as we consider the future of men's lacrosse at Duke in the weeks ahead," and the report on Duke's judicial system offers valuable insights to inform the Campus Culture Initiative. Brodhead said "we will begin immediately to improve communication between Student Affairs and the coaches in the area of disciplinary infractions and will clarify a code of conduct for Duke athletes so that it better reflects the role they play in representing the institution."

The full text of his response, along with the two reports and information about the committee members, is available at the website Duke has created about the lacrosse situation.

The seven faculty members who investigated the lacrosse team are all current or former members of Duke's Athletic Council, appointed by the executive committee of the university's Academic Council. Their charge was to investigate "the extent to which the cumulative behavior of many over a number of years signifies a deeper problem for which significant corrective actions are called for."

"We reviewed the general academic performance of the team, as well as a great deal of related material, and spoke with faculty members, coaches, student affairs officials, women's groups, people in the community and many others. We concluded that these are responsible students academically and athletically but, when they are under the influence of alcohol, a large majority of them are socially irresponsible," said the committee's chair, James E. Coleman Jr. Coleman is a Duke Law School professor who served as chief counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and previously headed a Duke committee that reviewed drug use by athletes.

"We looked closely but found no compelling evidence to support claims that these players are racist or have a record of sexual violence," Coleman said.

Paradoxically, the committee said, "a large number of the members of the team have been socially irresponsible when under the influence of alcohol. They have repeatedly violated the law against underage drinking. They have drunk alcohol excessively. They have disturbed their neighbors with loud music and noise, both on-campus and off-campus."

Coleman described this repetitive conduct as "deplorable but pretty typical of what you see with other Duke students who abuse alcohol."

Such misconduct was most common in the fall and at times such as Spring Break, when students have no academic or athletic obligations. The unusually high level of social cohesion among lacrosse players, which the report describes as a "clannish" or "pack" culture, makes their conduct stand out more, since several players are likely to be involved simultaneously. For instance, lacrosse players have been prominent among those drinking heavily at tailgate parties before football games, although they generally have not misbehaved more than other students in such settings.

The committee found that "administrators responsible for the discipline of students were generally aware of the irresponsible conduct of lacrosse players associated with drinking. With the exception of the Office of Judicial Affairs, none of these administrators was especially alarmed by the conduct. Although some administrators claim that they communicated their concerns to Coach [Mike] Pressler, there is no evidence that they adequately did so."

Duke's approach to student misconduct has been "informal to the point of being casual. The result is a process that is arbitrary and often ineffective," according to the committee, which says "the University's ability to deal fully with the problem of alcohol is undermined by its own ambivalence toward drinking and the conduct it spawns."

The committee recommends that Duke continue the men's lacrosse team with appropriate oversight. It calls for an "explicitly articulated" code of conduct for athletes, who should be held to a higher standard than other students. It also recommends a better system of communication between the student affairs and athletics units, as well as a clearly articulated and enforced university alcohol policy.

The second committee reported similar problems among the general student body with alcohol abuse and with maintaining consistently high standards in social settings. The Academic Council's Student Affairs Committee was asked to review Duke's judicial system for dealing with problems of student behavior. The eight-member group was chaired by Prasad Kasibhatla, who also served on the lacrosse team review committee. Kasibhatla, an associate professor of environmental chemistry in Duke's NicholasSchool of the Environment and Earth Sciences, has served on a number of university committees and chairs the steering committee that is updating Duke's strategic plan.

The second committee said the Duke Community Standard (DCS) and the policies that flow from it articulate Duke's values and behavioral expectations, but are perceived by students and faculty as applying mainly to academic rather than social situations, and to interactions at Duke rather than in the broader community. It called for "a comprehensive set of programs to educate students about, explicitly model, repeatedly reinforce, and promote internalization of the institutional values articulated in the DCS," which should be broadened to include student behavior beyond Duke's boundaries.

The university has been more effective in stating its behavioral expectations for students living on-campus than off-campus, said the committee, which met with faculty, students, judicial affairs officers, athletics staff, city officials and others. Despite "noteworthy steps" that Duke has taken recently to deter off-campus misconduct, the committee called for a new code of conduct and judicial policies to guide students living off-campus, adding that recent law enforcement efforts "have not served as an adequate deterrent to off-campus student misconduct."

Alcohol abuse is "the major underlying factor" in student misconduct in all settings, and inconsistent enforcement of the university's alcohol policy "severely undermines its effectiveness," the committee said. It recommended a presidential-level initiative to address this issue, as part of the broader Campus Culture Initiative.

The committee also found "little and reluctant faculty engagement in the University judicial process," a situation that symbolizes "the pervasive disconnect between the academic and non-academic spheres of University life." Duke should rethink its administrative structure to "integrate student academic and non-academic life to better serve the broad educational mission of the University."

Duke's judicial approach "seems reasonable" for dealing with students who face both criminal (or civil) charges as well as campus judicial charges, the committee concluded. However, the university could do more to keep both faculty governance bodies and the broader community aware of how it is dealing with student disciplinary problems. The committee called for "systematic mechanisms for reporting on disciplinary actions" and regular meetings with neighborhood residents and other "major stakeholders."

In addition to Coleman, the six faculty members who investigated the lacrosse team were Gary Gereffi, professor, sociology; Kerry Haynie, associate professor, political science; Kasibhatla; Tod Laursen, professor, Pratt School of Engineering; Martha Putallaz, professor, psychology, and executive director, Duke University Talent Identification Program; and Annabel Wharton, professor, art and art history.

In addition to Kasibhatla, the seven committee members who reviewed student judicial processes and practices were Aura Gimm, assistant professor, biomedical engineering; Jackie Looney, associate dean for graduate student affairs, Graduate School; Rachel Lovingood, graduate student, Department of Cell Biology; Marjorie McElroy, professor, economics; Caroline Haynes, assistant clinical professor, psychiatry; Ben Ward, associate dean for student development, and associate professor, philosophy; and Gary Ybarra, associate professor, electrical and computer engineering