Statement by President Brodhead on Resumption of Men's Lacrosse

The following remarks were given at the start of a June 5 press conference

Thank you John, and thank you all for being here today. As John mentioned, today's press conference is the continuation of our effort to give you an open and candid look at the actions the university takes as we address the serious issues raised by the events of March 13.

As part of that process, we have turned our examination inward and, with the help of two faculty committees and one external committee, have taken a hard look at what the university could have done differently both in the lead-up to March 13 and in the period following. Throughout this period, we have taken great care to respect the ongoing criminal investigation, and I have repeatedly stressed the importance of allowing this investigation to run its course and of allowing the truth to be established by the legal process before we pass judgment. I reiterate that today.

Since my last letter, three members of the men's lacrosse team have been indicted on felony charges. As you know, they proclaim their innocence on all counts. Over the last nine weeks, some media reports have advanced the case against the students, and others attacked the credibility of the accuser. In the end however, none of us know for certain what did or did not happen at the March 13 party.

This much IS certain: rape is an abomination, and if the allegations in the indictments are proven true, these students will deserve severe punishment for a heinous act. If, however, it is determined that the allegations are false, then these students themselves will have been the victims of a serious injustice, one that will deserve its own stern condemnation. For now we must continue to take the matter seriously and suspend final judgment toward an uncertainty that only the courts can resolve.

Now, on to the reason we invited you here today.

Much has happened in the weeks since April 5, when I sent a long letter to the Duke community. In that letter I outlined steps that we would take to deal with the issues over which the university does have control. Two months to the day later, I want to update you on what we have done and announce further steps we will be taking going forward.

As you know, I have received reports from three of the committees I announced on April 5. Those reports, which are available on the Duke website, include an examination of the adequacy of Duke's disciplinary procedures; an inquiry into the prior history of behavior of the men's lacrosse team; and an assessment of the response to this event by the Duke administration. These committees asked tough questions and the university has benefited from their independent reviews of a series of important issues.

I know you are anxious to get to your questions so let me quickly summarize the steps Duke is taking to respond to the recommendations of these reports. You can find a more detailed discussion of these steps in my letter to the Duke community being released today, which also is on the Duke website.

Campus Culture

As I've noted on other occasions, one striking effect of this spring's events is that they highlighted larger issues of campus culture that require our attention whether the legal charges are upheld or not. In the wake of events this spring, it is apparent that we need to clarify the standards of behavior that will be expected of ALL of Duke's students, including behavior that is thoughtless of others, among them our off campus neighbors, as well as disrespectful behavior across lines of race, gender and other forms of difference. A committee is at work to propose the needed adjustments, and I expect a report this fall.

In addition to rules and sanctions, we also need to promote Duke's values in a positive fashion, and create an atmosphere where students will have frequent opportunities to reflect on their choices and internalize an ethic of responsibility and mutual respect. The Campus Culture Initiative, led by Vice Provost Robert Thompson and Vice President Larry Moneta, has begun the task of assessing current needs and making recommendations. My charge to the Campus Culture group is to look at all of those issues, at our expectations for our students, the values and behaviors we aim to instill, and the ways that students relate to one another. I have also directed this group to offer specific recommendations about how we might address the culture of campus drinking.

These are complicated issues faced by all universities, and they won't be solved in a day--but we are determined to address them and make real progress. I expect this committee's preliminary report at the close of the fall semester, but our efforts will require far-reaching conversations with faculty and students that will be ongoing for some time. As you know, I have also empanelled a Presidential Council of distinguished figures from outside Duke to be a sounding board for our efforts and critiquing our recommendations. You'll find the names of its members in my letter.

 

Athletics

To speak more particularly of athletics: Duke has great traditions of athletic excellence and I am eager for Duke to continue these traditions. But as this university has long recognized, we must pursue our athletic goals within a larger context of educational values, and not as ends in themselves. The committee reports made a number of recommendations on how we can better coordinate athletic values with wider university values, and we are in the process of implementing these recommendations. The reports recommend that we create an explicit code of conduct for student athletes. Athletics Director Alleva is leading that process, which will be completed by fall. The reports also recommend that we create better communication between Athletics, Student Affairs, and Duke Police so that coaches and athletics administrators can learn of behavior issues involving student athletes in a fuller and timelier manner. That project too is already well advanced.

In addition, as my letter outlines in more detail, I am making several changes in the university's oversight of athletics. Effective immediately, I am restoring direct responsibility for athletics to the President of the University. I have also asked that the Athletics Director or his representative be included in the Provost's Undergraduate Leadership Group, to ensure that academic, athletic, and student life issues are dealt with as a coordinated and integrated whole. In addition I will be proposing modifications in the university's Athletics Council, the committee charged by the Trustees and the faculty with overseeing athletics at Duke.

 

 

Lacrosse

Finally, I have decided to permit the resumption of men's lacrosse. Assistant Coach Kevin Cassese will serve as interim coach while Joe Alleva conducts a search for a permanent coach. I have received a great deal of advice on this issue. Let me share the thinking that led to my decision this weekend to reinstate this program.

When I announced the indefinite suspension of the men's lacrosse season on April 5, suspicion seemed to swirl around virtually all members of the team--all but one, you will recall, were required to submit to DNA testing--and we had no concept of the dimensions of the emerging legal case. After the District Attorney announced his indictment of a third player, however, he exonerated the other 44 team members of criminal charges. This is, of course, a significant change.

On the other hand, I also had to weigh the findings of the Coleman Committee, the group charged with assessing this team's conduct before March 13. While their report did not validate the worst charges against the team, it did establish a pattern of irresponsible behavior, much of it aggravated by drink. And I have remained concerned about the March 13 party itself, an event that, even setting aside the disputed criminal matters, clearly involved highly inappropriate and unacceptable behavior by members of this team, as their captains long ago acknowledged. I told the team when I met with them last month that, if and when we were to resume the play of lacrosse, we simply could not return to the status quo as of March 12 of this year.

As I wrestled with this issue, I decided that Duke should only resume men's lacrosse if we made a clear statement of the conduct we expect of the players going forward; if the players actively accepted responsibility for living up to these expectations; and if we had a strong oversight mechanism to monitor the situation. These conditions have now been met to my satisfaction. Last Friday I received a mission statement and a standard of conduct that the players have written and pledge to uphold. The new communications and oversight structures that I described will give us the means to monitor the team's future conduct and respond promptly as needed.

I am, I know, taking a risk in reinstating men's lacrosse. The reinstatement is inevitably probationary: if we begin to see patterns of irresponsible individual or team behaviors familiar from the past, the Athletics Director and I will have no choice but to revisit this decision, and we won't hesitate to do so. On the other hand, if we did not allow these players the chance to take responsibility for creating a new history for their sport at Duke, we would be denying another very fundamental value: the belief in the possibility of learning from experience, the belief in education itself. None of us is free from the liability to err: that's why we need education. To make a mistake, to recognize it as such, and to take responsibility for making a change might be said to be the essence of education. That is the opportunity now available to our team.

I said at our last press conference what I continue to believe: that over time, Duke will be judged not by the events of March 13, but by how we face and learn from those events. I am committed to drawing the lessons of those events and it is my hope that in so doing we will make a great university better.

Unless others here wish to add some comments of their own, we are pleased to take your questions.