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Something's Rotten at Duke By: Stuart Taylor Jr.
National Journal | Monday, May 29, 2006


My rogues' gallery does not (in all probability) include any Duke University lacrosse player. That's because the available evidence leaves me about 85 percent confident that the three members who have been indicted on rape charges are innocent and that the accusation is a lie. (Some evidence was in my April 29 column; some is below.)

The gallery does include more than 90 members of the Duke faculty who have prejudged the case, with some exuding the anti-white racism and disdain for student-athletes that pollutes many college faculties.

The gallery also includes former Princeton University President William Bowen and civil-rights lawyer Julius Chambers. They went out of their way to slime the lacrosse players in a report on the Duke administration's handling of the rape scandal -- a report that is a parody of race-obsessed political correctness.

Many members of the national media have published grossly one-sided accounts of the case while stereotyping the lacrosse players as spoiled, brutish louts and glossing over the accuser's huge credibility problems.

Then there is Mike Nifong, the Durham, NC, district attorney who is prosecuting the case. In addition to the misconduct detailed in my April 29 column, he has shielded his evidence (if any) from public scrutiny while seeking to keep the rape charges hanging over the defendants by delaying any trial until next spring.

Nifong and a certain Durham police officer should themselves be under criminal investigation, in my view, for what looks like possible intimidation of a disinterested defense witness, a cabbie who had been transporting one defendant at the time of the alleged rape.

Am I prejudging the case myself? Yes, in that I have not yet seen all of the evidence. And yes, in that there could be an innocent explanation for the recent arrest of the cabbie by rape-case investigators under a two-and-half-year-old, apparently frivolous shoplifting warrant.

But when a petty-tyrant prosecutor has perverted and prolonged the legal process without disclosing his supposed evidence, and when academics and journalists have joined in smearing presumptively innocent young men as racist, sexist brutes -- in the face of much contrary evidence -- it's not too early to offer tentative judgments.

I'll start with Houston Baker, a Duke professor of English and of African and African-American studies. In a public letter dated March 29, he assailed "white...male athletes, veritably given license to rape, maraud, deploy hate speech" and "sport their disgraced jerseys on campus, safe under the cover of silent whiteness." He all but pronounced them guilty of "abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white, male privilege loosed amongst us" against a "black woman who their violence and raucous witness injured for life." And on he raved, oozing that brand of racism which consists of falsely smearing decent people as racists.

Baker was hardly alone. Three academic departments, 13 programs, and 88 professors at Duke took out a full-page ad in the campus newspaper on April 7. Treating the truth of the rape charge almost as a given, and applauding protesters who had put lacrosse players' photos on "wanted" posters, the ad associated "what happened to this young woman" with "racism and sexism," implausibly complained of "racist classmates," and falsely suggested that white lacrosse players were getting privileged treatment.

Bowen and Chambers were equally race-obsessed. A curiously unbalanced team to evaluate the handling of this case, both have spent much of their careers peddling preferential treatment of racial minorities and women at the expense of white males. Not to mention Bowen's two books blasting college athletic programs.

So what remedy did they prescribe in their May 4 report for wounds caused by what they had ample reason to know was a probably-false rape charge victimizing innocent white males? You guessed it: more "diversity"! More racial and gender preferences in doling out top administrative jobs!

The report unsurprisingly commended Duke President Richard Brodhead, who had appointed Bowen and Chambers. They especially liked Brodhead's "eloquent" statements implicitly associating the lacrosse players with rape and "dehumanization," with "memories of...systematic racial oppression," with "inequalities of wealth, privilege, and opportunity...and the attitudes of superiority those inequalities breed."

The two did criticize some Brodhead subordinates -- for inadequate "sensitivities" toward minorities, of course. These sins included giving credence to the Duke campus police report that the accuser was not very credible because she had initially said she had been raped by 20 men and then revised it to three.

By the time of the Bowen-Chambers report, her credibility had been further battered by the revelations -- all unmentioned in the report -- that in 1996 she accused three other men of gang rape but did not pursue charges; in 1998, she told police that her ex-husband had tried to kill her; in 2002, she stole a taxicab and tried to run over a police officer after a high-speed chase; and this year, she told her father that the Duke rapists had used a broom, contradicting her story to police that they had used penises.

Bowen and Chambers were not asked to evaluate the lacrosse team. That did not stop them from implying that its members did not show "respect for other people." Or from criticizing Duke's athletic director for having called them "wonderful young men." Or from uncritically parroting unnamed "community" members' views that the lacrosse team is "a manifestation of a white, elitist, arrogant subculture that was both indulged and self-indulgent."

This last quotation might be an apt description of, say, William Bowen. As applied to the lacrosse players, it was an ignorant smear. Indeed, it flew in the face of the carefully researched May 1 report of the seven-member faculty committee that Brodhead had appointed to investigate the behavior of lacrosse players over the five years preceding the alleged rape.

To be sure, you would hardly know of the May 1 report's generally positive depiction of the lacrosse players from the coverage in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and most other major news organizations. They highlighted criticisms of many team members' "deplorable" alcohol-related disciplinary records. The committee found the lacrosse team to be worse than other Duke teams in this regard -- but no "different in character than the conduct of the typical Duke student who abuses alcohol."

Alcohol aside, this report's findings are a stunning vindication of the characters of a group of kids who have been smeared from coast to coast as racist, sexist, thuggish louts. Here are some conclusions of the committee -- chaired by James Coleman, a left-wing, African-American law professor at Duke -- that the national media have largely ignored:

"None of the misconduct involved fighting, sexual assault or harassment, or racist slurs." There was no evidence "that the cohesiveness of this group is either racist or sexist." The "current as well as former African-American members of the team have been extremely positive about the support the team provided them." The lacrosse players' "behavior on trips is described as exemplary." They are "respectful of people who serve the team, including bus drivers, airline personnel, trainers, the equipment manager, the team manager, and the groundskeeper." They are polite, nondisruptive students who have "performed well academically."

By the way, notes the Coleman report, most come from "middle-class, suburban families," with a few "from both very wealthy and from working-class settings."

Adds Kerstin Kimel, coach of the Duke women's lacrosse team, in an interview: "They made a very bad decision in hosting the party and hiring strippers. But I will tell you they are great kids. There is a strong camaraderie between our teams, and my players -- being smart, savvy young women -- would not associate with them if they felt on the whole, there was an issue of character."

Speaking of character, how likely is it that the more than 40 kids described by Kimel and the Coleman report could have maintained an airtight cover-up since March 14 of a gang rape in a small, crowded house, with not one heeding pleas by parents and lawyers to protect himself by fingering any guilty parties?

And what of various team members' handing over evidence sought by police three long days after the alleged rape, such as the accuser's fake fingernails? And of offers to take polygraph tests (which Nifong spurned)? And of other conduct inconsistent with any cover-up?

"Being at an elite university," adds Kimel, "where every side of every issue is debated, my kids were shocked, disillusioned, and disappointed that their professors and the university community were so one-sided in their condemnation of the lacrosse players."

Something is rotten at Duke, as at many universities. I don't think it has much to do with lacrosse.

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