If one thing is clear from the year-long scandal that has engulfed Duke University, is that mistakes were made. Players exercised poor judgment in attending a party of unsavory nature. District Attorney Mike Nifong botched the investigation from day one and finally left the case under mounting criticism of his conduct. But the mistakes of another major player in this scandal, Duke University, have gone vastly underreported.
Last spring, three Duke students were accused of rape after the most famous college party this side of “Animal House.” It’s not a situation any academic institution wishes for. But Duke had an opportunity to teach its students valuable lessons about the legal process, including the bedrock principle of a defendant being innocent until proven guilty. Instead, politically motivated professors used the opportunity to push their agenda on race relations and hurl accusations at the lacrosse team. Meanwhile, the administration adopted a “guilty until proven innocent attitude” and was silent as their students were denied due process.
Consider Duke’s immediate reaction to rape allegations from a stripper with a shaky story and a history of false accusations: the university ended the men’s lacrosse season and forced the resignation of coach Mike Pressler. When the accuser picked two, then later three, lacrosse players out of a police lineup that only contained Duke lacrosse players (a major procedural error), the players were suspended from school.
It took 10 months of clearly improper conduct from District Attorney Mike Nifong before Duke issued a statement questioning Nifong’s conduct. Only recently — after every shred of evidence pointed to the boys’ innocence — were two players invited back to campus.
Duke’s professors behaved even worse. While the administration silently failed to defend clear violations of students’ rights, many members of the Duke faculty went a step farther and declared the players guilty. Never mind the facts — the idea of privileged white jocks committing a horrific crime was too tempting for many Duke faculty members. The situation could be used to allege rampant racism and sexism on campus. And they did.
In early April (one month after the allegations broke), 88 faculty members took out an advertisement in the Duke Chronicle described his way by Inside Higher Ed:
The professors definitively asserted that something “happened” to the accuser, while saying “thank you” to campus protesters, who called the players “rapists” and distributed a “wanted” poster with lacrosse players’ photos. The statement’s author, Wahneema Lubiano, gleefully labeled the players the “perfect offenders.”
A visiting instructor in the English Department went so far as to organize a protest outside a house of several lacrosse players. Inside Higher Ed reports that until recently only three Duke professors, comprising a meager 0.2 percent of the Duke faculty, had publicly criticized Nifong.
Throughout this long process, Duke missed several opportunities to stand up for its students.
Rape is a serious crime. But as the Duke case shows, rape allegations can also be a dangerous weapon. That is why we must be able to trust the legal system to sort through the allegations and deliver justice. Students also deserve justice from their university. Nifong has stepped aside from the case and faces possible disbarment. Who will hold administrators at Duke University responsible? Students and alumni should step up and declare that we expect better from our universities.
Allison Kasic is director of campus programs at the Independent Women’s Forum, Washington, D.C.
This article was first published in The Herald Sun.