News & Observer | newsobserver.com | Faculty revisits case, Nifong

Published: May 12, 2007 12:30 AM
Modified: May 12, 2007 02:42 AM

Faculty revisits case, Nifong

Leaders of Duke's professors and its student body tell trustees of toil and tensions

DURHAM - Paul Haagen, the Duke University law professor who led the faculty through one of its most tumultuous years, told the trustees Friday that handling fallout from the Duke lacrosse case had been much like running a marathon.

The trustees were gathered at Duke for the first full board meeting since N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper's April 11 dismissal of charges against the three former Duke lacrosse players and the declaration of innocence.

Haagen spoke about running the Boston Marathon in April while a nor'easter whipped wind and rain in his path. The race was exhausting and sometimes painful, the Duke faculty chairman said, but he focused on his goal: To finish.

"This has been a similarly exhausting and sometimes painful year for Duke University, and many are relieved that it is about to be finished," Haagen said.

Duke has been criticized by bloggers and others for not standing strongly behind the lacrosse players as the judicial process unfolded.

Some professors have been subjected to personal e-mail attacks.

During the past year, Haagen said, Duke "faced the extraordinary and extraordinarily difficult problem of responding to a district attorney, whom the attorney general of the state of North Carolina has described as a 'rogue prosecutor.' "

"Last spring the district attorney chose, for whatever reasons of his own, to inflame admittedly existing community tensions by making a series of false accusations against Duke students," Haagen said.

Eighty-eight professors at Duke have been criticized for a student-newspaper advertisement that they signed in the heat of the early allegations by an escort service dancer who said she had been gang-raped at a lacrosse team party. The ad decried a campus culture where racism and sexism existed. It did not specifically target the lacrosse players, but many of the team's supporters read their words as an early and critical rush to judgment.

Haagen said he has tried throughout the past year to encourage generosity of spirit to avoid exacerbating divisions exposed by the lacrosse case.

"I cannot claim to have been wholly successful. ... Unlike with the marathon," Haagen said, "none of us know how much longer this particular race is, or whether a Heartbreak Hill still looms ahead. There are no convenient mile markers along the way."

With that, Haagen passed the baton to Paula McClain, the political science professor who will be the faculty's new leader.

Elliott Wolf, who is closing out his term as student body president, also spoke about the lacrosse case in his parting remarks to the trustees. "The lesson in this is we cannot have blind faith in the Durham police," Wolf said.

Although residents in neighborhoods surrounding the Duke East Campus have complained for years about rowdy student parties and unruly behavior, Wolf said Duke students seem to be targeted unfairly by law enforcement officers.

Wolf challenged the administration to stand behind students as they face legal troubles.

"Duke now must shake the perception, whether it's legitimate or not, that it simply washes its hands of students," Wolf said.

In related news, Duke and former lacrosse player Kyle Dowd disclosed that they recently settled a lawsuit filed by Dowd in January.

Dowd, who graduated from Duke last year, charged that Kim Curtis, a professor in political and feminist theory, unfairly gave him a failing grade because of the lacrosse case allegations.

Neither Duke nor Dowd would reveal the details of the settlement. A joint statement was issued.

"This lawsuit has been settled through mediation to the mutual satisfaction of Kyle Dowd and his family and Duke University, and without any admission by any party of legal liability. ... As reflected on Kyle's transcript, he has received from Duke University a 'P' [for pass] in the Politics and Literature course he took in his senior year."

Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or anne.blythe@newsobserver.com.
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