I’ve long been an admirer of Duke president Dick Brodhead, whom I first met about 20 years ago when I was an undergraduate at Yale. A friend of mine had had an unfortunate experience with the Yale disciplinary committe, on which Brodhead sat, which resulted in his suspension from college for a year. I thought the process had been poorly handled, and said so in the Yale Daily News. This made for a few uncomfortable moments with Brodhead, then an English professor who was affiliated with my residential college, Branford.
But only a few. Brodhead initiated a conversation with me about everything that had happened, and though we agreed to disagree, I appreciated the gesture and thought that he listened respectfully to my perspective.
In later years, Brodhead became the dean of Yale College, and subsequently the president of Duke. Throughout, he’s handled himself with a similar sense of decency and respect for the values of a university.
So my heart goes out to Brodhead now that he’s enmeshed in a hideous controversy at Duke; an African-American woman says that she was raped by three white players of the Duke lacrosse team. (Charlotte Simmons was a terrible book, but perhaps Tom Wolfe did get some things right.)
Brodhead has cancelled the rest of the team’s season, which seems appropriate given the ugly circumstances of what may or may not have happened.
But you have to love the eloquence and fair-mindedness of his statement on the matter.
âIn this painful period of uncertainty, it is clear to me, as it was to the players, that it would be inappropriate to resume the normal schedule of play,â Brodhead said, according to InsideHigherEd.com. âSports have their time and place, but when an issue of this gravity is in question, it is not the time to be playing games.â
And in a statement quoted by the Times, Brodhead said: “While we await the results of the investigation, I remind everyone that under our system of law, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. One deep value the university is committed to is protecting us all from coercion and assault. An equally central value is that we must not judge each other on the basis of opinion or strong feeling rather than evidence of actual conduct.”
Responding to a question about outraged reactions to the alleged incident, Brodhead said, “How can I be surprised at the outrage? If the things alleged are verified, they’re outrageous.”
It is refreshing to hear simple, honest and direct speech that educates without inflaming. We should expect that from university presidents, but it doesn’t always happen.