Former dean battles maelstrom at Duke

With members of the Duke University men’s lacrosse team accused of raping a black stripper, the ensuing media firestorm has drawn a man familiar to many in the Yale community to its center.

Richard Brodhead ’68 GRD ’72 — the former Yale College dean who left in 2004 after decades as a Yale student, professor and administrator to serve as president of Duke — is facing a scandal that has shaken the school’s campus and raised a number of questions about relations between the predominantly black city of Durham, N.C., and the Duke student body, which is approximately 56 percent Caucasian. Some have praised Brodhead’s leadership during this trial, but others have questioned the speed and strength of his initial response. In New Haven, those who knew Brodhead well say the experiences he has gleaned from his Yale deanship, including the difficult town-gown dynamic of the Elm City, have influenced his handling of the controversy at Duke.

The allegations at the center of this case concern the stripper — a student at North Carolina Central University — who has said she was raped by three white members of the Duke lacrosse team at a March 13 party. After a nearly monthlong investigation, two sophomores on the team, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, were indicted on charges of first-degree rape, first-degree sexual offense and kidnapping of the woman. They have since been released on $400,000 bail each.

In the meantime, Brodhead canceled the lacrosse season and launched five committees earlier this month to investigate aspects of the case — including an examination of the Duke administrative response, which some have criticized for being too slow. He has also made several public statements on the Duke Web site as new developments in the case have been released and has spoken frequently with the media, appearing on “The Today Show” Wednesday morning.

Yale President Richard Levin, who began his presidency just as Brodhead was beginning his deanship, said he thinks his work with Brodhead on forging a better connection between Yale and New Haven has translated to Brodhead’s successful attention to relations between Duke and Durham. Levin said he thinks Brodhead has always been successful in dealing with high-pressure situations.

“There is, of course, a long history of town-gown tensions in New Haven, but the record of the last 13 years, as Dean Brodhead and I started together … has been, fortunately, a period of much closer connection and much better communication between the city leadership and civic organizations and the University,” Levin said.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. also said progress was made during Brodhead’s tenure, though he said much work remains to be done in forging the connection between Yale and the city.

“It’s easy to practice politics by how you are different,” he said. “The more powerful way to do it is to make people see how they are the same, find places where they can cooperate and work together.”

In North Carolina, Duke Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Moneta said he believes Brodhead’s time at Yale has directly influenced his handling of the tricky town-university dynamic involved in the lacrosse incident.

“His sensitivity to community issues is quite heightened,” Moneta said. “He can see where the hot spots are. He was quick to reach out to the mayor [of Durham], community centers, and the president of North Carolina Central. It was a clear message to help reduce any tensions.”

But many in the Duke community were critical of Brodhead’s initial response to the accuser’s allegations, said Seyward Darby, editor of the independent student newspaper the Duke Chronicle.

“Initially, a lot of people were not pleased,” Darby said. “The criticism was that he was moving too slowly, that he wasn’t taking into account the magnitude of the situation.”

This dissent died down after Brodhead began releasing statements and giving press conferences, Darby said, though it has not been quelled entirely.

“There are still mixed opinions about what he’s doing,” she said. “Some of the lacrosse players and their supporters feel like he’s left them out to dry and that he should show more support for their team and didn’t need to cancel their season.”

Still, Brodhead has achieved specific accomplishments in bridging the gap between Duke and Durham since he filled the presidency, said John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke.

“President Brodhead has had a positive influence on town-gown relations,” Burness said. “Duke’s relations with the Durham community actually have been far stronger than one might have guessed from recent media reports. I suspect that’s why despite all the tensions the media describe, the community has not splintered but, in fact, has come together during the current crisis.”

On Tuesday, Duke announced a program that will refurbish several hundred computers in Durham public schools each year. In February, Brodhead and Durham Public Schools Superintendent Ann Denlinger launched three programs, costing about $1 million in total, which are focused on improving teaching in Durham public schools.

While there was no controversy of the same nature while he was at Yale, Brodhead was faced with a number of challenging circumstances while serving as Dean, Yale officials said.

Yale Director of Athletics Thomas Beckett pointed to Brodhead’s handling of the death of four Yale students in a 2003 car accident.

“He provided extraordinary leadership during a tragic time and helped to provide comfort for all members of the community,” Beckett said.

The committee appointed by Brodhead to examine the on-campus and off-campus culture of the men’s lacrosse program at Duke will present its recommendations by May 1. The committee evaluating the Duke administration’s response to the lacrosse controversy is expected to report its findings to the president by May 15.

Comments

  • AuntieJ

    You Rock, neff!! Watch out for those wild surfin’ Tariffites! miss you bunches.