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Booze Blamed at Duke

May 2, 2006

There is a lacrosse culture at Duke University, but it's not entirely what it's been made out to be, according to a report released Monday evening by a faculty panel. Despite widespread assumptions that the team is full of racist, sexist, dumb jocks, the faculty panel found that team members perform well in the classroom (and on the field) and that there was not evidence of sexist or racist behavior.

The panel did find repeated and serious violations of the university's alcohol policies -- and said that these problems were so widespread and severe that they warranted much more attention than Duke gave them prior to the recent controversy. And some of the report's harshest words were for Duke officials, not the team. The university's monitoring of athlete misconduct that isn't cause for suspension is "informal to the point of being casual," the report said, and results in a process that is "arbitrary and often ineffective."

More broadly, the report said that Duke needs to confront its "ambivalence" about drinking, which is evident in the "tolerance of egregious violations of its own policies." While calling the alcohol-related misconduct of the lacrosse players "deplorable," the faculty panel added that "the university is, by its lack of leadership in this area of deep concern, implicated in the alcohol excesses of lacrosse players and Duke students more generally."

The report -- and a second faculty study, on the judicial system at the university -- intentionally stayed away from the question of whether a woman was raped at a party held by lacrosse players on March 13. Two Duke lacrosse players have been charged with an attack at the party. They have repeatedly denied wrongdoing and say that they have strong evidence that they did nothing to the woman who says she was raped -- who is a student at North Carolina Central University, a historically black college located in Duke's home town of Durham.

The rape allegations -- and details about the party and the attitudes of some attendees -- have severely damaged relations between Duke and Durham, and created a huge crisis for the university, which has taken great pride in an athletics program that was top notch (and heretofore did not embarrass the institution).

While the campus has been calmer of late, with students studying for finals, a series of protests divided many on the campus. The New Black Panther Party rallied at the campus Monday. As the situation worsened in the last month, Duke President Richard H. Brodhead appointed a series of committees and it was their reports that started to be released Monday, with more expected soon. In a statement, Brodhead praised the work of the panels whose reports were released, and promised quick study and consideration of the recommendations. Among them are the resumption of lacrosse competition, which Brodhead called off this year as the scandal escalated.

The report on the lacrosse team may not please the team's most vocal critics or defenders. The team is unusually close, the report said, even by the standards of other athletic teams, because of its size (smaller than the football team and so able to be a unit, but larger than golf and thus able to stand out as a unit) and the common backgrounds of team members. The close team unit has not led to sexist or racist behavior, the report said, citing interviews with women who had dealings with the team and the current black team member and some former team members.

With regard to academics, the panel found top performance, including a 100 percent graduation rate, alumni known for their public service, better academic performance than other Atlantic Coast Conference lacrosse squads, and generally positive reviews from faculty members. The team achieved this academic record while becoming one of the top contenders in the sport nationally.

But while the report rejected many of the allegations being made about the team, it portrayed it as having a growing number of alcohol-related problems -- and it portrayed a university without the ability or willingness to confront those problems. The report noted problems with excessive drinking, underage drinking, public urination, and loud parties that disturb on- and off-campus neighbors.

Between 2000 and 2006, the panel found, Duke has seen a steady increase in the number of disciplinary incidents -- many of them alcohol-related -- involving members of the team. During the 2000-1 academic year, there were three players involved in five incidents. During the 2005-6 academic year, 18 players were involved in 10 incidents.

The increase in the number of these incidents and the sense that the team was getting out of control was not a secret to Duke officials, even before March 13. The report describes meetings between senior Duke officials and the athletics director, meetings between the athletics director and the (since ousted) lacrosse coach, between the coach and his players, etc., etc. But despite all of these meetings, the report notes that players who expressed their devotion to their coach didn't listen to his warnings, and that senior Duke officials didn't follow up on the various meetings, even as the problems worsened.

Ignoring problems is a theme of both reports issued Monday -- particularly with regard to drinking issues (and not by any means limited to the lacrosse team). Duke students have long had pride in a "work hard, party hard" ethos, even as university officials have repeatedly talked about the need to curb alcohol abuse. The faculty panel suggested that the university has largely failed to do so.

"Alcohol is the single greatest factor involved in the unacceptable behavior of Duke students in general and members of the lacrosse team specifically, both on- and off-campus," the report said. "Drunkenness is the cause of behaviors that represent a serious nuisance to the community and a source of significant personal danger for the student. The university's alcohol policy is reasonable, but it is inconsistently enforced and only ineffectually disciplined."

The reports issues Monday recommend a series of actions, including:

  • Resumption of the lacrosse team, with "appropriate oversight."
  • A more demanding and enforced code of conduct for athletes.
  • Better communication between student affairs and athletics officials.
  • A commitment to a "clearly articulated and enforced alcohol policy."
  • Better integrating expectations for good student behavior on and off of Duke's campus.
  • Better communication between Duke and Durham officials about patterns of student behavior.

 

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