Duke professors refuse to apologize for an ad

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Dozens of Duke professors have posted "an open letter to the Duke community" on the Web, explaining an ad last spring that has been widely criticized as a condemnation of lacrosse players.

The new letter, signed by 88 faculty and posted at www.concerneddukefaculty.org, refuses to apologize for the ad and reiterates concerns about issues of race and sexual violence on the Duke campus. It says the so-called "Group of 88" ad published in the Chronicle last April has been grossly misinterpreted. That ad has been a subject of heated debate on blogs and its signers have received angry and sometimes racist e-mails.

"The ad has been read as a comment on the alleged rape, the team party, or the specific students accused," the letter said. "Worse, it has been read as rendering a judgment in the case. . . . We reject all attempts to try the case outside the courts, and stand firmly by the principle of the presumption of innocence."

The letter was signed by "concerned faculty," many of whom endorsed the original ad. The ad, titled, "What Does a Social Disaster Sound Like?" included anonymous statements by students talking about racism and sexism on the campus. The ad also thanked "protesters making collective noise."

The letter this week has backed off that a bit, saying, "We do not endorse every demonstration that took place at the time."

William Chafe, a history professor who signed both the ad and the letter, said the bloggers' interpretation of the ad has become the version people accepted. And that's wrong, he said. "We're trying to set the record straight and clarify that we never claimed the lacrosse players were guilty," Chafe said.

No matter what happens with the lacrosse sexual assault case, the letter said, issues of race and sexual violence still exist on campus and should be addressed.

The "Group of 88" has been portrayed as politically correct, left-wing professors who rushed to assume lacrosse players were guilty of rape. The professors have been harshly criticized as the sexual assault case unraveled.

The rhetoric has been heated on the Duke campus, where President Richard Brodhead has called for a restoration of the "fabric of mutual respect." Two weeks ago, a group of economics professors signed a letter saying they supported lacrosse players and all student athletes, and expressing regret that Duke professors were viewed as prejudiced against some students.

That prompted an online petition signed by more than 450 Duke alumni and Duke supporters, standing behind the economics professors. Many of the petition signers targeted their anger at the "Group of 88."

In the online letter, concerned faculty say they won't apologize despite the fury.

"There have been public calls to the authors to retract the ad or apologize for it, as well as calls for action against them and attacks on their character," the letter said.

"We reject all of these. We think the ad's authors were right to give voice to the students quoted, whose suffering is real. We also acknowledge the pain that has been generated by what we believe is a misperception that the authors of the ad prejudged the rape case."

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