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Duke Fallout Continues as Top Black Professor Resigns From Race Committee

The Duke University professor heading a university-appointed committee to investigate race relations on campus in the wake of last spring’s men’s lacrosse scandal has resigned from that committee in protest against the recent decision to invite two of the players back on to campus.

“The decision by the university to readmit the students, especially just before a critical judicial decision on the case, is a clear use of corporate power, and a breach, I think, of ethical citizenship,” says Dr. Karla Holloway, the William R. Kenan Jr., Professor of English and Professor of Law at Duke. “I could no longer work in good faith with this breach of common trust.”

Holloway, who is Black, had agreed to head one of the four committees formed by Duke President Richard H. Brodhead late last spring. She says she’d hoped to improve the racial climate on campus after a Black exotic dancer accused members of Duke’s men’s lacrosse team of rape and racial slurs — prompting a media frenzy and nationwide accusations of racism against the university and its students.

Since that time, though, the prosecutor’s case has all but fallen apart, and public opinion has swung drastically in defense of the lacrosse players. Professors like Holloway — who had condemned the players — are now facing criticism for prematurely assuming the players’ guilt and, ironically, making racist charges against the White players.

In her resignation letter, Holloway criticized the Duke administration for not coming to her defense, as attacks in the form of blogs and letters to the university newspaper have mounted in recent months.

“The public support [the administration] has extended to these students has been absent in regard to faculty who have been under constant and often vicious attack,” she wrote.

University spokespeople did not respond to Diverse’s requests for comment.

Holloway’s resignation is the latest turn in a roller coast ride since last year for those representing Duke’s Black community. By 2006, the Black studies program ought to have been stronger than ever, since the university spent 10 years — from 1993 to 2003 — implementing it’s “Black Faculty Strategic Initiative.” The initiative doubled the number of Black professors, from 44 to 88, and poured millions into funding the Black studies program, which Holloway led for a time.

However, some professors have claimed that the lacrosse scandal shone a spotlight on underlying racism on campus. The accuser was a Black single mother, working her way through college at nearby North Carolina Central University, while the three defendants were all White and from wealthy families. Adding to the racial tension, a neighbor said he overheard the players slinging racial slurs at the dancer.

Initially, many at Duke supported the dancer. Students held candlelight vigils on campus and 88 professors, now known as the “Group of 88” signed an advertisement in the student newspaper calling for the administration to take a stronger stand against the players. The administration “failed to recognize the racial dimensions of this and failed to address it quickly,” wrote Duke political science professor Paula McClain in an article published in the summer of 2006.

Also during the summer, six Black professors left Duke, although most said their departures were unrelated to the scandal. A university spokesman said at the time that 10 more Black professors had been hired for the start of the 2006-2007 academic year, but Holloway claims that number is inflated.

In recent months, the pendulum of public opinion has swung in favor of the lacrosse players as controversy and criticism have dogged district attorney Mike Nifong’s handling of the case. Multiple DNA tests have found no link between the dancer and the players, and it has been revealed that Nifong never met with accuser and hid evidence that would excuse the players. Not long after the charges were filed, many Duke students could be seen wearing blue bracelets with white letters proclaiming “INNOCENT.” In an October editorial, a science professor accused those who had not supported the lacrosse players of abandoning the Duke family.

“The faculty who publicly savaged the character and reputations of specific men’s lacrosse players last spring should be ashamed of themselves. They should be tarred and feathered, ridden out of town on a rail and removed from the academy,” he wrote.

Holloway says she was deeply shocked by that editorial, and the administration’s failure to offer even a note of support to her.

Later in October, however, the board of trustees elevated the Black studies program to a department. While the program already offered undergraduate and graduate degrees, trustees said at the time that the promotion reflected Duke’s “commitment” to its Black students.

Although Nifong dropped the rape charges last month, the kidnapping case against the three players is set to go to court this spring. Many speculate, however, that the case will never make it to court given the seemingly weak evidence. But regardless of what happens in the case, Duke is already feeling some chilling effects from the tide of negative publicity.

Applications have dropped 3.3 percent since the scandal broke, from 19,387 in 2006 to 18,495 in 2007. The university also received 20 percent fewer early decision applications this year compared to last year.

“We must work together to restore the fabric of mutual respect,” said Duke president Brodhead in a recent letter addressed to the Duke community. “One of the things I have most regretted is the way students and faculty have felt themselves disparaged and their views caricatured in ongoing debates.”

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