The news that everyone had been expecting for some time arrived this afternoon, that the Duke lacrosse players have been cleared of all charges. No one in the USA will be unfamiliar with this story, and many elsewhere in the world will have heard about it too since it has made an impact also on the world media. Today's Guardian, for example, has a good summary of the case that has cast a shadow over Duke for the last year or so.
I have often thought seriously about blogging on this issue because it has been on my mind a great deal, especially in recent months as it became clear that the case was collapsing. My reasons for not blogging on it were twofold. First, this blog is focused on academic New Testament studies and I generally keep all other unrelated material out of it. Regular readers will know that it is rare for me to stray outside of that mandate. Second, and more importantly, I felt profoundly uncomfortable about commenting in public on an ongoing criminal investigation. Some of the difficulties that have arisen in relation to the case are the result of people making public comment when it would have been wiser to use greater caution and to suspend judgement until more was known. The attorney general today spoke of the "tragic rush to accuse". Perhaps my decision to avoid public comment was wrong, but it was made, I hope, in good conscience. My lack of comment was not because of lack of interest in or concern about the case, which I have followed very carefully from the beginning.
Having heard the news today, my major reaction was one of no surprise. It has seemed clear for some time that the charges were likely to be dropped, and that there was no case against the three men. That reaction is combined with a feeling of profound regret and some degree of anger about the original prosecution of the case, which now appears to have been utterly flawed. I also feel a great deal of sympathy for the three players who have been cleared. I could not condone the behaviour of the lacrosse team at the party which was the catalyst for the false allegations, but it is important not to confuse one's condemnation of some student misbehaviour (which is common all over the world, not just here) with the making of one of the most serious criminal allegations that can be made. Indeed one of the most troubling elements in the early days of the media coverage was the confusion made between general student misdemeanour with very serious criminal allegation.
The most sensitive issue for those of us on the Duke faculty, however, is the question of our attitude to the members of the lacrosse team over the last twelve months, which was focused in particular by the placement of an ad in the The Chronicle by 88 members of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, one of the major divisions at Duke, of which the Religion Department, to which I belong, is a member. The ad achieved some notoriety and many saw it, I think rightly, as somewhat misguided. I was not one of the signatories of this ad, nor did I sign the follow-up "clarifying" letter produced last January. I should perhaps add that members of the lacrosse team have always been welcome to join my classes (and several have been in my classes). I regret that sometimes the Duke faculty have been characterized as not supporting their students. I made the decision not to talk in class about the case, though I was happy to talk to and listen to students outside of class when they wished to talk about it, and so to offer my support in that way.
The case has been a very unhappy one for Duke and Durham and I hope that in the long term important lessons are learnt. For me, as a relatively new member of the faculty, it has been an unpleasant welcome to a university that in so many other ways has so much to be proud of.