Civil Liberties

"I'd rather be protected by the first 300 names in the Durham phone book than by the faculty of Duke."

|

Edward Stringham, editor of a 720-page book on the subject, makes the case for free-market justice in The Washington Times. I'm so pleased to see such radical ideas in a quasi-mainstream paper that I hate to carp about the piece, but this really isn't the strongest possible argument for his position:

Imagine if Duke University controlled law enforcement in the area around the university, rather than the city, county and local court system. It is hard to imagine any private organization behaving as unjustly as the government did [when falsely accusing Duke lacrosse players of rape]. The university would have been guided in its behavior not only by the pursuit of justice and truth, certainly the top considerations, but by the impact of the allegations on all of its constituencies—students, alumni, faculty, the athletic community, donors and its neighbors in Durham.

Now, there are good reasons for Duke to operate its own security patrols on its own property and in the neighborhoods around the campus—indeed, it already does. There are good reasons for Duke to have its own internal arbitration systems—and again, it already does. But when a person who is neither a student nor an employee of the college accuses a student of a crime, it's not obvious at all that the university should have jurisdiction. Not under our current system, and not under the system Stringham proposes.

Nor would either party necessarily want Duke to have jurisdiction. Sometimes university courts work well. Sometimes they're models of injustice. In Stringham's polycentric system, there might be better alternatives. (Considering some of the ways the Duke community actually handled the scandal, there had better be better alternatives.)

Full disclosure: I grew up in Chapel Hill, where I was raised to view everything Dukean with suspicion.

Advertisement

NEXT: Misery Porn

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. F*CK DUKE! GO TERPS!!!!!

  2. Say, I’ve got an idea; let’s spend five effing seconds thinking about how Duke University actually handled the accusations against the LAX players.

    You know, even beyond the philosophical objections Jesse raises, we actually have a set of real-world experience to draw conclusions from here.

  3. Although Florida, not North Carolina, is the Basketball State, Duke is for sinners. Any good basketball fan prefers the Tar Heels any day of the week. Dean Smith ruled.

    This thread isn’t about basketball?

    I have to say that Duke probably would’ve executed the boys early on if it were the sole arbiter of justice.

  4. Say, I’ve got an idea; let’s spend five effing seconds thinking about how Duke University actually handled the accusations against the LAX players.

    I thought that was implicit in the paragraph that began “Nor would either party…” — but maybe I’ll throw in an extra link just to make the point more clear.

  5. I didn’t mean that as criticism of you, Jesse, but of Stringham.

  6. Full disclosure: I grew up in Chapel Hill, where I was raised to view everything Dukean with suspicion.

    Cool story.

    My wife, while she was a grad student (briefly) at Duke was a TA for an intro anthropology course.

    Three basketball players were enrolled in that class but failed to complete any assignment, take any test, and only showed up to the first and the last class sessions. Naturally, she gave them failing marks.

    But since the professor was a huge basketball fan and had the final say on grading, they wound up receiving B’s for the semester.

    Later when she approached him about this he informed her that they were on the basketball team, which means they travel a lot and need “special considerations”.

    Not: I tried getting names out of her, but she has no interest in sports, and had forgotten the names several years ago.

  7. I didn’t mean that as criticism of you, Jesse, but of Stringham.

    Understood. But it was a point worth underlining either way.

  8. I think universities already do far too many things, and claim jurisdiction over far too many matters. There are a lot of reasons for this, some of them legal, some of them PR, and some of them relating to the expectations (of just about everybody involved) that the university should be a special domain unto itself. Frequently that last part amounts to infantilizing students, but not always.

  9. what Steve, you mean that sniviling whinny little jerk known as coach K and his program are not the beloved paragon’s of virtue the Duke Basketball Red Sox Baseball Broadcasting Corporation (ESPN) makes him out to be? I for one am shocked!! Shocked!!

  10. I know john, its tough when our heroes let us down. 🙂

  11. The last people I would want anywhere near a criminal legal proceeding are about 90% of the faculty of any of the top 100 law schools in this country.

  12. “(Considering some of the ways the Duke community actually handled the sandal, there had better be better alternatives.)”

    Sandal-handling bastards

  13. The last people I would want anywhere near a criminal legal proceeding are about 90% of the faculty of any of the top 100 law schools in this country.

    Well, the good news is that they won’t be involved. When universities “handle it internally” it doesn’t go to the law school. Unless one of the top administrators just happens to be a law professor.

    If it’s a Really Big Case then a decision will probably be made at the top level (for better or worse) and then, if necessary, ratified by some panel of students and faculty. But it’s more likely that the panel won’t convene for a while, and when they do it will be to hear an appeal of a decision that’s been made rather than to help make an initial decision.

    If the case is also going before a real court, the university will probably try to delay the student panel as long as possible (they’d rather wait for that storm to pass), and the attorneys for the accused will probably push for a delay as well, since they certainly don’t want their client to be making statements in a public forum.

    Now, sometimes universities have been known to send people before student panels on charges that never made their way to a real court, and we’ve all heard some nasty anecdotes about miscarriages of justice in those forums. But my observation has been that if the allegation is serious the university prefers to make an initial decision at the top level, let the courts sort it out, and at some point convene student/faculty panels to make a final (and often predictable) resolution. Mostly those student/faculty panels only handle more minor cases.

  14. It is hard to imagine any private organization behaving as unjustly as the government did [when falsely accusing Duke lacrosse players of rape].

    The government didn’t behave unjustly at all.

    A serious accusation was made, suspects were arrested and indicted, and eventually freed without even going to trial when it was found that the case lacked merit.

    Looking at the case as a whole, the system worked pretty much like it was supposed to have.

  15. Sandal-handling bastards

    Heh. Fixed.

  16. I wouldn’t trust Duke University in any regard – for God’s sake, they employ the DEVIL HIMSELF as their basketball coach!!! How can you can trust anyone who has chosen to allign themselves with the prince of darkness?!?!?!?!

  17. A serious accusation was made, suspects were arrested and indicted, and eventually freed without even going to trial when it was found that the case lacked merit.

    No, a serious accusation was made, suspects were arrested and indicted, and eventually freed without even going to trial *several months after* it was obvious to every reasonable observer that the case lacked merit.

  18. I am aware of how higher ed handles these things Thoreau. I was just making a point. It is an anicdotal snapshot granted, but from the numerous friends I have who work in higher ed, most professors are downright batshit insane. I am not kidding or exagerating. The viciousness and pettyness of academic politics is mind boggling, especially in the humanities. Those people should not be allowed anywhere near a position of real authority.

  19. John-

    Yep. The good news is that faculty politics has very little to do with power over students. Faculty are only allowed to exercise power over students via grades. Most of it has to do with fights amongst themselves.

    Which makes it all the more sad that academic politics is the way it is. I mean, if it isn’t about the students (i.e. the ostensible reason that universities exist) then why the hell is it even going on?

    Interestingly, I’ve heard that when academic dishonesty cases go before joint faculty/student panels, the harshest judges on the panel are the students. If I ever get on one of those panels, however, I’ll give the toughest students a run for their money. I carve a notch in my grade book every time I bust a cheater. (5 notches so far!)

  20. Seamus,

    I guess the question is, can the bad acts committed in this case be attributed to structural or systemic problems that are unique to government, which would not be present if Duke University or some other organization was in charge of prosecutions?

    Or are they more accurately attributed to the individual shortcomings of Mike Nifong?

  21. “Interestingly, I’ve heard that when academic dishonesty cases go before joint faculty/student panels, the harshest judges on the panel are the students. If I ever get on one of those panels, however, I’ll give the toughest students a run for their money. I carve a notch in my grade book every time I bust a cheater. (5 notches so far!)”

    I am not surprised by that. I think students being young and earnest really take the mission of education seriously and actually believe in the ideals colleges profess. It is the faculty that is cynical.

  22. Looking at the case as a whole, the system worked pretty much like it was supposed to have.

    Except for the part where a politically motivated prosecutor broke the law in his attempt to jail innocent people.

  23. I don’t know if the faculty are really cynical here, but rather more willing to give second chances.

    A friend told me that a student plagiarized a paper in his class. He was all set to call down the full power of the university on this student and basically terminate the student’s academic career, but a senior colleague persuaded him to teach the student a lesson rather than ruin his life. So the student was allowed to write a new paper, and given a bad enough grade to lose his scholarship, but was not sent to a panel that would have kicked him out of school.

    I guess I can understand the desire to go easy on a first offense. As long as the punishment for a second offense is guaranteed expulsion.

  24. Good point Thoreau. I think the willingness to forgive transgressions by young people is in direct proportion to whether the person judging has or could have children that age. If they have children who college age, I think they figure, God that could be my kid but for the grace of God and are more likely to go easy. I saw this all the time when I was a military prosecutor. Give me a jury of young majors and sergeants and they are going to bring the hammer on the accused. Give me a jury of old Colonels and sergeant majors who are likely to have kids the same age as the accused, and they are likely to be pretty circumspect in their choices of punishment.

  25. Hey, Rick Henderson grew up in Chapel Hill too. But I think he’s got some years on you Mr. Walker.

  26. Except for the part where a politically motivated prosecutor broke the law in his attempt to jail innocent people.

    And the system prevented it from happening.

  27. Dan,

    If those guys hadn’t had oodles of money, the “system” would have locked them up in jail by now.

    If the system only provides justice for rich wrongly accused people, then it’s not working.

  28. I guess the question is, can the bad acts committed in this case be attributed to structural or systemic problems that are unique to government…?

    Yes. Nifong was grandstanding to win the election for District Attorney. He was subverting justice to keep his job. Pretty much the definition of a structural and systemic problem.

  29. Full disclosure: I grew up in Chapel Hill, where I was raised to view everything Dukean with suspicion.

    Excellent! I’m holding down the fort here with guns pointed at the northeast.

  30. stuartl,

    “Yes. Nifong was grandstanding to win the election for District Attorney. He was subverting justice to keep his job. Pretty much the definition of a structural and systemic problem.”

    Ah. Good thing the faculty at Duke don’t have any incentives to grandstand on issues involving race and economic status. Wait…

  31. There’s really no evidence to suggest that Duke-brand cops would have behaved any differently than the government cops. Didn’t Virginia Tech have its own cops who failed miserably?

  32. Dan T., the system only prevented it from happening, if by “it” you mean trial. But if you mean “a worthless punk wreaking havoc on the lives of innocent people before dropping the charges,” then no, it wasn’t prevented.

    Which is partly why I’d be all for Duke handling such cases, if only they could be overseen by Mike Munger in the Poli Sci Dept.

  33. Joe — I’m not sure I follow your logic. There are clear structural problems with the government that are highlighted in this case, but it is okay since the Duke faculty also has problems?

  34. The first and most glaring problem with Mr.Walker’s post:

    Calling The Washington Times – a paper owned and run by moonies and full of poorly researched *ahem* news and ultra-conservative editorials – “quasi-mainstream.”

    Don’t get me wrong. The Washington Times has great entertainment value and can occasionally print something worth proclaiming as news (even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then)

  35. But it ain’t “mainstream”, sort of mainstream or quasi mainstream. Not now. Not ever.

  36. stuartl,

    My logic is that attributing the behavior of Nifong to structural problems in the government, and holding up Duke as an example of a better alternative, doesn’t make sense, because the behavior of the university and its faculty was nearly identical to that of Nifong.

  37. Just wanted to say that I’ve met Stringham a couple of times for nights out bar hopping. He’s a pretty cool guy to hang with. And my lttle brother took his Econ 101 class.

  38. And it’s too bad. Any system I’ve heard him discuss would have had the lacross players insurors/arbitraotrs/protectors negotiating with the accusing parties same for investgations and such. Not so much the schools itself… unless of course the unversity had been named as a defending party in the plaintifs case.

  39. And the system prevented it from happening.

    Actually, no, Dan T. The system did not prevent a politically motivated prosecutor from breaking the law in his attempt to jail innocent people.

    It just so happened that in this case, the innocent people got off, due to favorable press coverage (driven by the blogosphere, IMO) and enough money to hire competent lawyers. Lots of people don’t have those advantages. You don’t even want to know what happens to poor defendants here in Texas.

    Good thing the faculty at Duke don’t have any incentives to grandstand on issues involving race and economic status.

    Ding ding ding! We have our Weekly Agreement With joe!

  40. “…but maybe I’ll throw in an extra link just to make the point more clear.”

    Clearer

  41. I guess the question is, can the bad acts committed in this case be attributed to structural or systemic problems that are unique to government, which would not be present if Duke University or some other organization was in charge of prosecutions?

    Or are they more accurately attributed to the individual shortcomings of Mike Nifong?

    Well, in this case, moving the rape case out of the hands of Nifong and putting it into those of Duke University would have been moving the accused out of the frying pan and into the fire. If the university had its way, they’d have been publicly castrated, then executed, with all classes cancelled so the university community to attend and cheer.

    But I think stuartl got it right when he pointed out that the susceptibility of the criminal justice system to the kind of racial politicking that Nifong engaged in to save himself in the primary is a structural and systematic problem. I’m not saying I have any good structural and systematic solutions that problem, though. (We could make elections for local prosecutors appointive rather than elective positions, but I have no confidence that would solve the problem, even if it didn’t create new ones of its own.)

    All of this is tangential to my original point, which is the Dan T. was wrong when he said that “[t]he government didn’t behave unjustly at all.” That was just silly of him to say, and I don’t think anyone has succeeded in refuting me on that point.

  42. Just thought I’d point out that the VA Tech cops WERE government cops. VTU is a state school.

    Kevin

  43. kevrob:

    If you’re going to go in that direction, don’t all cops have to be deputized or licensed, making them all government cops?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.