In recent years, two prominent American universities have experienced catastrophic leadership failures that exposed young people in their charge to horrible abuse. The failures grew out of a lack of courage to resist the demands of powerful special interests. As Penn State tries to reform its campus culture, what can it teach Duke?
You probably know about Penn State, where top administrators, according to a recent report by former FBI head Louis Freeh, concealed critical facts about years of child molestation committed by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, all in an effort to protect the image of its football program. After the scandal became public, trustees fired the university’s president and its longtime football coach; two senior administrators left their jobs. The trustees then commissioned a multimillion-dollar investigation headed by Mr. Freeh, and they have promised to implement most of his 119 recommended reforms.
You may not have known, or remember, the leadership scandal at Duke, which became manifest in 2006 but led to no punishment or even censure of any kind for any of the professors and administrators who behaved disgracefully, including President Richard Brodhead.
We refer to the rapidly disproven allegation of a savage gang rape hurled at three Duke lacrosse players, with dozens more accused of complicity, by an African-American stripper whom they had hired to perform at a team party. Scores of professors formed themselves into what can most kindly be called a rush-to-judgment mob, adding their denunciations of the falsely accused lacrosse players (three were indicted) to the damage already done by a rogue district attorney, Mike Nifong.