Let me say from the outset that I am too close to this issue, in many ways, to be fully objective. However, this issue is likely to be of interest to those in the academic community and especially anyone who followed the now-discredited 2006 Duke lacrosse case.
On 15 May Duke graduating senior and guest columnist, Kristin Butler, wrote an editorial in The Duke Chronicle entitled, “Summa cum loony.” Her editorial addressed the fellow graduation across town of Solomon Burnette, convicted in 1997 of robbing two Duke students, and Crystal Gail Mangum, the exotic dancer hired by Duke lacrosse players for an off-campus party in March 2006 where Mangum alleged she was raped. A criminally-zealous city district attorney aggressively pursued the Duke defendants to secure re-election, only to find himself removed from office and disbarred for numerous ethical violations.
Solomon is also no friend of Duke’s following his own 18 April 2007 editorial entitled, “Death to all Rapists.”
The primary thesis of Butler’s editorial is to berate the standards of the historically-black college from which these students graduated:
Because of the university’s blatant refusal to enforce its own rules, I will never again take an NCCU degree seriously, and neither should any other self-respecting Dukie. NCCU’s “seal of approval” no longer guarantees good character, and it’s just too hard to tell the thugs and liars (like Burnette and Mangum) apart from the high-performing majority [ed: such as the current NC governor and mayor of Chapel Hill].
I’ll note that Butler has a point that these two individuals violated their university’s honor code. Nevertheless, she fails to include any corresponding comparison of how many Duke students violated their own honor code yet still graduated.
However, what disturbs me most, and what is lacking from most comments of outrage in response to her essay, is that Butler repeatedly cites Mangum’s mental illness as one reason that she should not have been permitted to graduate (the public record shows Mangum has been diagnosed with and medicated for bipolar disorder).
The 28-year-old woman has struggled with poverty, alcohol abuse and psychological instability. In recent years she turned to therapists for help with bipolar disorder and other mental problems and took anti-psychotic medication.
Even the title of the essay, “Summa cum loony,” is just one example of Butler’s insensitivity toward a serious neurological disorder with a well-characterized biological basis.
I don’t intend to minimize the damage done to the three Duke students whose reputations have been affected adversely by the false accusations made against them. But something tells me that they have better resources to recover from their setbacks than Ms. Mangum, even with her new college degree.
Original Butler editorial, “Summa cum loony”
Chronicle letter to the editor and comment thread, “dismayed, disappointed, disheartened”
Rev-elution blog post by Duke graduate, Rev. Carl Kenney