Terra Sigillata

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.

Reading sources:
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

Comments

  1. #1 PalMD
    May 26, 2008

    Sounds like a racist rant of misdirected anger…it was the prosecuter and investigators who fucked up…not some misguided student/stripper.

  2. #2 Elf Eye
    May 26, 2008

    What, is being diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder some sort of honor code violation? What’s next? Will it be considered a failure of character if one is diagnosed and treated for diabetes?

  3. #3 Brian Schmidt
    May 27, 2008

    First, editors usually write Op-Ed titles, not the authors. I’ve written several Op-Eds and have even suggested titles, and my titles weren’t used.

    Second, the columnist seems to be questioning whether the accuser’s mental illness is sufficient excuse to avoid application of the school’s honor code, given the accuser’s ability to maintain a 3.0 GPA. I don’t think the claim is that mental illness is a reason to get kicked out of college.

    I think the accuser committed a serious crime, contra PalMD. She doesn’t seem to have paid for it too much.

  4. #4 Becca
    May 27, 2008

    Ms. Butler’s astounding lack of empathy is more than a trifle disconcerting.
    I think the chain of reasoning Butler is trying to use is “she’s crazy, so we know she’s a liar and a criminal… a liar and a criminal doesn’t deserve to graduate (and wouldn’t at Duke)”.
    It seems Ms. Butler is convinced that Ms. Mangum’s being deemed exempt from trial is her ‘getting away scot free(after committing a malicious act)’ rather than a recognition by our society that Mangum 1) suffers from a mental disease and 2) this meets the criteria for being exempt from being held responsible.
    If society as a whole (Butler not being allowed extra votes) has decided Mangum is not to be held responsible, it seems silly to insist that the school was wrong in also deciding not to hold her responsible.

  5. #5 Brian Schmidt
    May 27, 2008

    If the accuser hallucinated the whole thing, then I agree she is blameless. Otherwise, I’m not so ready to absolve her.

  6. #6 DrugMonkey
    May 27, 2008

    Wait. reading the editorial it isn’t totally clear but the convicted felon guy did his time and after that did his degree? Or worked on it in prison or something? Doesn’t this woman believe in the idea that higher education during / after incarceration may be a good way to minimize recidivism?

  7. #7 Barn Owl
    May 27, 2008

    NCCU also touts itself as a “drug-free academic community,” a claim that’s hard to take seriously when one of the college’s own students admits to turning tricks and getting high four or five nights per week. In fact, Mangum had overdosed on flexeril and booze when she was first picked up by police the night of March 14.

    Pfft, I’m sure there’s absolutely no underage drinking or alcohol abuse at Duke. Ever. No binge drinking, no shot contests, no beer bongs, no alcohol-related hazing of athletes or frat boys/sorority girls. And no Duke student who abused muscle relaxants or analgesics or any other prescription medications would EVER be allowed to graduate.

  8. #8 neurospasm
    May 27, 2008

    no matter how offensive butler’s screed might be, it’s not even original. kc johnson, brooklyn college history prof turned duke lax expert and author, had a similar indictment of nc central for mangum’s graduation toward the end of this post – but it was may 7th a week before butler’s gem.

    let’s face it: there have been no winners in this case: the woman, the players, the city, the da, the universities. word on the blogs is that duke donors of 100k and up are only donating 88 cents this year because of the university’s failure to stand by the lax boys and in reference to the ‘gang of 88′ outraged duke faculty. but duke’ll be fine – a little google and wikipedia work shows that while duke and nccu were founded around the same time, duke’s endowment is almost $4 billion while nccu’s is just over $20 million.

  9. #9 ebohlman
    May 27, 2008

    word on the blogs is that duke donors of 100k and up are only donating 88 cents this year because of the university’s failure to stand by the lax boys and in reference to the ‘gang of 88′ outraged duke faculty.

    Just when I thought this case couldn’t get any stranger, it takes a positively Clintonian twist. The organizers of this little movement probably don’t know it, but “88″ is often used as a dogwhistle by neo-nazis (the 8th letter of the alphabet is H, so 88=HH=Heil Hitler). It’s just not the impression you want to make, however inadvertently.

  10. #10 cobbler
    June 5, 2008

    FYI – this retort requires registration with one of your local newspapers but this is apropos to this post:

    No shame in being an NCCU graduate
    By Candra Broadie : Guest columnist

    The Herald-Sun
    Jun 2, 2008

    As a proud student at N.C. Central University, I must strike back to defend NCCU. I feel I had to respond after reading the demeaning article in the May 15 Duke Chronicle about the school where I hope to one day be honored with a degree.

    First, my heart goes out to Kristin Butler, the recent Duke University graduate who is obviously filled with hatred and malice toward an entire university due to an incident beyond the university’s control. It was an incident the court dismissed, and we should likewise dismiss it from our minds, to learn from it, and move on.

    I can no longer sit back and allow outsiders who have never attended the university to speak about NCCU in such a degrading manner. Is it up to us to hold one back from success in life because of a mistake that was made years ago? Whatever happened to forgiveness?

    It saddens me to know that someone from a high-status university could have such an ignorant mind. It’s unfair to stereotype an entire university because of the actions of one student. I’m so grateful that God is a God of second chances. According to Butler, no one deserves a chance to live a successful life after having done wrong. Is it really that much of a greater accomplishment to obtain a degree from anywhere but NCCU?

    Just like students anywhere else, I have pulled many “all-nighters” studying for tests, writing papers, doing homework and reading assignments while completing community service hours required by the university. A degree from NCCU is not handed out to you. So to say that our degree will be meaningless is just a mean-spirited proclamation being uttered by someone whose mind is sham-shackled and myth-tangled.

    Let’s talk about a few accomplishments at NCCU. The university is third in North Carolina in recruiting National Merit Scholars. The director of our Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute, Ken Harewood, has been appointed by Gov. Mike Easley to serve as a member of the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology.

    The completion of the Biomedical Research Institute & Technology Enterprise which is a statewide initiative to make North Carolina a provider of skilled workers for the biotechnology industry, and not to mention the many accomplishments of our prominent Law School. I could go on and on.

    And the list of illustrious alumnus include Gov. Easley, Ernie Barnes, a famous artist and former professional football player, Maynard Jackson, the first black mayor Atlanta and Willie Gary, a prominent black attorney, and CEO of MBC.I could go on and on.

    Candra Broadie is an NCCU student.

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