Several Duke University alumni questioned the school's president Saturday about suspending two lacrosse players charged with raping a stripper at a team party, with one saying his alma mater is guilty of "a tremendous rush to judgment."
"It was convenient to throw the lacrosse team overboard along with their coach," said Joe Baden, a 1970 Duke graduate from Raleigh.
Baden was among about a half dozen alumni to question President Richard Brodhead during a forum held as part of a weekend of class reunions. During a talk about the school's strategic plan, Brodhead stopped the program for a half hour to specifically take questions from the crowd of nearly 100 about the lacrosse team and the rape allegations.
Duke has not confirmed it suspended the two players charged with rape, although the university has said the school's practice is to issue an interim suspension when a student is charged with a felony or when the student's presence on the campus may create an unsafe situation.
"We really asked ourselves, on the matter of interim suspension, 'How do we do these things?"' Brodhead told a questioner. "The custom of this place, I assure you it is the custom of many places, on indictment for a felony ... that's the way to go with it and that's the way we did it this time."
Sophomores Reade Seligmann, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Collin Finnerty, of Garden City, N.Y., were charged this past week with first-degree rape, sexual assault and kidnapping. Authorities believe they were two of the three white men who a 27-year-old black single mother says raped her at a March 13 lacrosse team party.
Both quickly posted a $400,000 bond, and attorneys for the two players and other team members continue to strongly proclaim their innocence. Meanwhile, District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he hopes to charge a third person, whom he has yet to identify with certainty.
The allegations led Brodhead to cancel the lacrosse season and accept the resignation of the team's coach. Baden wondered whether Brodhead would have done the same if men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has won three national titles, was at the center of the scandal.
"Would he have shut down the basketball team if precisely the same allegation was made by precisely the same person?" Baden asked. "I don't think they would have."
Kent Bishop, who said he lettered in lacrosse in 1960, asked Brodhead about lifting Seligmann's suspension, citing a timeline offered by the defense team they have said indicates the player did not have enough time to participate in the 30-minute assault described by the accuser before leaving the party.
"I think that would simply be Duke following the rule of law and more importantly, supporting a student apparently, or maybe obviously, falsely accused," Bishop said.
Brodhead replied, "If these students are guilty of what they've been charged with, they're guilty of something abhorrent. If they're innocent of what they've been charged with, then it is abhorrent that they should have been held guilty for it in the press."
Seligmann and Finnerty are apparently the second and third members of the team to be suspended from Duke. Earlier this month, the school suspended sophomore Ryan McFadyen, 19, of Mendham, N.J., after authorities investigating the rape allegations released a search warrant for his dorm room that included a vulgar and graphic e-mail sent from his Duke account, which Brodhead called "sickening and repulsive."
Duke said federal law prohibits the school from discussing individual students, but confirmed McFadyen's suspension after he signed a waiver allowing the university to comment.