Duke University President Richard Brodhead defended his decision to readmit two lacrosse players accused of sexual assault in a letter Monday that also harshly criticized the lead prosecutor in the case.
And, with classes for the spring semester set to resume on Wednesday, Brodhead called for civil debate about the issues of race and class that arose after the accuser in the case alleged in March she had been raped at a lacrosse team party.
All but one of the players on last year's lacrosse team was white. The accuser is black.
"We must work together to restore the fabric of mutual respect," Brodhead said in a letter addressed to the "Duke Community." "One of the things I have most regretted is the way students and faculty have felt themselves disparaged and their views caricatured in ongoing debates."
Lacrosse players Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann had been barred from attending class during the fall semester while their case made its way through court. A third player, Dave Evans, graduated in May, the day before he was charged.
Lawyers for Seligmann and Finnerty have said their clients were still making up their minds about whether to return.
Rape charges against all three athletes were dropped last month, after the woman who said she was attacked a team party last March wavered on some key details. The men are still charged with sexual offense and kidnapping; they are not expected to go to trial before the spring.
In his letter, Brodhead said circumstances in the case have changed since Finnerty and Seligmann were barred from campus.
"Although the two students still face serious charges, in the changed circumstances, it seems only right to strike the balance at a different point. The fair thing is to allow the students to continue with their studies," he wrote.
Brodhead has been publicly critical of District Attorney Mike Nifong since the charges were dismissed and he continued his criticism Monday.
"Those who work in the legal process must behave with elemental fairness and regard for the rights of those involved," he wrote. "We need and deserve for that faith to be restored."