Saturday, April 30, 2011

Richard H. Brodhead: Poster Boy for Ineptitude

Can Brodhead Stop his Ears against Melville's Hyena Laughter?

As Michael Gaynor's summarized in "Yes!!!! Wronged Lacrosse Players Suing Duke," on 21 February 2008 "more than three dozen members of the 2006 Duke University men’s lacrosse team and members of their families filed suit against Duke University, its President Richard Brodhead and other officials, Duke’s medical center, and the City of Durham and city officials for emotional distress and other injuries in connection with false rape charges and a corrupt police investigation against team members in 2006."

At the National Press Club news conference held to announce this lawsuit, Steven Henkelman, speaking for many of the Plaintiffs, was self-controlled but passionate. The father of Erik Henkelman, a member of the 2006 Duke lacrosse team, Henkelman told why he and Erik joined in the new lawsuit against many at Duke and Durham, including Richard Brodhead: "How could Richard Brodhead as the President of Duke refuse to show even the most basic courtesy and meet with lacrosse parents gathered in Durham on March 25th [2006], the day he had orchestrated the abrupt cancellation the Georgetown game with the visiting team already on the field, the day he would issue his first guilt-implying press release featuring his – and I quote – 'sexual assault will not be tolerated at Duke' headline? . . . . Duke was in a 'damage control' mode; they were willing to sacrifice a few – our sons - for the good of the institution. There was to be no support from Dick Brodhead, Bob Steel or any Duke administrator for our sons."

Almost before Henkelman had finished his eloquent remarks, it seemed, Brodhead's Duke lawyers moved to silence parents, individual players, and the lawyers for the Plaintiffs. Objecting to the existence of the Plaintiff's website,, the Duke lawyers singled out Mr. Henkelman for speaking "in a manner calculated to engender sympathy." Brodhead had watched silently while Duke professors called for the castration of lacrosse players, but Brodhead's lawyers were offended when one father of one of the innocent players revealed the depth of pain his son and the whole family suffered because of Brodhead's pervasive ineptitude. Manipulative, exploitative father that he was, Henkelman had spoken "in a manner calculated to engender sympathy"! Imagine!

In the chapter of Moby-Dick called "The Hyena" Melville describes the weird mood that may follow some grotesque turn amid bleak tragedy--something as grotesque as Brodhead's lawyers being offended by Steven Henkelman's words. Melville wrote, "That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the general joke." The only laughter you can emit is the raucous, terrifying laughter of a hyena.

I doubt that Mr. Henkelman is able to laugh about much in his situation, but what the Duke lawyers are doing now does not merely point to Brodhead's well-established tendency to rush to the wrong judgment and his well-documented "almost willful disregard for the facts" (NEWSWEEK 10 September 2007), or his habitual disdain, or his Radney-Claggart-like jealousy of brilliant young helmeted athletes, or his recurrent blindness to human agony against which I presciently protested in FLAWED TEXTS AND VERBAL ICONS (1984). No, what is happening now is different: Brodhead is becoming the subject of humor, not heartwarming joyous humor but sardonic, contemptuous humor. He is being known not only for cold-heartedness, or even for what Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson in UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT called his "moral meltdown," but for something more damning in the 21st century--ineptitude.

Look away from Brodhead's cruelty toward James Van de Velde as Dean of Yale College in 1999, when he could have moved to protect the reputation of the brilliant young athletic scholar haplessly listed by the inept local police as a suspect in a grisly murder, only because he was the victim's adviser. Look instead at Brodhead's own ineptness: now, almost a decade later, Van de Velde's lawsuit, which names Brodhead as well as others at Yale and Yale itself, is reinstated and going forward--at who knows what ultimate financial cost to Yale?

When Duke Trustee Robert Steel came courting him to be President of Duke, vanity seems to have prevented Brodhead from making a simple declaration--that he was not qualified to be president of a great university. Duke University has paid for his ineptitude with a settlement with Michael Pressler, the lacrosse coach. The Brodhead stupidly slurred Pressler, and his spokesman Burness repeated slur to a reporter, so that that Pressler sued and Duke settled again.

Multi-million dollar settlements with three indicted lacrosse players have been made. An October 2007 lawsuit was filed by those three most violated lacrosse players against the city of Durham, its police chief and others, including the now-disbarred former District Attorney Mike Nifong, all of whom who relied on Brodhead to "disregard" facts as they pursued their fraudulent charges. On 18 December 2007 three non-indicted lacrosse players filed suit against the district attorney, Durham, and Duke University (naming Brodhead). And then the 21 February 2008 lawsuit!

After years of delay, in April 2011 Judge Beaty has allowed one charge in each of two cases to go forward against Brodhead: obstruction of justice in one and constructive fraud in another. The DISCOVERY process is at last proceeding.

What other Dean or President of any great American university has proved so expensive to be let loose on a campus, his character driving him to a pattern of blunders--blunders which redefine the word "costly"?

Now everyone knows about Brodhead's ineptitude as a supposed "scholar." Merely look at his THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE, where he gloats over the vanished reputation of the poet (as he says) Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a writer who ought to have been included as a prominent early student of Hawthorne! A critic ineptly takes on a scholarly subject without doing the basic research! Clueless Brodhead! Disdainful, yes, and unequipped to write the book, but, really, just hapless to choose Aldrich to sneer at, Aldrich whose famous THE STILLWATER TRAGEDY opens with a grand example of late-century homage to Hawthorne. Brodhead is a critic, not a scholar who has absorbed previous knowledge and added to it, and as such is prone to embarrassing stumbles as his innate disdain intrudes where a scholar would have performed respectful research.

In 2002 Brodhead was incapable of telling the New York TIMES that as a mere critic he was unqualified to review my biography based on earlier scholarship and containing vast amounts of new information based on archival research. Breezily defaming me as a "demon-researcher," he ignored decades of scholarship in order to imply that I had fabricated crucial episodes in Melville's life (his completing a book called THE ISLE OF THE CROSS in 1853 and his completing another called POEMS in 1860). In order to slander me Brodhead ignored the life’s work of many older scholars who had shown that Melville finished a book in 1853 (although I found the title as late as 1987) and that Melville had tried to get POEMS published, and left it, he thought, in the care of people who would see that it was published. To be lied about in the New York TIMES was almost too much to bear; worse, I had to see Brodhead's lies repeated by Andrew Delbanco and Elizabeth Schultz.

Could Brodhead not have looked at the 1960 LETTERS OF HERMAN MELVILLE and seen on p. 164 that Melville had completed a book in 1853 and on pp. 199 his instruction to his brother Allan about his new book: "Let the title-page be simply, / Poems / by / Herman Melville" (a letter first printed in 1922)? Could he have not looked at the same letters in CORRESPONDENCE (1993), pages 249-250 and 343-344?

Or, if he had been in the slightest bit responsible, could Brodhead not have looked at these documents quoted in the book he was reviewing, HERMAN MELVILLE: A BIOGRAPHY, 1851-1891, on pages 145-155 and 418-426 and 443-444? No. Not if the purpose of his review was to destroy my reputation. No. Not if he was truly so incompetent as not to know how to read the evidence before him or so irresponsible as not to read it at all. Brodhead led a ferocious team of false accusers, all critics, like him, critics who had never done any archival research. I was all but broken in spirit: I was old, exhausted from many years of dedicated research and writing, and I was undergoing surgery I had postponed in order to complete the second volume of my biography. The lies, still alive on the Internet in 2011, made entry into my eighth decade very painful.

Finally, late in 2006, realizing that three lacrosse players might go to jail because of Brodhead, I began work on an article published in the June 2007 Nineteenth-Century Literature (out late July). Before it came out, Michael Gaynor wondered aloud how good a scholar Brodhead really was, and I e-mailed him about how Brodhead had filched from me my good name. Gaynor quoted me in his 7 June 2007 "Richard Brodhead Targeted Hershel Parker Before Lacrosse Players," where I broke my five years of silent suffering.

I still don't find what Brodhead did to me at all funny, but I hear hyena laughter from many directions. Think of Ken Larrey trying to get Brodhead to look at evidence of the sex show that played at Duke early in 2008, while Brodhead averted his eyes, just as he had refused to look at evidence of the lacrosse players' innocence. Listen to the hyena laughter.

On 11 March 2008 Gadi Dechter in the Baltimore SUN, "Multitalented Leader Sought to Fill Shoes," described the ground rules in the search for a new President of the Johns Hopkins University. First do no harm by hiring a Lawrence H. Summers or a Richard H. Brodhead!

Will any group of trustees and other university officials in the foreseeable future start a search without remembering the hastily-speaking Summers and the costly Brodhead, the inept man with a long history of rushing wildly to the wrong judgment? Ironically, Summers' fate propelled Brodhead (terrified since 1986 of being blackened for political incorrectness) into abasing himself before the Gang of 88. Brodhead's name will be mentioned during searches for university presidents accompanied by sounds between a snickering moan and a hyena laugh.

Even sports writers comprehend Brodhead's ineptitude. In the 12 March 2008 Baltimore SUN Mike Preston wrote in "Sympathy for Duke Disappears Thanks to NCAA" about "the boneheaded way" Brodhead and his staff "handled the investigation into rape allegations against three players. The allegations were eventually proven false and dropped . . . . But aren't we forgetting someone? How about Duke president Richard Brodhead? Wasn't he the guy who overreacted and tried to win the public relations game back in 2006 when he canceled the season after eight games? Didn't he play a major part in pressuring Pressler to leave town?" When the sports writer uses words like bonehead, the word is out about Brodhead's ineptitude.

The admirable group called Duke Students for an Ethical Duke on 12 March 2008 reported its close reading of the 18 December 2007 lawsuit in which Brodhead is a defendant. Brodhead's Director of Judicial Affairs, Stephen Bryan, had cooked statistics against the lacrosse team: "As brief examples of their absurdity, Bryan's statistics . . . held lacrosse players accountable for '50% of noise violations and 33% of open container violations' . . . based on single instances of such violations by lacrosse players." One youth holding an open can becomes a third of all open container charges in Durham! The hyena laughs again as it circles around Richard Brodhead, the Poster Boy for Ineptitude. "

And then the horrific Potti scandal where false science was the basis of the medical treatment of real suffering human beings, and Brodhead was sure there was some “intermediate explanation” between fraud and what—incompetence?—for Potti’s falsifying “scientific” research. Does Brodhead hear the hyena laughing at the man who lied about my scholarship in the New York TIMES and told the world that only I had ever heard of POEMS, when everyone had known about it since 1922? Potti and Brodhead, brothers under the skin, incompetents who falsely claimed expertise they did not have (in Brodhead's case, for example,competency to call the roll of students in the school of Hawthorne or competency to review a biography based on documentary evidence), pretenders to scholarship: the hyena laughs.

Then Brodhead's Kunshan boondoggle which Fact Checker is so lucidly analyzing in the Duke Chronicle . . . When will the hyena stop laughing?

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