But the Duke lacrosse rape case, which has drawn a firestorm of national attention and debate over the past 14 months, has shown a tendency for involving even those far from North Carolina. What began in March 2006 as an ordinary rape investigation quickly ignited an increasingly public and widespread discourse on racism, sexism and college athletics.
The reverberations has been felt even in faraway Williamstown as three current and former Williams professors have played roles peripheral to the case, which came to a legal conclusion on April 11 when North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper cleared the three accused lacrosse players of all charges.
Few commentators on the alleged attack have drawn as much attention as Grant Farred, a former professor and junior varsity soccer coach at Williams in the late 1990s who has since moved on to Duke. Currently a visiting professor of Africana Studies at Williams this semester, Farred delivered a talk titled "Public Secrets, Public Scandals: the Event of Duke Lacrosse" at Griffin Hall on Monday.
Farred decried the finality of Cooper's declaration of innocence and what he considered the all-encompassing immunity it offered the accused. Though he eventually
The crux of his argument was that the Duke lacrosse team had a long history of unlawfulness mostly citations for public drunkenness and was guilty of using racist and sexist epithets. As such, he claimed, their publicly announced innocence provided an affirmation of Southern white privilege.
"The Duke lacrosse program is indicted here not for whatever happened on that night, but for its past its blemished past," Farred said. "The lacrosse team has a history of being inhospitable, of being bad neighbors to Durham ... it is the history of racism in the South."
Farred first achieved a measure of recognition as one of the 88 faculty signers (commonly known as the Group of 88) of an advertisement in The Chronicle, the student newspaper at Duke. The final statement in the full-page notice read, "We're turning up the volume in a moment when some of the most vulnerable among us are being asked to quiet down while we wait. To the students speaking individually and to the protesters making collective noise, thank you for not waiting."
Farred created more controversy last October when he wrote an editorial in The Herald-Sun, the primary daily newspaper of Durham, that accused Duke students then participating in a voter registration campaign of "closing ranks against Durham" and "(displacing) the problem of racism from the lacrosse team and the university to Durham's political system."
On Monday, Farred reserved some of his harshest criticism for the North Carolina legal system: "The law is madness because it is megalomaniacal. The law is authoritative and tyrannical enough to close this event with a single word and a press conference."
Asked how his experiences as a coach at Williams had influenced his thinking, Farred responded, "I don't understand institutional loyalty. I don't understand the uncritical relationship between sports and institutions."
Farred, who courteously declined to answer questions from the Transcript afterwards, claimed that the lacrosse program at Duke operated from a privileged position that allowed athletes any misconduct as long as they performed well on the field.
The audience on Monday was mostly supportive in its questioning, but another former Williams professor has established himself as perhaps the foremost critic of Farred's actions with regard to the Duke case.
K.C. Johnson, who taught history at Williams from 1995 to 1999 and is currently a professor at Brooklyn College, has become one of the most unlikely figures in the public debate over the Duke lacrosse case. Initially intrigued by an interest in what he termed "academic groupthink," Johnson began posting messages on a historians' Web log concerning the investigation. As his interest grew, he formed a blog of his own the amusingly named "Durham-in-Wonderland" and became a highly prominent critic of the prosecution of the case and professors such as Farred.
"Maybe I'm naive, but I'd like to think that the academy stands for due process," he said in a phone interview recently. "The more involved I became in the case, the more upset I became. This was basically a case where everything was upside down. Nothing was happening as it should have."
Johnson, who at this point posts several long blogs per day and has become incredibly well versed in the investigation's minutiae, is also the co-author of an upcoming book about the case.
Of Farred, Johnson would only say, "He has unusual attitudes toward sports," referring to his former colleague's book "Phantom Calls: Race and the Globalization of the NBA."
Johnson also said his experiences with Williams athletics were overwhelmingly positive.
"Athletically, Williams is kind of the Division 3 equivalent of Duke, where you have the combination of high-class academics with high-class athletics," he said. "I had a decent number of athletes in my classes at Williams. Some were extremely smart and some weren't, but all were very hard working in the classroom. This idea that athletes are somehow given special treatment at academically elite institutions just felt false to me. I didn't have the sense that Williams had compromised its academic standards for athletics."
Johnson's comparison between the two colleges didn't sit right with Williams President Morton O. Schapiro, who noted that Duke is a major research university with more than 12,000 students, while Williams is six times smaller.
"I wouldn't overplay that," he said of the similarities between his institution and Duke. "The world in Division 1 is so different than Division 3. I'm not saying we can't learn something from Duke and Duke can't learn something from us, but they're in a completely different world down there. I know Division 1. It's a different ball game."
Schapiro also was tangentially involved in the lacrosse case as a member of the Presidential Council, one of the five committees that Duke President Richard H. Brodhead formed in the immediate aftermath of the accusations.
The council's mission, according to Schapiro, was to "scrutinize Duke's responses to the lacrosse team incident, advise the president on best practices in other university settings and consider ways Duke can promote its values."
Schapiro, who thinks he was asked to join because of his past experience with athletics as a dean at the University of Southern California, traveled to Durham last November. His duties for a weekend consisted mainly of reviewing reports by the other four committees. He was unable to attend the council's most recent meeting several months ago but provided a critique of a final overarching document published in February called "The Report of the Campus Culture Initiative Steering Committee."
Schapiro said the primary lesson he drew from his experience was the importance of campus communication. Unlike Farred and Johnson, he had only praise for Duke's administration.
"Duke is a great school, and everybody holds it up for emulation all the time," he said. "It gets some richly-deserved accolades. I was very impressed with their honesty in that final report. They took a clear look at themselves. I admire them for being so forthcoming."