A "Fred Friendly" Roundtable

Taking a different approach from the other panels in the Court of Public Opinion Conference, participants in the roundtable role-played their way through a hypothetical (though familiar-sounding) legal issue involving alleged sexual assault by a student athlete, sensitive issues of race and class, and high profile media attention.

Moderator Jack Ford, a TV news veteran, assigns roles including defense attorney, District Attorney, reporter, and Chancellor to a large panel, and asks them to examine their various obligations and choices when faced with the unfolding controversy.

Questions/themes/discussion topics
  • When and how should university officials publicly address criminal investigations involving students?
  • Do in-house investigations by universities of alleged criminal acts by students affect those students' constitutional rights?
  • How should university officials balance the rights of accused students with the safety of the rest of the student body?
  • Television news's reliance on personality over expertise
  • Public statements by prosecutors and defense counsel

 

Panel Video

"I think a responsible prosecutor is going to, early on, try and decide whether they have a strong case or a train wreck that's going to fall apart at the last minute."

- Peter Gilchrist

"I'd want the university to get as much information as possible... and to follow all of the processes that they have in place to protect the student body and to basically do the right thing."

- Ellen Reckhow

"The reality is you're going to put people on who are good television, who are good talkers, who can make their point, people who will stake out a position and get in your face with it."

- Beatrice Myers

"We just go with a case at its own speed, and we take steps to assure the privacy of our student athletes and protect them as much as possible. We have one spokesman, and it's not a student athlete, and it's typically not the coach. It is typically the athletic director."

- Ron Wellman

"There's a problem here. There's a criminal investigation that has now begun and the students are also within the authority of the university, but they also have the right to remain silent. And what you don't want to convey to the students at this point is that they must give up their constitutional right in order to maintain themselves as students in good standing and on this team."

- David Levi

"Technically, none of us should be commenting on an individual's judicial status publicly."

- Margaret Jablonski

"This becomes a huge distraction for [the team] in their day-to-day life. And potentially... it becomes a hostile situation and environment on campus if there are things being said about the team or alleged about the team in the media."

- Kerstin Kimel

"I'll have one person working outside the official university channels, and one person waiting to start the questioning of the officials. But I want to find out as much as I can independent of alerting the university apparatus to what's going on if they don't already know it, because I want to jump on them. I want to get to people before the university has had a chance to get to them and tell them what to say or shut them up."

- Sonya Steptoe

"If you provide [police] up front with a means to take action which comes through suspension by initiating a criminal investigation, the question is does that affect the motivations of the police officer?"

- Elliott Wolf

"All that's happened is somebody has gotten arrested, and a person is innocent until somebody proves him guilty. That hasn't happened yet. The process is just starting. And the more that public figures weigh in and do things that the public perceives as indicating that something bad happened and that this person might be guilty, the worse you're making it for my client."

- Larry McMichael