A Financial Rallying Cry at Duke

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Since the rape allegations and arrests of lacrosse players at Duke University in March, alumni have consistently voiced their support of the school, decried the media attention and expressed doubt about the allegations. Now their money is talking too.

Donor giving set an all-time record in the June-to-June fiscal year just ended, with $341,894,326 raised, not only from alumni, but also from parents, corporations, foundations and other organizations. That's almost $40 million more than the previous high mark, in 1999-2000, and more than $65 million higher than last year's total. Duke officials say more money came in during the spring — after the lacrosse team allegations surfaced in late March — but the university claims that's not unusual.

Alums, however, see it otherwise. "It was one of those unfortunate incidents that people wish never happened," says Ken Dennard, former Duke basketball player and president of the Duke Club of Houston. "I really look at it as a galvanizing point... a galvanizing point for love of Duke and love for Duke." Alum Tonya Burwell agrees: "Something like this definitely puts your school and your allegiance to your school back into the forefront of your mind," she says.

Three lacrosse players have been charged with sexual assault, though any trials are not expected until at least next year, as a series of procedural hearings and defense motions have clogged the case's movement. In recent weeks, one of the players charged, Colin Finnerty, was found guilty of assault in an unrelated case in Washington, D.C. The university has also announced the hiring of a new men's lacrosse coach to replace the former coach, who resigned amidst the case.

But with ongoing pressure on Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong to drop the case against the players based on pre-trial evidence released by defense attorneys, the next major development may come at the ballot box in November. Nifong, a Democrat, is running for reelection, and the Republican Party is urging Durham lawyer Lewis Cheek to enter the race. So far Cheek, a Durham County commissioner and longtime Democrat, has said he's not sure he wants to run and would do so not as a Republican but as an "unaffiliated" candidate. Supporters are contemplating a petition drive to draft Cheek into the race.

As for Duke's record fundraising, Peter Vaughn, executive director of Duke's alumni and development communications, isn't convinced that the lacrosse scandal is the reason. "I have no way to verify that," he says, pointing out that it's not unusual for more giving to be done in spring, because that's when the school has the most fundraisers.

"Whether [alumni] are bothered by something or extremely pleased by something — they still care about the university and that translates into giving," says Vaughn. "Most Duke alumni don't use their support for leverage."