A Brown Cover-Up

Duke—which is defending a civil suit filed by most of the unindicted lacrosse players and their families—isn’t the only university being sued, in part, for bowing to politically correct winds on campus. Brown, a prominent donor, and the donor’s daughter are facing a civil suit, for allegedly conspiring to drive out of school a former Brown student after the donor’s daughter accused him of sexual assault.
The basic facts of the case: In 2006, William McCormick was a Brown freshman and member of the university’s wrestling team. Very early in the academic year, he seemingly had a series of unpleasant encounters with another first-year student, Marcela Dresdale, who lived in his dorm. Dresdale complained to her dorm RA about McCormick’s untoward advances, and the RA reached out to the Brown administration. Then, six days later, Dresdale for the first time asserted that a week before, and after several discussions with the RA in which she had made no such claim, McCormick had raped her.
Sexual assault policies of most universities are wildly tilted in favor the accuser. But Marcela Dresdale had another advantage—her father, Richard Dresdale, is a Brown alumnus of some influence, as well as a major Democratic donor. (Full disclosure: I have donated to two candidates on Dresdale’s list—Obama and Tom Allen, a 2008 Senate nominee in my home state of Maine—though my donations didn’t quite reach Dresdale’s six-figure level.) Internal Brown documents obtained by the AP indicated that Richard Dresdale was in contact with Brown administrators, and McCormick was immediately suspended and sent back to his home in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the person who served as McCormick’s de facto advocate, an assistant wrestling coach, wasn’t allowed to see any evidence of the alleged crime. The three sides eventually worked out an agreement: McCormick would withdraw from Brown and not return to Providence until the accuser graduated; Dresdale wouldn’t file criminal charges; and Brown would terminate its investigation—an inquiry in which McCormick’s advocate wasn’t allowed to see what evidence, if any, Brown actually possessed.

McCormick transferred to Bucknell. But in September 2009, he filed a suit against both the Dresdales and Brown. The suit alleged that he had been railroaded out of the school on the basis of a false rape claim and because of the influence that Richard Dresdale possessed over Brown administrators.
Last year, Judge William Smith denied a motion to dismiss from the Dresdales and largely denied a motion to dismiss from Brown. The Dresdales claimed that their agreement with McCormick prevented him from suing them; Judge Smith said the agreement wouldn’t be valid if (as is possible, at least based on evidence available at this stage), Marcela Dresdale made a false claim of rape to exaggerate the charges against a fellow student she considered a stalker. Brown likewise saw its motion to dismiss denied, with Smith holding that that the allegations demonstrated “a pattern of wrongful conduct based on the collective actions of the agents of Brown University that, if proven, could be considered outrageous, atrocious or utterly intolerable conduct on the part of Brown.” As a result, discovery could proceed—meaning that McCormick’s lawyers presumably would be able to get access to Brown internal records and e-mails from the time.
Despite Smith’s rulings, the case has remained in legal limbo. The two sides squabbled over discovery matters, including the records of McCormick’s de facto advocate, Burch. Burch, in turn, who subsequently claimed Brown pressured him into resigning, filed a complaint of harassment against Richard Dresdale. And then last month, Smith, incredibly, recused himself from the case, apparently because his daughter had decided to apply to Brown.
No one comes across well in this suit. In sharp contrast to the falsely accused students in the Duke lacrosse case, McCormick does seem to have misbehaved toward Dresdale—though evidence of a rape seems incredibly thin, and it’s at least plausible that his behavior was rude and boorish but not actionable even under college judicial proceedings that favor all female accusers. Marcela Dresdale seems to have been willing to use her father’s influence to retaliate against McCormick, and the McCormick lawsuit’s claim of her making a false rape allegation is at least plausible. As for Brown administrators: at best, they took a “hear-no-evil, see-no-evil” approach and swept a disturbing incident under the rug; at worst, they conspired with a powerful donor and alumnus to railroad a basically innocent student out of their school.
A final note, regarding coverage of the case in Rhode Island’s principal newspaper, the Providence Journal. In its articles, the Journal has refused to name Marcela Dresdale, since “The Journal does not identify the victims of alleged sexual assault.” (How Dresdale could be a “victim” of an “alleged” assault the Journal did not reveal.) Continuing this policy to its logical extreme, the paper also has refused to name Richard Dresdale.
Yet Marcela Dresdale never filed a criminal complaint. Her father’s status as a Brown donor is a key element of the case. She, and her father, are defendants in a civil suit whose filings are available on the internet. At some point, it would seem, Dresdale lost any presumption of anonymity to which the paper’s policy entitled her. In addition to the absurdity of refusing to name someone whose identity is easily accessible, the paper’s policy is slanting its coverage of the civil suit. Indeed, the policy leads to a portrayal of Dresdale as a “victim”—even though no evidence exists, because Dresdale never filed a criminal complaint, that a crime in this case ever occurred.


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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5 thoughts on “A Brown Cover-Up

  1. I wonder whether Marcela Dresdale has any shred of a conscience?
    You’re a rich girl, and you’ve gone too far,
    ‘Cause you know it don’t matter anyway;
    You can rely on the old man’s money,
    You can rely on the old man’s money!
    It’s a bitch girl, but it’s gone too far,
    ‘Cause you know it don’t matter anyway,
    Say money, money won’t get you too far, get you too far …
    High and dry, out of the rain,
    It’s so easy to hurt others when you can’t feel pain …

  2. And we learn today that the lawsuit has been settled, likely for significant dollars. KC had it right – like any of us doubted him.

  3. Hey Citizen, er, Idiot:
    KC Johnson is a respected professor, noted for his honesty.
    You are an internet Yahoo. And based on your lack of concern for a very likely innocent man here, I can see why.

  4. This article is entirely out of line. Victims of sexual assault, alleged or not, should not be blasted and embarrassed in a public forum. The author of this piece confirms his ignorance by making unsubstantiated declarations as to the victim’s dishonesty. It is advised that the author conduct more research before publishing further works, as this piece turns out to be merely slanted opinion, and offers no additional information to readers and arbiters alike.

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