Local News

Ex-Lacrosse Player Sues Duke, Instructor Over Failing Grade

Posted January 4, 2007
Updated January 5, 2007

— A former Duke University lacrosse player sued the university and a former instructor Thursday, alleging that she unfairly gave him a failing grade because he was a member of the team.

Kyle Dowd graduated in May 2006, two months after a woman said she was raped at a lacrosse team party.

The allegations set off a tumultuous few weeks in Durham, with almost daily protests by people who criticized lacrosse team members for a pattern of rowdy behavior.

Dowd's lawsuit alleges that visiting professor Kim Curtis gave him an F in a politics and literature class that nearly prevented him from graduating, even though he had earned passing grades on his assignments to that point.

Dowd and his parents, Patricia and Benjamin Dowd, are asking for a total of $60,000 in punitive and compensatory damages.

"I wanted to prevent such occurrences from happening to another student at Duke," Kyle Dowd told WRAL Thursday night. "I didn't want to see another professor further their political agenda by maliciously hurting another student."

Curtis could not be reached for comment Thursday evening. A Duke University spokesman said he could not comment because he had not seen the lawsuit. Dowd's attorney, Joseph Zeszotarski of Raleigh, was unavailable for an interview Thursday evening.

According to the lawsuit, only one other person in the 40-student class, another lacrosse player, received an F.

"Defendant Curtis engaged in extreme outrageous and unethical conduct ... due to personal bias and prejudice," the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, Curtis told Dowd he received a failing grade for participation because he had not attended class and because he made wrong statements in a paper without backing them up.

The lawsuit later says that the university told Dowd that Curtis gave him the F was because he had "confused the characters from the book which was the subject of the paper."

The lawsuit claims Dowd missed six out of 30 classes — one an excused absence for a lacrosse match and the other five resulting because of the criminal investigation involving the lacrosse team.

Each time, according to the lawsuit, Dowd had sent an e-mail to Curtis informing her about his absence.

The lawsuit also states that Curtis, a visiting assistant professor at the time who specialized in political theory and feminist theory, was listed in support of an advertisement in The Duke Chronicle, a campus paper, that sympathized with the alleged victim.

It also states that Curtis also sent an e-mail to students in her class letting them know that she was available to talk about "how this is affecting you, what we should do as a community, etc."

Dowd appealed the grade, and the university changed it to a D, citing a calculation error. He and his parents ask in the lawsuit for the grade to be changed to a "P" for passing.

Lacrosse players Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and Dave Evans still face charges of sexual offense and kidnapping in the case. Rape charges were dropped last month after the accuser wavered in her account of key details in the case.

The next pretrial hearing is scheduled for Feb. 5.

This story is closed for comments.

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  • normalthinking Jan 5, 2007

    piedmont1fa I find it very disturbing that someone with your clearly twisted dangerous christian dogma should be teaching any of our children the hate and revenge you espout in your response I belive in justice for all not just god fearing christians

  • Tired of thoughtlessness Jan 5, 2007


    The instructor in question, Kim F. Curtis, was a visiting Associate Professor

  • jonesextra Jan 5, 2007

    The shooting was not near Duke, it was on property where NC Central students stay. NC Central has uppped security for this area. What has that got to do with Duke, except the lying stripper was a NC Central student? The person who drove a car into the group of Carolina students was a former Carolina student. What does his choice of college this have to do with his crime? It is the same logic. Should we stay away form Chapel Hill also? What about the school shooting in Washington state? Is the state of Washington to be condemned, too? With this logic, anytime a crime is committed, the entire city should be condemned.

    The truth is, the lecturer screwed up. I am a teacher. My personal feelings NEVER enter into the grading of my students. Just the fact that the appeal was upheld means the lecturer did something wrong. Any inconsistancy on her part is unacceptable. Universities are not in the habit of undermining their instructors grades without good reason.

  • wakeresident Jan 5, 2007

    I dont' know what he earned, but they did change the grade. That says right there that the university agreed he passed the class. And to be completely honest - $60K is not a lot of money. To me it is! But that's what, half his tuition? Plus, he'll have to pay lawyers. And if he's going on to school somewhere else, then that F or D could actually really matter. It's not like he's asking for an A here, just a pass that won't affect GPA or look bad on his record.

  • ssodor Jan 5, 2007

    I am so disgusted by the wannabe Rush Limbaughs on this board who have used the words "feminazi" and "nazi liberal" to seemingly add more power to their arguments. Associating the mass murder of more than 6 million Jews (and another 6 million gypsies, Russian prisoners of war, and others) with liberalism and feminism only shows your ignorance and discredits your argument all the more. It is alarming that such equal rights movements would be so threatening to the status quo that people jump to such grossly inappropriate misnomers in their discourse of them. I suppose that only reveals how well bigotry and ignorance have woven themselves into the fabric of daily life.

    It is vital to the welfare of the community that this dialogue shift away from the name-calling and finger-pointing we have seen from both sides. Where do we get by calling each other "feminazis" and "spoiled rich frat brat[s]?" It only serves to exacerbate an already divisive issue we must face.

  • gratefultoGOD Jan 5, 2007

    I am female.. and a feminist.. and a teacher.. but the teacher as it looks IS WRONG. I think the Lacrosse players and the striper are BOTH WRONG! Being a stripper AND hiring a stripper are BOTh WRONG in GOD'S eyes. Both break down the moral values of this society. This country was founded on CHRISTIAN beliefs.... that is why the Pilgrams came here!... to worship GOD freely.! God BLESSED this country because our forfathers had true faith in GOD... now the break down of our Moral society is effecting all other aspects of this country. "Vengence is mine said the Lord." He will take care of those that try to run over the Christian. Don't believe it??? Look at the paper and the news every day. This story is living proof that the devil is having his way!

  • seankelly15 Jan 5, 2007

    Fragment-four: we do not know what the student's grades were at any point in the semester (and because of types of assignments given, there are no objective criteria to examine to determine if the grade was fairly assigned). Duke's raising the grade to only a D speaks volumes about the degree to which academic institutions will protect academic freedoms; it is not a reflection of a separate independent evaluation. I do not understand the relevance of the lecturer's (not a professor as you titled her) current absence from Duke or the fact that she is now out of state; do you think that she is now exempt from a civil lawsuit? Further, you do not need to show a pattern of behavior to win in a civil trial; if I say that you punched me and the evidence supports that assertion, then I do not have to prove a pattern of violence to recover from you. Finally, what right does this woman have to contact students to ask if they want to discuss with her their feelings about the case?

  • donna23 Jan 5, 2007

    How ironic! A student athlete having to get a failing grade! When my husband was a grad student he HAD to pass any member of the football team. Any time I see a resume from a student athlete, I assume he was just passed through anyways. Justice can be sweet...if only transient, because someone will cave in and give the little baby his 'gentleman C'.

  • pleszewicz Jan 5, 2007

    Duke just has a big hole of embarrassment that they must now crawl out of. I actually feel pity for everyone involved. This morning they are plastered all over the local news channels because of a shooting(?) near campus. I think I'll just steer clear of Durham for the next few months....

  • patriot4liberty Jan 5, 2007

    I would like to know why all these details were released to the press, before the suit hit the courts. Isn't that what the lacrosse players were bitching about with Nifong? What's good for the goose and all that, you know. Just another bout of public posturing for some spoiled rich frat brat to get his way.