On the College Green at Brown University, Adam Stepan, 19, leaned on his bicycle and looked around him at the expanse of lawns, the 19th century stone buildings and the historic iron gates that are the landmarks of the Ivy League.
"It's kind of an interesting story," Stepan said of prostitution charges lodged two weeks ago against two Brown seniors, "but it's something that could have happened anywhere." Instead, he said, Brown's reputation as "a hot college" -- where academic standards are rigorous and annual tuition and fees are steep, up to $15,000 -- has subjected the women to more than their share of publicity.
"I don't think that's fair," said Stepan, a sophomore.
"Somehow people have the impression that people in the Ivy League can't do things like this. It's a silly image," said Monica Davey who has covered the story for the Brown Daily Herald. On one afternoon last week, there were 33 reporters at police headquarters, and calls were coming in from the television talk shows -- Late Night With David Letterman, Phil Donahue, Good Morning America.
Robert Reichley, Brown's vice president for university relations, had harder words than "unfair" (although he used that one, too) and "silly." At a news conference last week, he angrily denounced a tabloid headline calling Brown a "School for Scandal." And in an interview later, he said such untoward publicity amounted to "a gang rape by the media of Brown University."
The women, Dana E. Smith of Avon, Conn., and Rebecca Kidd of Orange, Conn., were arrested separately on March 6 by police inspector Malcom T. Brown, whose trim build and graying temples give him an executive's distinguished mien. Brown, 51, said he told each of them that he was "a businessman in town looking for entertainment." Both cried and were "scared to death," he said, when he revealed that he was a police officer and charged them with soliciting prostitution, a misdemeanor.
Brown said he had received their names and telephones from an informant. The next day, police searched a carriage house in a fashionable neighborhood near Brown and found more than 150 photographs of 46 women, including six former or current Brown students. Police said the women, of whom 15 have been identified by authorities, were in "various degrees of dress or undress."
The story broke March 10 after a television reporter received an anonymous letter. Reichley said the news stories that followed were "incredibly unfair" because Brown officials had initiated the investigation when they told police last September that a student had reported being "coerced" into prostitution. Reichley said news reports caused horrified calls from alumni.
Students here say they were surprised at the allegations and were inclined to think that coercion must have been involved.
"I have a hard time believing that somebody could do that," said Christine Carr, a 19-year-old sophomore. Her father called from Los Angeles to talk about the stir created by the arrests, and she says he told her, "I don't know why we sent you all the way across the country to go to such a liberal school."
Carr joined many other students who criticized the Herald for identifying the women. "It was just something they didn't need to do," she said. Most students said the impact of putting the names in the widely distributed campus daily was more damaging than their publication in a national newspaper.
Smith and Kidd had tried to persuade Herald reporter Davey not to publish their names. Davey reported that the women, who have denied any wrongdoing, claimed that they were entrapped and said they had contacted the American Civil Liberties Union about filing a law suit against the police.
As it turned out, more than half of the 3,200 copies of last Tuesday's Herald, the edition naming the women, were stolen. A witness told campus security officers that a man was seen dumping the papers into the trunk of a gray Thunderbird. National papers, meanwhile, spoke of a "hooker probe" and a "prostitution ring."
Two of the women in the photographs have been identified as students at a small business and culinary-arts school here. But the public interest remained in Brown, where sons and daughters of politicians and celebrities have enrolled in force in recent years.
Smith is a science major and, as a writing fellow, was paid a small stipend to help other students with English composition. Kidd majors in semiotics, the study of signs in language, film and human behavior. Both women left their apartments on Waterman Street, a main campus thoroughfare, and moved into housing provided by the university. Reichley said the school wanted to protect them from harassment.
"We have offered both young women all the help we can give them," Reichley said. "We are not treating them like criminals.
"They are still our students," he added. "They are still part of this institution."