Aug 24 - Evaluation of Convocation

Fact Checker

posted 8/24/09 @ 2:51 AM EST

It's true. The Convocation lacked the spark of prior years.

President Brodhead's speech was missing the eloquence of the past and was delivered -- in some spots -- too fast for maximum effect. Almost as if the Generalissimo, as he identified himself, was being chased by Germans in his D-Day scenario.

I sat wondering whether Brodhead had written this himself or if some ghost had learned that he constantly employs the word "deep" to describe thinking (letting us infer that this includes his own) and thus wove that adjective/adverb in yet again.

Still, it was good to find elements of the Brodhead who had charmed Yale, who Duke too often has missed: the grace, the twinkle, the avuncular affection.

Dean Guttentag overflowed not with real information but with alliteration almost to the point of boredom: freshmen coming from Nashua and Knoxville, LaPaz and LaJolla, from Quito and Reno.

He followed up with his list of funny e-mail addresses on applications, to wit "Fox the Great," "HaHa I'm Cooler" and "Innocent Coconut."

Not to mention two beekeepers and someone who had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro before accepting the challenge at the stratovolcanoe (my word, not his)called Duke.

Thus Guttentag missed the opportunity to tell us something vital and important about ourselves and the newest Dukies.

Last summer thanks to four professors, a secret report from the Provost's office saw the light of day, and startled Fact Checker in several respects. Elements of this merited inclusion in Guttentag's speech.

First, Fact Checker knew affirmative action brought us some students less qualified -- but the margin is far greater than imagined. Significant differences between whites and blacks when measuring Achievement, Essay, Personal qualifies, Recommendations. Not to mention SAT averages -- 1417 to 1281.

This information should be discussed out in the open. It should be augmented by information about other races (Asian SAT's higher than whites, 1464)(Latino's 1349).

More ominously, the secret report told us that no ethnic group at Duke lived up to its potential. Yes, despite the flow of A's and other high grades from professors with liberal grading policies, students at Duke actually pull averages lower than the admissions people thought. This gap is greatest among blacks, their actual grades averaging 2.90 when they reasonably had been expected, given their level of achievement upon admission, to pull down 3.44. It raises profound questions about their experiences here.

How about athletic admissions (talk about low numbers.. the last we saw are seven years old now but two key male teams hovered had SAT's hovering around 900).

And legacy admissions. And of course the sale of admissions, most often through the Annual Fund.

And Dean Guttentag, how could you in today's atmosphere not talk about financial aid? How many prospective freshmen asked for it, and how many got it? There is growing concern that Duke cherry picks -- for the secret report shows that 71 percent of the white students came from families earning more than $100,000 per year.

Fact Checker would also be interested to know if students that Duke most wanted where the ones who actually showed up -- or if we continue to lose favored admissions candidates not to Harvard or Princeton or Yale, but to schools ranked lower than us. One big surprise surfaced this summer at Harvard, where it was revealed that most blacks accepted at Harvard, say no to the invitation to attend! What happens at Duke, where the memories of institutional segregation are still fresh and the responsibility to correct an ancient wrong so vivid.

the other key speaker, Dean Nowicki, suffered from an attempt to seem cool that started with his informality during the procession in, and continued with his greeting, "Call me Steve."

Fact Checker did approve of his leading the GO DUKE cheer, but video available from the PR office shows a significant number of freshmen sitting there like bumps on a log.

They better get the message and soon!

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