9/17/2009 The Chronicle: A Vision

For our football team, aka the Blue Devils, we tally carefully the wins and losses, but until this moment there's been no such score for our journalism team, aka The Chronicle.

Introducing PUNTS and TOUCHDOWNS, an every-once-in-a-while public service from Fact Checker. (I like the word PUNT; others may prefer FUMBLE)

1) Duke has eliminated housekeeping in dorm bathrooms on Saturdays. Combined with the traditional lack of service on Sundays, it means puke that lands on Friday night ripens until Monday.

The Chronicle wrote about this before it occurred. It had an editorial after the first weekend that speculated "this policy change will have disgusting consequences." In fact the editorial reeked from lack of reporting about what had actually happened.

Chronicle, it's been three weeks. How many toilets have you checked? No, seriously. That's the way you get a first down, you go out there and push.

lerable? Filthy?


2) Has Kevin White (he's the the athletic director, for my readers buried deep in Perkins Library) moved out of Few Quadrangle and has another member of the faculty or administration arrived? Fact Checker is unable to locate anything in Chronicle archives beyond a January editorial with glancing reference to White's moving in -- the first to be nestled among Few undergraduates.

He had no experiences worthy of a story while there? PUNT

3) It's time to come to grips with K-Ville.

A) should the swine flu make a difference in allowing large numbers of students, most of them freshmen, to live in tents in compromised, unsanitary conditions for a prolonged time. Notice this past weekend, graduate students spending just 36 hours camped out for basketball tickets were given hand sanitizer.

B) Precisely the same irresponsible, unfettered conduct that has drawn criticism and correction during Tailgate exists in K-Ville. It's time to start talking about a consistent policy for these two events, and Last Day of Classes too.

It's time for the Chronicle, too, to hold President Brodhead to the promise of leadership. Remember the Amethyst Initiative and his call for a national dialogue on the legal drinking age? August, 2008. What has he done since to bring about that dialogue?

C) On June 24, the Chronicle sports blog carried part three of an exclusive four-part interview with Coach K. His comments included:

"What is Krzyewskiville. Is it a plus? Is it a minus? It's probably a little of both."

This just cries out for further explanation. Fact Checker can only speculate what Coach had on his mind.

4) The university's PR website buried what it called an "interview" with President Brodhead last Wednesday -- and posted it again in the lead spot on Saturday. Curious.

"Interview." Employees were asked to send in e-mail questions in advance. These were filtered by the PR staff, and as usual there was no chance for a follow up. To the University Flack: let me assure you this is not what you or Mr. Brodhead will experience in an "interview" with Fact Checker!

Laughably, given his cloistered appearance, Brodhead assured everyone of "transparency."

This was one of the few occasions Brodhead has broken silence on the financial crisis, and his comments -- though weak -- did merit Chronicle attention.

He dodged an employee who asked if the wage freeze would continue into a second year, saying "I can't make promises..."

Brodhead also visited employee and faculty fringe benefits. (One of the most important and costly -- tuition grants from Duke enabling children of faculty and employees to attend any college -- was very nicely profiled by Andrea Patino in a fine column in the Chronicle last week. Fact Checker would have posted praise, but the website has been off and on for days). From Brodhead, a parry:

"This is certainly not an area where we want to cut, but it is still too early to determine whether changes will need to be made later to address our financial challenges.”

Brodhead's staff ill-served him. They should not have allowed this "interview" to go forward until he could bring certainty and solace to employees.

Brodhead put aside the lacrosse hoax and the fiscal crisis when asked about the greatest challenge he has faced. His waffle: "The greatest challenge of the university is to look into the future and figure out how to advance the excellence in education, the excellence in professional training, the excellence in the research and all the social benefits that flow from that. The greatest challenge of any university is always to live up to its real potential, not just to continue doing what you are doing."

Chronicle: PUNT

At Harvard, the university has officially announced that it lost 27 percent of its endowment through investments in the 2008-2009 fiscal year ending June 30th.

The university said it transferred another 3 percent out of endowment to cover red ink in the annual budget, in part caused by a 7 percent decline in gifts.

Together, 30 percent of Harvard's endowment went poof between July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009. Official figures.

Is there a particular reason why the Duke Management Company cannot add up our results as fast, instead of keeping us waiting and waiting? Our investment losses, and how much we spent from endowment or "reserves functioning as endowment" to cover the operating deficit.

We need numbers not only for the endowment, but for other Duke investments: the pension fund, the huge Health System surplus. What was the total bloodbath?

Chronicle, have you been chasing those numbers? How many times have you asked for them, and what specifically were you told? Fact Checker has not seen ANY news story, editorial nor column focusing on the financial crisis in MONTHS.

At Yale, Brodhead's close friend, the president Richard Levin, had even grimmer news: the endowment lost $1 billion more than anyone had been estimating. A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon the Elis are talking real money.

Levin: "We want to alert you to the fact that another round of reductions will be necessary."
A flat, direct statement; contrast that, please, to wishy-washy Duke projections.

Warning flag for Duke: Harvard and Yale both said private equity and hedge funds continue to bleed while direct stock holdings have risen slightly in recent months. Duke has a far greater concentration in private equity and hedge funds -- so we have buckled our seat belts.

The Yale Daily News also reported that Levin's base salary leaped above $1 million for the first time in the 2007-08 academic year. President Brodhead currently receives about 2/3rds as much; friends, we should be keeping pace! Fiscal crisis or not.

Faithful (intense?) Chronicle readers will undoubtedly recall that last winter Executive Vice President Trask said Duke's endowment had dropped from $6.1 billion to "just north" of $4 billion. Readers, that's 33 percent. Replete with questions: was it investments, was it transfers covering deficit -- all we've heard is bullshit ever since.

Two relevant items from earlier Fact Checker posts:

Status of the pension plan. Almost 300 people took early retirement -- preferring this to the uncertainty of layoffs. These retirees will receive bigger checks earlier in their lives, for longer periods of time, than actuaries calculated. Combine this with the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in pension investments. Chronicle, did you ask for a reconciliation of these facts?

How much is Duke "saving" by this early retirement offer? The numbers have bounced around -- and it's about time for this newspaper to pin them down.

Have we had layoffs as a result of the financial meltdown? The Herald-Sun listed two; the Chronicle never chased the people named: two low paid employees in the lemur center, out of 33,000, the fulcrum to solve our problems.

Not to mention that cuts so far have only affected lower-level employees. This is immoral. Administrators have been allowed to shift gears repeatedly about a plan for shedding well paid people; recall please that the Chronicle's favorite source said flatly that we'd have a plan by August.

Readers, note that no flab has been cut from the battalion of administrators.

A newspaper's job is to pursue relentlessly,
to wade through the obfuscated, to challenge authority particularly when it puts a veil over its activity, to understand the facts, to report and to interpret.

This is not just for the curious and the pesky: it is to empower all Duke's stakeholders -- faculty, staff, students and alumni -- to participate effectively in the governance and fulfillment of the promise of this place.

Fact Checker is not obsessed with numbers. This is the vitality of Duke and its future.


5) Duke University's largest donor, The Duke Endowment, which is a totally separate entity that is often confused with the university itself, has posted its annual report -- repeating an unreported, ominous statement that came in late spring from its president: while it will honor commitments, The Duke Endowment will accept no new requests for education grants in 2009. And there's a question mark hanging over 2010 too. (A warning also went out to grant recipients in other areas beyond education).

Boy is this important at this university!! Remember the Financial Aid Initiative? The Duke Endowment forked over an extra grant of $75 million, fully 25 percent of the total effort. Are you anticipating the new education building for the Medical School? The Duke Endowment chipped in $50 million, much of the cost. DukeEngage? A special gift of $15 million, half of the initial funding. You get the idea, the list is long.

The only Chronicle mention of The Duke Endowment since last March has been editor Will Robinson's routine disclosure of possible conflict of interest -- a proper sensitivity handled correctly -- because of the role of his grandfather, the Endowment chair. Surely the newspaper can find someone in Allen Building to say "ouch" at the lack of new money.


6) In one of its more fact-filled stories of recent vintage, The Chronicle told us that the new Cross-Continent MBA Program drew only 120 students, not 180 planned for. Tuition $115,000 each for 16 months. Yes that price is correct.

Zap: $7 million less in tuition than we counted on, a calculation the newspaper never made for us.

Moreover, the revenues (translation: sales) from long-standing Fuqua executive education programs have dropped 35 percent. Another Zap: although Fact Checker could discover how much revenue is being lost, but Fact Checker can be lazy too.

People attending executive education typically stay in the 111 room hotel called the Dave Thomas Center. (Yes, the Wendy's guy, Fuqua's next door neighbor). It's gotten so bad that the Thomas Center is now hawking $99 bed and breakfast rooms to try to fill up. Chronicle, did you know that?

The point is: Fuqua must be bleeding bad and someone better ask the Dean if he's sending fewer faculty to the next stop, Dubai, on his MBA merry-go-round. And ask the Dean how many faculty he's cutting, or what trick he has up his sleeve. PUNT

While you're at it, ask the Dean what class of air travel his people are using. London. Dubai. Remember Duke's specific pledge to cut the travel budget. PUNT

7) The bean counters in Allen Building have decided to save by making buildings warmer in summer, cooler in winter, all over campus. We were never told what the new targets are, and the Chronicle apparently never asked.

While the weather has not been extreme of late, Fact Checker still has not seen any story about anyone's experience with this. PUNT

8) Three Duke Police lieutenants took early retirement, along with 2 officers. Were they superfluous? Were they replaced? Have patrols been hurt, or do we wait until another Duke sophomore is shot in the stomach or Duke grad student killed to find out. PUNT

(Interesting sidebar: there are 75 security cameras in the Yale complex where the body of graduate student Annie Lee was found. 75. Chronicle, does Duke have as much protection?)

9) The Chronicle story about the upcoming Page Auditorium speech by the book-pedaling New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof should have had another paragraph: Last academic year Times columnist Thomas Friedman (also with new book) spoke in Page, capacity 1,232, while black Times columnist Bob Herbert was consigned to Griffith Theater, capacity 490. Chronicle should have noted that we're running out of male columnists from this paper to invite and we better reach a little farther. Or is it further. PUNT

10) More on swine flu, in addition to the K-Ville discussion above. At Duke, we saw a call for volunteers to deliver food to sick classmates; Chronicle, what has been the response?

And employees have been given extra sick days so they stay home and not infect co-workers. Coverage?

Anyone who thinks this is not serious stuff, check out the news from Cornell: one student dead on Saturday.

At UNC, read the words of Law School Dean Jack Boger: "We will stock all classrooms, the library, the lounges, and other public areas with pumps of hand sanitizer and boxes of tissue, and all restrooms with antibacterial soap. We urge you to make use of these supplies, and to notify an administrator if any of these products run low."

Either UNC is wasting money or Duke is negligent, and it is a newspaper's job to find out. PUNT

Footnote: a year ago after goading, the Chronicle finally did a story on the lack of contributions from Dukies to the city of Durham. Another drive is underway. Hint!

11) Another scoop for the Durham Herald-Sun and its education reporter Neil Offen. This one snapped from right under the Chronicle's eyes.

Did you see the ad that the athletic department's been running in the Chronicle for the last couple of weeks, looking for a student manager for men's basketball. Unpaid job.

Offen reveals 150 applications so far; 215 total applied last year. Chronicle, your tally?

TOUCHDOWN for the athletic department for its outreach with the ads, and for making sure everyone understands what the job entails and what the application process is.

12) Has the university, its $2 million dollar-a-year law firm, and its $17 million dollar-a-year legal team decided if they will appeal their latest loss: the unanimous decision from a three-judge court of appeals favoring Coach Pressler and allowing him his day in court on slanderous words from a Duke potentate? Chronicle, please update, it's time.

12) Shortly after his arrival five years ago, President Brodhead told the freshmen they'd be using the new Central campus before they graduated. Move the clock forward three years. Just weeks before breaking ground, Brodhead and his administrators tore up the plans and started anew. Forward again. Just months before we were to start digging, the money crisis began.

Under the radar, important decisions are being made about new Central Campus. Architects are at work -- even though there likely will not be any construction for a decade. Fact Checker has learned that on June 9, Brodhead briefed the Executive Committee of the Trustees on his meeting with one architect, Renzo Piano. Chronicle, do you think we deserve a peek?

There should be a website providing this information, with all the latest from our New Haven (read Yale) architects.

Coverage of the most important Duke building project since the 1920's -- PUNT.

13) With the Trustees meeting in two weeks, their new chair has promised "transparency." A good newspaper would go after him: Sir, tell us what is now in the open because of this pledge, what would not have been out if you had not made the pledge.

Sir, do you intend to hold the traditional news conference after the meeting, or will the suspension that Bob "Wachovia" Steel instituted be kept in effect.



The Fact Checker scorecard tallies what a campus newspaper should be covering, based upon Fact Checker's philosophy:

-- the amount of space devoted to filler from the Washington Post and "Diversions" with its cartoons and crossword, should be cut. A substantial enterprise effort could appear in that precious space.

-- opinion pages should bring credit to a university in the Top Ten, with heavily researched, thought-provoking essays about our own community, not travelogues and blather.


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