11/12 Duke's financial crisis

Fact Checker here.

Congratulations to the editorial board. This is strong and direct and right.

When the administration held forums about its retirement incentives for low-level and then mid-level employees, I heard Provost Lange loud and clear:

He said Duke would handle its budget crisis, particularly as it effected employees whom he was addressing, with "transparency." Check the tapes of those meetings. A promise of "transparency."

Peter, is that right or not? You did use the word.

The Provost is disappointing us by failing to live up to the standard he himself set, just as the entire Brodhead administration is dismaying us with policies and actions that send ripples of fear and discontent throughout our community.

First, Richard Brodhead should get out of his shell and speak to us directly -- not through a mouthpiece from the PR department but in person. We should be able to ask questions and follow ups.

Leave your watch home, Dick, you should respond to everyone who wants to talk to you.

That's what Faust at Harvard and Tilghman of Princeton -- the two schools I am most familiar with -- have done.

Duke should disseminate all information from this community meeting, particularly to alumni. While "Duke Magazine" is an interesting, sometimes compelling publication, it hardly brushes on governance or controversy.

Second, every member of the administration should be instructed to provide information that stakeholders in Duke request. Brodhead told freshman at this year's opening Convocation that they should not only study at Duke, but participate in the creation of its future; this can only proceed responsibly from knowledge.

Brodhead's idea is wise, and it could lead to greater understanding, appreciation, respect and support for decisions.

Readers, you may have the idea that I am lumping all administrators together, so I should note that some are wonderful in their approach, knowing how to involve others and to build support: the university librarian comes to mind for promptness, sensitivity and candor in answering some tough questions about the re-sale of the Hart Reading Room to new contributors.

On the other hand, the former university secretary would not reveal to a student the names of new trustees -- already nominated and confirmed -- or new officers of the board -- already elected -- officiously replying that the student would just have to wait until after they took office on July 1.

Others in Allen Building are curtailed. There is no valid reason the current vice president and university secretary, who is most gracious and prompt, should be prevented by policy from disclosing the term of a trustee, that is, when he was first elected and when he would fall into term limits. No valid reason, but the PR vice president wouldn't let his fellow vice president talk.

Here's another example. The University Counsel was assigned -- after nine silent months -- by President Brodhead to handle an inquiry growing out of Duke's despicable sale of parcels of land in Faculty Homesites, for decades requiring covenants that the land would never be-resold to someone with "Negro blood" and when a house was built, that no one with "Negro blood" would sleep overnight except if he or she was household help.

Six months later, the Counsel was asked about progress of her work and there was no reply. No reply for more than three months, when she finally allowed that a PR man would have to answer questions.

And too many administrators are just plain arrogant. Mr. Trask and members of the financial staff, you also deserve the adjective rude for totally ignoring inquiries. Not just from Fact Checker, who admittedly is persistent, but from students, and from the parent of a student who had never asked anyone at Duke a question before. Fact Checker has the names and dates.

Mr. Trask, why wasn't your Annual Report on the budget available on line until three months after your counterpart at Princeton presented his, and until one month after you gave it to our Trustees.

Mr. Trask, you have asked for suggestions on how to cut the budget. Can I have a copy of the current budget so I know what I am talking about?

Mr. Trask, where is the annual report on development, gifts, fund-raising, usually sent to alumni and other contributors in late summer?

And to return to and complete the categorization of administrators: some are just plain lax. Six weeks for a reply from Lange. And six weeks from Nowicki, though I concede it was summertime and he was away some, but he does have a staff of seven including his own PR person.

Brodhead himself sets this pace. The subject: Duke's first black basketball player -- a walk-on, you see, for even after Duke desegregated the athletic director would not allow recruiting of minorities. This player could not bring himself to return to Duke for decades, finally overcoming his scars to come to accept recognition with several others.

This player was taunted all during his initial season, not by opponents while on the road in racist hotbeds but by his teammates on our own court. And when the season ended, this player was not even invited to the team banquet.

Mr. Brodhead, you did not answer three requests for information on your plans for the night of recognition of this player, nor a suggestion that the player receive an apology. Finally you rejected this.

The withholding of information pervades this university. Secrecy.

Today's Chronicle quotes students who were slammed with the merger of International House -- which has existed at Duke for more than half century, from the arrival of the first trickle of students from abroad, from the days when Campus Drive was still called Myrtle -- and the Multicultural Center -- which was part of this university's response to its history of discrimination and exclusion.

Not to mention the replacement facility will be located in Siberia.

Earlier issues of the newspaper revealed how students learned of the cutback in housekeeping this fall, not by participating in the decision when it was made last spring, but by finding Friday night's vomit in a water fountain ripening until Monday morning.

The excellent editorial today discusses the third retirement incentive -- money for faculty not covered by guaranteed university pension plans. Professors rely on individual accounts to which they and Duke have made contributions over the years, and those accounts have dwindled.

If, as we are told, there are no details to be had on the incentives, then the administration is proceeding in a totally irresponsible way, shooting into the dark to see if it perhaps hits its target.

We also get conflicting information about what the target is: the plan born out of concern for faculty who lost their investments during the fiscal meltdown is not "fundamentally" one that deals with the university budget, even though there is less faculty turnover, we have trimmed searches and want to hire new blood.

Who is bullshitting whom here!!! Yes bullshit. You can quote Fact Finder.

Someone in Allen Building: tell me how a department or school receiving a loan from the Provost to pass on as a grant (presumably) to a professor to encourage retirement, will pay this back over five years.

These departments and schools already are being hit by mandatory cuts because our budget in 2011 must be $125 milion less than it was in 2008-09. You cannot squeeze more blood, more life out of them.

Someone in Allen Building tell me how Fuqua is making ends meet this year, with only 2/3rds of the expected students signing on for the international MBA with its tuition of more than $120,000 for 60 days of classroom work. Not to mention the continuing high overhead despite the loss of one-third of the people who normally come to corporate education meetings.

Lastly, loyal readers, I will be sending a copy of this essay to the new chair of the Trustees, Dan Blue. He alone has recognized the depth of the fiscal crisis, by declaring that we are in a "dire financial strait."

I regret to say that our response to this crisis is turning out to be as bad as the crisis itself -- sapping our spirit and confidence, raising new questions about the competence of our leaders.

√Thank you for reading Fact Finder on this sad day.

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