10/23/2009 Incentives to retire

Fact Checker here. Reading the following is voluntary; if you think my writing is tedious, as "Duke Parent" wrote the other day, then skip this.

The 2nd incentive plan for university employees to retire is tacit admission from Duke that the first was very flawed indeed. Translation: bad management.

The 2nd targets employees who are in jobs that will be eliminated or restructured if they become vacant. The first was open to employees whose combined age and years of service equaled or exceeded a magic number -- even if they were in vital positions. Big difference.

295 employees accepted the first incentive plan. And many of them were in critical functions and have had to be replaced. How many? Duke has not provided updates, but my best estimate from scraps of information is 25 percent.

Thus we find ourselves saddled with the cost of incentives for many, plus their higher pensions for years and years, while still having to put dozens of replacements on the payroll.

Another big difference: the people in the first go-around had both length of service and age added into their pension calculations -- presumably meaning they are getting larger checks earlier in their lives than they ever thought possible. (Duke has never confirmed this nor denied it) In the new go-around, tacit admission of a flaw, we find employees who say "yes" will not see their pensions change at all.

Careful readers of the Chronicle may have seen how much the first incentives are SAVING the university. Let's go to page 23, note 10 of the new annual Financial Report for 2008-09, wherein you will find in small type:

"The University recorded special termination cost of $17,548,000 (for pensions) and $763,000 (for the retired employee health plan..." for the first go-around.

Big savings???? This year??? C'mon!!!

We've heard all sorts of grandiose, pat-my-own-back statements from administrators, ranging all the way to the one in today's Chronicle, which has no attribution:

"An early retirement incentive offered to biweekly employees over the summer has already saved the University about $20 million."


The Chronicle archive turns up other statistics too: $10 million saved, $15 million saved. Readers, take your pick!

Here is the Fact Checker challenge to the Administration -- share with us all your raw numbers, post your calculations on the website that you set up to provide information on the fiscal crisis. Chronicle, you should chase these numbers too and use your abacus.

Show me the numbers, and I shall be the first to offer congratulations. Congratulations loud and clear. As Ronald Reagan said, "Trust, but verify."

Readers, think about what they want us to believe: $20 million in savings by shedding 295 employees. This means we save an average of $67,796 from each. Remember please that most of these were food service workers, grounds-keepers and of course the housekeepers who cleaned dorms on weekends.

The administration should show us

1) the salary of each employee -- without name -- as it contributes to the savings total.

2) and yes, information about the demographics of each employee.

3) how much is being saved in the first year when the employees will only be gone for part of the fiscal year, and how much will be saved down the road. Theoretically.

In this way we can be assured that the burden of the fiscal crisis is being fairly spread and absorbed across our community.

Final note on vacillation: today's Chronicle quotes executive vice president and chief financial guru Tallman Trask:

"Trask said he 'would be surprised' if 50 employees accept this latest incentive."

Yes indeed. Check your archives Chronicle. Trask's deputy is going around saying he anticipates only 20.

Let us all remember, the people who have just been offered incentive to retire, are facing a major decision in their lives. Unfortunately, the administration promised and promised to reveal this plan much earlier -- at one point the PR vice president covered all the bases and gave himself extra time for another delay by promising the details in August.

Here we are in late October, and all these people now face rush, rush, rush, having to give answers in a few weeks. Why? Because our administration failed to deliver the plan when it said they would.

People who have worked hard for Duke and dedicated themselves to this place for decades now have the gun to their head. Knowing their positions have been identified as targets of the first go-around in layoffs, there is nowhere for them to duck if they say no.


10/16 Duke's new website evaluated

So far all information that we've gotten about the new university website -- still accessed via www.duke.edu -- is pap parroted by PR people. It's time for someone to actually sign on, to use the site, and to report back on this new resource.

√ Enter Fact Checker :

Fellow Dukies, we have a disaster on our hands. And I am not going to just state that conclusion, I will take you step by step to it.

I am going to start with the part of the site that presents President Brodhead. Not because this is my main comment, but because I do not want this to be lost as it is very important.

Brodhead has been reduced to just one of the people profiled under "Executive Leadership." Previously he had his own separate page, which included the following, either up front or via links:

A) A welcome to Duke from the President. I cannot find this; check out other universities, for they all they routinely have this.

B) A comprehensive biography of the President. This is truncated on the new website. Even information deemed as important in the academic world as honorary degrees -- listed in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs of previous editions of Brodhead's on-line biography -- is gone.

C) There is no longer a link presented to you for his speeches and other messages. If you happen to know these are posted somewhere in the web, you can search the A-Z link, but that is not the point.

I am not invited to read them. I read them faithfully, for they are both forceful and elegant, and to my mind his written words are one of the great contributions he has made to Duke.

Footnote: one of Brodhead's latest essays provides very meaningful and valuable insight into Duke and universities in general today; it is deeply hidden in the website of Duke Magazine and well forth ferreting out. Whoa whoa. First, finish reading today's Fact Checker all the way through.


D) Starting with Nan Keohane, the President's quarterly reports to the Trustees were posted. Brodhead's staff discontinued this -- and apparently wiped out the archive of Keohane's reports too. For a brief time, we got instead a quarterly report from the VP for news and public affairs. Alas, that too is gone. Not that these were critical, but they did add to the sum of information available to those of us who care about Duke, information that now is missing.

E) There is no longer any reference that I can find to President Brodhead's open door for students. As I have stated previously, it may be buried, I cannot find it. These periodic sessions have had a curious course: two years ago they were a feature in Brodhead's remarks at the freshman Convocation. More recently there has been no mention.

Let's finish with Executive Leadership before we move on to something more important.

There is a curious pecking order for the top leaders and their pictures. Executive Vice President Trask is in the number two spot. Yep, the guy in charge of things like the campus cops and cleaning the dorm bathrooms on weekends snuggled his way up.

Trask is also the head bean-counter, and careful Fact Checker readers will recall that just precisely one year ago, he pronounced Duke "financially secure." Speaking loudly and clearly, he cited "diversification of investment portfolio" and "prudent stewardship of our resources" that put us "in position to allocate substantial resources in pursuit of the goals outlined in Making A Difference, the University’s $1.3 billion strategic plan," which is to say the new Central Campus.

Kaboom. 25 percent loss of our assets. Who doesn't know that the dream of Central Campus is now dead. As for diversification, Duke had a greater percentage of its money tied up in private equity and hedge funds than any other university I can find.

All this means the Provost, our chief academic officer, is now bounced down to #3, and the Chancellor of the entire medical universe at Duke is #4. Hmmm

The list of Executive Leadership continues, but without pictures beyond numbers 1-4. This is very, very carelessly prepared. Examples: In presenting the vice presidents, where is the athletic director? In listing Deans of the schools, where is Levi from Law?

OK Dukies close that out and let's go back to the home page, www.Duke.edu

As soon as you open this, you get a large thematic picture. This picture will be one of eight that are rotated in this position.

I assume the purpose is to send a Duke greeting and get you to think warmly about the place. But at first impression, do any of these shout DUKE to you?

A) A picture of a man in wading pants in a marshland, with some sort of meter in his hand.

B) A man and woman standing knee-deep in water -- a rather pretty setting in fact -- looking at something in his hand.

C) A picture of eight people, presumably diversified students, in a tree and on rocks, looking far and wide over the mountain landscape.

D) A picture of a little boy in front of a crowd of people spread across a lawn, Lucky Strike cigarettes water tower in background (somehow this conjures up in your mind Duke and Durham).

E) A close up picture of a male student actor, his head buried (almost) in the bosom of a female student actor.

Readers, check out the rest of the pic yourselves. These pictures should be iconic -- the Chapel, Baldwin Auditorium, James B Duke's statue with his holding a vulgar cigar in front of the Chapel. Mind you, the pictures that are in use are good photographs -- but not in this context.

The fundamental questions that the web designers should ask are: Who is coming to this site? And what are they seeking? Who can we attract?

In the case of Duke, "who" is easy: we're either students, parents, faculty, employees, alumni, fans of Duke athletics, visitors or other supporters.

Some of these have links across the top of the home page. Oh oh. Alumni. Unlike the old home page, you have to scroll deep, way down, to find alumni demoted to a position right next to tourists coming to Durham.

You see, the thematic pictures are so big that the business of the homepage -- the real estate as they say -- is pushed away. That's annoying and bad. The links should be across the top, or preferably down the left hand margin.

The crown jewel of Duke is medicine. I have previously told how Dr. Dzau is minimized. Now suppose you are a patient, seeking help at Duke.

Yes Medicine is listed on the top of the home page. But like all the major links, a menu does not drop down letting you move directly to an area you desire. Rather, you must click to reach the Medicine homepage, and then navigate from there to one of the choices, for example "Find a doctor." Extra steps, extra time.

Please consider www.yale.edu for good organization of Medicine within a university website, easier to understand and to navigate. Duke has a morass.

Aside from the personal elevation of Trask, mentioned above, there is another shift in the pecking order of university governance that is surprising. Right after Executive Leadership, we find the link to Academic Council, the faculty's senate.

This link is on top of the one to the Board of Trustees. Why it's enough to make you believe faculty have achieved a true secure position in the governance of the university, that the Christie Report of 1972 has actually come to life.

And now the Board of Trustee website. It's better than what we used to have, which was nothing. It should include the e-mail addresses so stakeholders at Duke can contact each Trustee -- and since the official website does not include them, in an upcoming post, Fact Checker will give all of them to you!

My flat evaluation: the Trustee website is an insult to anyone seeking to understand the board and keep abreast of its actions.

Now, let's really drive the organized mind crazy. Let's explore some links and what happens.

A) Let's go right to the top of the homepage, where it says About Duke, and then click in further to Quick Facts. Aside from the history of the University, much of this information is out of date. At this point in the 2009 fall semester, we should not be reading statistic after statistic from 2008.

B) Ah hah, in the same location, About Duke, you see a link to Financial Reports. Yes, you heard that the bottom fell out of the endowment and you'd like to see how bad it is. That link takes you to Financial Services, which has more confusion than a circus has clowns.

On the left, try Reports and Documents. More confusion. Try Financial Reports. Which opens out to a spectrum of choices, most of them blocked because Duke's leaders are withholding this information from you.

There is one selection for Duke University Financial Reports, and alas, click that and you get warm. Not hot -- just warm for this so called annual report is a year out of date.

Which is to say 2008-09 is still not posted even though that fiscal year ended last June 30 and even though schools like Harvard and Yale made this information available to stakeholders more than a month ago. In the case of Harvard, personally presented to the community by President Faust.

Footnote: I should also note that the separate Duke Management website -- these are the people who invest our moolah -- has been cut down to nothing. You cannot even find out the value of the endowment there anymore, though in fairness, and Fact Checker is indeed fair, this information is now in the annual Financial Report, when Trask gets around to it. But I digress.

Now, leave the main Duke home page and go to Duke PR. www.news.duke.edu

Click on Annual Report (more comprehensive than the financial reports alone) and you get the 2006-07 edition. Yes it is outdated, but rejoice my friends, you have found the last one that the Brodhead administration bothered to write. Another valuable source of information -- mailed to every alumnus for generations and in the tradition established by William Preston Few very detailed -- is gone.

Oh while you are on the Duke PR home page, http://www.news.duke.edu/ check out the university Calendar, reached illogically by clicking on the employee newspaper Duke Today.

This is about as sloppy an effort as we can get. Even high profile events, like the Oct 23rd re-dedication of the memorial to Dukies killed in battle, are not listed. Shame on the way administrators are handling this aspect of an important occasion after a half century of neglect of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

The calendar is clogged with events that recur; this is not to single out anyone, but one example is the daily Catholic mass. There should be some distinction drawn between major announcements of events, and the routine, so someone using the Calendar does not have to wade through so much boilerplate.

Next, maps. Not a bad effort to help everyone see Duke from this perspective and get around. You must remember two things:

First, that on some of the maps only some of the buildings are identified. Do not think a building does not exist if you do not see it at first glance. Try changing the resolution.

Second, these are the only maps that I can find on the entire internet where the + is on the bottom of the slider and the - is at the top. In other words, to move in on the map you click + on the bottom of the slider. Does an upside-down cartographer work in Trask's department?

Finally, though I recognize the University finds it impossible to impose uniformity on the faculty, even though they are employees here to do the university's work, there should be a requirement that each faculty member's website be updated each semester.

The website of one of my favorite professors states, "Not teaching Fall 2007." I can only presume he's done something in the two succeeding years.

And for each faculty member there should be:

A) a list of courses taught THIS semester, a complete list. This information will reveal how little time our professors spend in the classroom, and how many of them have arranged to be obligated to show up at mid-day only two or three times a week.

B) Faculty office hours should be uniformly posted too. Disclosure: someone has suggested to Fact Checker that professors be telephoned during these posted hours to see if they can actually be reached. hmmmm

C) all publications and professional activity within the past five years should be posted. Yes for one professor publication is still "pending."

Now here are a couple of positive suggestions for additions to the website:


An update of the Strategic Plan. Three years old, you are given a document focused on the dream of constructing Central Campus forthwith. Surely there is some new overview of where we are heading.

Second, the website should spell out details of the effort to save $125 million out of the annual budget, including a running total with itemized accounting. Where do we stand? Just like the development office posted a thermometer to show the rising total for the Financial Aid Initiative, we should have constant totals for savings.

And for the life of me I cannot see how the 295 employees who took early retirement add up to anywhere near the savings that administrators claim for this year or for succeeding years, and I would like to see a step by step calculation posted on the website.

Third, with specific reference to the new Keohane Quad dorm, Dean Nowicki should post not an essay that summarizes his briefings, but all of the raw information he has, including plans, correspondence etc.

And a timetable. I want to see how Steve -- as he told the freshmen to call him -- can pull off this neat trick: consulting with students beyond the Campus Council, letting their ideas jell, hopefully consulting too with other stakeholders at Duke like alumni, distilling the best ideas, honing them, communicating with architects, having plans drawn, getting plans into the hands of the Trustees for their input, getting changes made, getting final approval from the Trustees, letting general contractors see the plans and formulate bids, letting subcontractors do the same, evaluating bids, awarding contracts and starting construction -- all of which Steve wants to do by this spring. Five months, Steve?

Fact Finder wants a step by step timeline before commenting further.

OK readers, enough, eeeee-nough. You've explored with me a website that does not cut it.

For a first rate job, remember √ Fact Checker has a site archiving all these musings:


10/8 In response to a Letter to the Editor

The lesson here (in the substance of the Chronicle report that is the subject of Letter to the Editor) is that the financial statements that Duke University makes available to the public -- including Chronicle reporters and alumni -- are confusing and not very helpful in finding out what is happening.

For example, suppose you are concerned about the balance between academics and athletics, and want to examine the out-sized growth of the athletics budget. There is not a single financial document available that uses the word "athletics."

Suppose you want to determine how much Duke is devoting to undergraduate need-based financial aid. You might find this needle in a haystack, but Fact Checker wishes you good luck, because there is a welter of labels and statistics. You will find some numbers that include merit scholarships, some that include athletic scholarships, and in some places the budget counts work that students do as financial aid. My father used to call this pay.

We also have a bug-a-boo mentioned by Mr. Schoenfeld. Sometimes Duke counts a gift when it is pledged, yet in other reports the gift is not included until it is actually forked over. There's even a budget line to write off pledges that are never received.

To top it all off, our biggest donor, The Duke Endowment, uses a different fiscal year than the university so it is impossible to trace a lot of money.

Fact Checker is thus not surprised that the Chronicle had an error -- a word Schoenfeld cannot bring himself to use, which is very revealing. The amount of private support for Duke in its last fiscal year was off, but not off the cliff as reported.

Why there's even confusion over what private support is, and from year to year the concept of "gifts" and "charitable gifts" has lived on quicksand. Not so long ago, if a pharmaceutical company wanted to test a new drug and contracted with Duke Medicine to do the work, this University counted that as a gift!

Mr. Schoenfeld has gone particularly wrong in two respects:

First, with respect to The Duke Endowment. All its beneficiaries have been told that current pledges will be honored, but no new contributions will be made. We do not know if that includes the money that accrues to Duke University automatically under James B Duke's Indenture, or if it only means special gifts like $75 million for the Financial Aid Initiative, $15 million for Duke Engage, and $50 million for a new Medical School education building.

When the impact of this hits Duke's total of contributions -- and it has not yet at all -- we'll really be in trouble.

And second, Mr Schoenfeld goes particularly wrong to assert that Duke's gift problems stem from the financial meltdown.

Fellow Dukies, there were plenty of signals of trouble brewing well before Wall Street imploded.

First, the Annual Fund (alumni etc). For several decades, the Annual Fund was able to boast that it not only raised a record amount of money each year -- but it was also able to exceed ambitious goals every year. Starting in 2004-05 (lacrosse anyone??) the amount of money raised began to go flat, not keeping up with inflation even. Each year, the Annual Fund contributed a smaller percentage of the money that Duke needs, with less and less impact on the budget.

In response, the alumni department set goals that were more and more modest.

In 2007-08, before the Wall Street crash, we hit a wall: the amount of money raised in the year ending June 30, 2008 (Lehman Brothers bankruptcy that started the Wall Street crash: Sept 15, 2008) through the Annual Fund actually was less than the year before! (Psst, that's a dirty little secret just between you and Fact Checker. The leaders of the Annual Fund sent out a letter thanking everyone for their generosity, and there was never any press release nor information on this provided to alumni).

Now here's another dirty secret: Most of the Annual Fund's biggest donors are not alumni at all, but parents of currently enrolled students. In fact there has been some considerable belief that these parents were in effect buying a seat at Duke for their marginal kids -- just like the Wall St Journal reported.

Duke got wind of attempts to do a match to prove this -- and guess what. Every year for decades Duke had published a list of major donors with their Duke affiliation and sent it to all alumni -- so parents of current students stood out like a sore thumb. Kaboom. Starting last year, Duke did not publish the affiliations anymore. It won't make this information available on the internet. Nor in a .pdf file.

Second -- You want some more evidence: look at the class gifts from alumni from the reunion classes -- that is, the classes that graduated five, ten, 15, 20 etc years ago. The gifts were shrinking -- again before Wall Street's meltdown.

In 2007-08, the last year that Fact Checker can obtain numbers, here's the Reunion Gift story:

a) not one class set a reunion record in contributions.

b) 4 of 10 classes did not meet their low-balled goal for the Annual Fund. 4 of 10 did not meet their combined low-balled goal for their Reunion Gift plus Annual Fund gift.

c) Looking at schools we like to identify with, according to information from President Tilghman herself at Princeton, 75.2 percent of the people in the class in held its first reunion sent in contributions. That's 75.2 percent of everyone, whether they attended or not. At Duke, it was 27 percent.

Again, from President Tilghman, 73.7 percent of the class returning for its second reunion sent in contributions while at Duke it was 25 percent.
In fairness, and Fact Checker is fair, I must add that Princeton's reunions do not match precisely the five year schedules at Duke.

d) all of the Duke numbers above for reunion gifts have eroded year by year -- well before the Wall St meltdown that our current Administration likes to blame.

Third - to obtain more evidence that gifts were falling off well before the Wall Street meltdown, Fact Checker analyzed the Financial Aid Initiative.

(Oh first a digression. The Initiative may have raked in $308.5 million, but Fact Checker calculates there's only about $220 million left because Duke Management Co lost the rest.)

Having gone through its one year "quiet" phase and two of three years in the public phase, it was obvious that that contributions were languishing. If you drew a straight line on a graph through the remaining months, you missed the goal. If you mentioned this to someone in the Administration, you were blasted as disloyal. I was.

The "development" people launched furious fund-raising efforts and personal pleas, but even so Brodhead suffered a great embarassment: while his signature effort was oversubscribed because some sectors like athletics unexpectedly raised more money than anticipated, his main goal -- undergraduate need based aid -- still needed about $8 million.

Here is what is most telling. Not one of the big boys on the Board of Trustees or any other major donor stepped forward to rescue him. He did not need cash; all he needed was a pledge to be paid over five years, and there was only silence. Morale: contributions were in trouble long before the Wall St crash.

And a final little dirty secret: while some of our Trustees have chipped in from time to time magnanimously as they were expected, as a whole the Trustees have not provided the same level of leadership in giving as at other schools. And behind the scenes in Allen Building, there is an occasional whisper too about the Duke family's not pulling its weight any longer. That's current members, not money from the foundations of past generations.

Fact Checker believes that only if we face up honestly to the source of the problem can we solve it. The reason Princeton's numbers are so much better than ours is that students and everyone else there are given the opportunity for involvement -- provided with information and encouragement to join in the governance and future of the school.

If there is any stakeholder at Duke - student, parent, faculty, employee or alumnus -- who feels that stimulus at Duke, please write Fact Checker immediately.

Thanks again for reading.


Oct 7 - Trustees meet on financial crisis

Fact Checker here.

Today's two lead stories -- on cutting costs and on last year's results in investing our endowment and other assets -- are the best journalism this newspaper has seen this year. All stakeholders -- students, parents, faculty, employees and alumni -- need many more probative reports like those printed today, and far less pap.

Fact Checker was particularly interested in the new Trustee Chair's meeting with reporters after the plenary session of the board. The Chronicle did not say so, but this is a repudiation of the former chair, Bob Steel, who ended these traditional news briefings except when they served his purposes. I repeat: Repudiation.

We should all be startled too by Chair Dan Blue's stark assessment: that we are in "dire financial strait."

Contrast that to other statements we have heard over the past year, starting with Mr. Brodhead's assurance that our finances were "secure" and "stable" not to mention Steel's "good news" last December.

Oh yes, let's not leave out our chief financial wizard, Tallman Trask, whose report on the 2007-2008 year, issued precisely a year ago, pronounced Duke "financially secure." This man of great vision went on to praise our "diversification of investment portfolio" and "prudent stewardship of our resources" that put us "in position to allocate substantial resources in pursuit of the goals outlined in Making A Difference, the University’s $1.3 billion strategic plan," which is to say the new Central Campus, which has now been deferred indefinitely. The meltdown started nine months before Trask presented this to the community, and was in high gear at the time of his denial.


The careful reader will recall that Fact Checker
had predicted a much bigger loss in our endowment; until official reports are issued next week, I cannot comment further. I should add, however, two points:

A) the values that were put on our various endowment holdings are in many cases estimates. We will need to explore if other methods would have yielded other results. Or in technical language, how we "marked" our assets.

B) the numbers were are seeing are all over the lot. For example The Duke Endowment, which invests its own funds through Duke University and its Duke Management Company, reported its assets slid from $3.3 billion to $2.2 billion in its last fiscal year. That's 33 percent if you ask me. However, the endowment has stated it lost 24.4 percent on its investments; it presumably spent about five percent of its hoard. I have an inquiry out.

All of us should be shocked by the magnitude of the loss in private support: from $351 million two years ago to $136 million last year. Brodhead's sputtering explanation is not enough.

Let us recall the February 3 story from the PR department, stating that through seven months of the fiscal year, such support was off 20 percent. Chronicle, you should be asking about this!!

With regard to expenses, Fact Checker does not see how the 295 departed employees who took early retirement -- all low level, about 20 percent needing to be replaced, all now collecting Duke money via pensions -- will save $20 million. $20 million this year, according to the Allen Building gurus, when many of the 295 were still on the job during the first quarter.

Ditto the estimates we are seeing about retirement incentive #2, which probably will only embrace ten to 20 employees. I shall be glad to review any worksheet that the newspaper publishes (hint).

Now... moving on... buried in one story: we have no idea when the stars will line up and allow us to begin a fund-raising drive. Had the world spun in our favor, we'd probably be in the last months of the year-long "quiet" phase, about to announce publicly a drive for $4 billion or more, just like our peers.

Tie this, please, to the age of Richard Brodhead. Born in 1947, he is about 62 or 63 years old. If you begin to add up how many years the campaign will take, you have to begin to ask whether he should stay aboard, because if he starts it he will have to finish it, and by the end he will presumably be well into his 70's. Tie this too to a recent Chronicle column (one of the best also) which explored with the president his possible return to teaching as a cap on his career. He would need to reserve "good" years for this, if it is indeed his goal. We need to hear from the president on all this.

Fact Checker is preparing a report on the new Keohane Quad dorm. Quite frankly, today's Chronicle quotes make Dean Steve (Nowicki) sound as if no one at Duke had ever built a dorm before. We will put one up, sorta an experiment, we have to learn from it, and so forth. All these other buildings, from Edens and current Keohane on West and the newest dorms on East did not teach us? No other university has a successful dorm we can copy?

But that's the start of my analysis on Keohane quad and I do not want to get ahead of myself. I will write soon, and that's reason enough for you to read Fact Finder again.

Oh, thanks for your comments on my Founders' Day essay, including my perspective on the Duke family.



10/2/2009 Founders Day

Fact Checker presents a review of the 2nd most interesting event around Duke this week -- right after Saturday's Durham International Beer Festival.

Hope you had a Happy Founders' Day, as we look at the history of the occasion (courtesy of the Gargoyle book) and then, after this slow start, move on to a fascinating, irreverent profile of the founding Duke family. Yes, salacious too.


√As touted in university press releases, Founders' Day can be traced back 108 years at Duke, a statement of heritage that neglects the struggle for format and date that mark this near-bacchanalia.

√In 1901 the Trinity College Board of Trustees resolved to set aside a day "to honor Washington Duke forever." Having given the college $344,250 over the years (about $8.8 million in today's dollars), he sat on stage, endured a reading of all the gifts the college had gotten in the past year, and got a serenade by a chorus from Durham and orchestra from Raleigh.

√Then Washington did precisely what the college hoped; he announced another gift -- $100,000 -- which works out to about $2.6 million today.

√Benefactors' Day existed until 1924, when the "tradition" apparently went on hiatus for one year. It emerged in 1926 to become Duke University Day, and was recast yet again in 1948 as Founders' Day.

√The date for this celebration has bounced around like a Duke basketball: originally it was in early October on the birthdate of one of Washington's grandsons -- a son of Ben and Sarah Duke who died in early childhood.

√Later it was shifted to December 11th, which is the date James B. Duke ceremoniously signed a document (called an Indenture) bound in an ornate brass cover, creating The Duke Endowment out of the turgid prose (one sentence: 250 words plus) of his personal lawyer, William R. Perkins. The document made provision for a school in North Carolina to be named Duke University.

√The December 11th date happened to ignore a more significant date -- December 29th -- when the trustees of Trinity met and accepted the option Buck Duke had given them to rename their college and collect the loot. December 29th would have drawn no audience, of course, since it fell during Christmas break, which is not to suggest that December 11th, even with cancellation of classes and summons of the carillon, ever brought more than an embarrassing trickle into Page Auditorium.

√When a shuffle of the academic calendar moved final exams from early January to mid-December, there was a collision: everyone was too busy with the reading period to participate in the tree plantings, worship services and speeches that had given life -- well you know what I mean -- to the December 11th occasion. So the first week of October was selected rather arbitrarily, the actual date shifting so it always falls on a Thursday. To lure more people, groups like the A. B. Duke Scholars, the Robertson Scholars and so forth are now recognized.

√With one exception, the annual programs have been pretty bad.

√This is not the exception, this is the example of pretty bad: George V. Allen (no relation to George G. Allen, Buck Duke's crony who lent his name to Allen Building) droned on and on. He was president of the lobbying arm of the tobacco industry, the Tobacco Institute, staking out the ground to oppose medical upstarts who were claiming a link between smoking and cancer. Really embarrassing, and even more so when you remember that President Kennedy spoke at UNC's celebration that year.

√The lone exception was Thomas L. Perkins, son of the aforementioned William and one of the truly brilliant, visionary men in Duke's history. He outlined an upward trajectory for Duke so that "within the lifetime of many people here today," North Carolina and the South would have a truly world class university. The year was 1962. Not only was Perkins inspiring and challenging, he was brief, for this captain of industry, law and public service literally trembled while addressing perhaps 200 people in Page.

Footnote: We're better off than Trustees of The Duke Endowment, who must endure an annual reading of the complete Indenture. Their only solace is that they are paid very handsomely for the tedium.


Fact Checker now moves on to a totally unauthorized, selective biography of the Duke family. Anyone complaining about the unbalanced tone of this should remember the Dukes have a platoon of PR men and lawyers devoted to their own presentation.

The patriarch, Washington Duke. Son of Taylor Duke of English heritage and Dicey Jones of Welch, the 8th of their ten children, born 1820.

Dicey Duke. How come there's nothing honoring her?

Fact Checker goes for the jugular: did our patriarch, Washington Duke, participate in and profit from the institution of slavery?

Conscripted into the Confederate Army, the twice-widowed Washington arranged for relatives to care for his children and then placed the following classified ad in his local paper, The Hillsborough Recorder, on October 7 and 14, 1863:

"PUBLIC SALE. I will sell at my residence, on the 20th of this month, about one hundred bushels of corn, my entire stock of Cows, Hogs, Farming Tools and Wagon, Oats, Fodder, Hay, Wheat, and many other articles too tedious to mention; and perhaps some eight or ten likely NEGROES will be sold the same day."

Robert Durden, distinguished professor emeritus of history who has written several meticulous books about the Dukes and the university, argues Washington may have been advertising a neighbor's slaves, or just trying to attract more people to the sale of his other goods. Fact Checker calls this the Craig's List Emulation -- and quite frankly, Durden is not convincing.

But that is moot. Whether owned or not, there is no doubt Washington Duke and his family benefited from the institution of slavery by renting a "boy" -- Washington's word -- or two owned by neighbors.

Now that we are square on that, we move on to the hidden son.

Anyone who counts the statues on campus might reasonably conclude that Washington had two sons -- James Buchanan and Benjamin Newton. Ah hah, there was a third named Brody Leonidas Duke, by Washington's first wife, and no wonder he's tucked out of view.

Brodie Leonidas was the first to leave the family farm and move to the city of Durham where he bought real estate by the acre and women by the hour. Yes, Durham was like that, an important railroad hub that attracted a lot of bustle.

Brodie Leonidas had only modest business success but scored very well at the altar: he went on to marry, marry, marry and marry. At a time when divorce was very rare and required a showing of "fault," his second wife and he had a particularly lurid public trial that not only separated him from his wife, but from his family too. It was this episode that prompted Washington to summon James B. Duke who was 49 years old, warning his younger son to simmer down himself and goading him into his first marriage, to which we will return in a moment.

Though estranged from his family, there seems to be one aspect of Brodie Leonidas's passion that rubbed off on his father. Late in the patriarch's life, Washington took to cruising Durham streets on Sunday with his horse and buggy, picking up young women for a ride.

We conclude the Brodie Leonidas story with his fourth marriage in 1910 at age 63. His bride was 21.

And now Benjamin Newton Duke, namesake of the rich scholarships aimed at stopping the most talented students in the Carolinas from fleeing to the Ivy League.

We've heard more and more about Ben as the years have gone by, to the point where the university PR office has started to assert he was the co-founder, reaching back to President Robert Flowers to find a quote embracing the concept. Most likely Flowers was trying to butter Ben's descendants for a contribution, or affected by the senility that marked most of his tenure.

The first "fact" about Duke University presented on the school's website is that it was founded by James B. Duke. Period. And maybe the PR types can explain why the statue of Ben did not sprout on East Campus until 1999 if he were equal to James B himself.

Alone among the brothers, Ben Duke had one wife and a loving marriage. But there are so many dimensions of his life that are truly sad.

He was in ill health much of his life, and very feeble in his last years. He became the go-to man for Duke charity because he lacked the strength -- like James B. -- to follow the family's growing empire: London, the wilds of Canada, New York, New Jersey, Charlotte.

The Duke family tradition of age discordant marriages extended to his two children. His son Angier never outgrew his frat pin, and he was 32 years old when he took a teen bride from the Biddle family of Philadelphia. Not the weathy branch, but the kooky branch that kept an alligator or two in a stinking tank in its dining room.

The marriage ended as you'd expect.

Angier not only played hard, he was prone to accidents. In New York City with his custom-made Rolls Phantom, he squished a woman against a wall near Yankee Stadium. At the beach in his car, he ripped apart a utility pole near the family's Southampton "cottage" on Gin Lane, damn near electrocuting himself. In the wild, he shot off an arm in a hunting accident.

The worst occurred on the water of Long Island Sound. Divorced, spending a night drinking and dining on shore with three female and two male friends, they decided to steal a rowboat to reach Angier's 86-foot yacht, too big to be moored at the dock. (Accuracy footnote: some list his boat at 82 feet)

The rowboat capsized; everybody else made it to the yacht's deck where, oblivious (translation: drunk), they were resuming their party when Angier's body floated by, his head split open.

I hope you didn't think the Angier Buchanan Duke Scholarships were named for some big intellectual!

Ben and Sarah also had a daughter - Mary Duke -- who became Mary Duke Biddle. Associated with the fine arts and surrounded by blooming flowers (including a vase in her limo), these disguise the long and deep depression that griped her when her marriage collapsed. This marriage was also never going to work, for Mary was pushing 30 and her husband was still a teenager.

The divorce left great scars on her two children, who are important descendants of Washington.

Her 12 year old son -- named Anthony for his father -- had family lawyers go to court to expunge this, assuming the name Nicholas, for whom a gallery in the Nasher is named.

Her daughter (today Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans) had to be rescued by her widowed grandmother Sarah and brought from New York to live in Durham. That's another story for another time.

And now the big kahuna, James Buchanan Duke, known as Buck.

The statue that greets everyone on the Main Quad of West Campus -- and the 30-ton marble sarcophagus inside the Chapel -- belie how rotund Buck was, particularly in later life. Moreover, both monuments are surrounded by clean air, while Buck smoked cigars incessantly and was enveloped in vulgar smoke. The smell of ammonia and bleach also permeated the air around him, for he was a germ freak who had everything swabbed day and night. He had bad leg pain (gout?) that caused him to walk with a significant limp and sometimes not walk at all.

His first wife Lillian and he were together just nine months before he delivered divorce papers. Like Leonidas Brody, Lillian and Buck went through a saucy trial to assign blame. He cheated, she cheated, but his lawyers got the jump on hers and his investigators turned up Frank Huntoon, who responded to Lillian's needs when summoned via classified ads placed in a Paris newspaper.

Lillian was sent packing with only a token of the family wealth, and a stock broker soon fleeced her out of that.

Lillian pleaded and pleaded over the years for help, all ignored by Buck. On the eve of his second marriage, extortion having failed, she filed a lawsuit that asserted their divorce was not valid.

Buck would never speak about Lillian again, not even to his lawyers. She remained obsessed -- caught by a New York Times reporter standing on a knoll in Central Park watching Buck's funeral cortege leave his marble Fifth Avenue palace.

Lillian's health declined immediately. She was no longer able to eke out even a frugal living as a singing teacher and she died alone, "nearly destitute" as the Times put it. Other reports say she starved and froze to death in a tenement.

Buck's second wife, Nanaline, presented him with the greatest joy of his life, a daughter Doris, born when he was 56 years old. Doris later told a story that her second cousin spilled in his autobiography: she overheard her father and his brother Ben discussing sex. Kinky sex. Wife number 2 would plant strawberries in her body and Buck would forage for them.

Ah those founders!

Contrary to belief, Buck did not make most of his money from tobacco. He started Duke Power (now Duke Energy) to deliver electricity to cotton mills he had snapped up, leaving previous owners and competitors dismayed at his tactics. He was also involved in founding other major companies -- notably Alcoa (aluminum and pollution) and American Cyanamid (chemicals, pharmaceuticals and pollution, strategically located downstream on the Raritan River from his getaway manor.)

Buck died just ten months after setting up this University; had he lived, plans for a grand fountain in front of the Chapel and a jet spraying high into the air at the West traffic circle might have been fulfilled. Also a lake, in the wide ravine that ultimately became home for Duke Gardens. Buck Duke loved displays of water, as anyone visiting his Charlotte or New Jersey homes can attest.

We associate Buck with the Methodist Church. His foundation continues to give millions to build rural places of worship and to help supplement pensions of retired ministers, to say nothing of vital annual gifts to sustain Duke Divinity School with its Methodist ties. This omits a key element of his spirituality: Buck believed in reincarnation and for all you know he's the guy who super-sized your lunch at McDonald's today.

Doris inherited enough money to merit the title "the richest girl in the world." Fact Checker admires Doris a great deal, for significant personal achievements that have remained hidden from public view and for her "fuck em" attitude when it came to people -- including family members -- who disparaged her lifestyle.

Oh boy, disparage they did. At age 75 Doris adopted a daughter, Chandi Heffner, a 35-year-old Hare Krishna chanter.

Rumors flew: some said Doris saw in Chandi the face of her only biological child, Arden, born out of wedlock and believed to be bi-racial, who died in Hawaii on her second day of life. Others said Doris and Chandi were lesbians, and indeed, their gay chef has written a tell-all book: when he made a routine visit to Doris's bedroom (a huge salon where she virtually lived) to review the day's menu, the chef encountered Doris flung back on the sofa in ecstasy, Chandi sucking her toes.

All this happened in New Jersey, at the 700-foot-long country manor with pale green ceilings (Doris hated rooms with white ceilings) that Doris selected as her legal domicile over three other mansions -- and at a Park Avenue penthouse painted pink and black, designed so the party could rage long after Studio 54, the legendary New York disco of the 70's and 80's with a giant cocaine spoon hanging over its dance floor, closed at noon.

New Jersey confers every right upon an adopted child, forever. When Doris and Chandi had a falling out, Doris was able to excise her daughter from her own will. But there was no undoing Chandi's legal status as her only lineal descendant and beneficiary of a separate trust that Buck had established.

When Doris died in 1993, Chandi walked off with $65 million . That's $6.5 million per toe.

As a going away present for the family and its lawyers, Doris picked her illiterate Irish butler as her executor, deliberately listing Bernie Lafferty as Rafferty in the type of jab she would laugh at. Lafferty, quite a spectacle in pony tail and sandals, and Doris's clothes and jewelry after her death, took to heavy drinking and could be found faithfully each night at an upscale gay bar in New York until he either fell off his bar stool near the piano or the joint closed, signals for a bartender to lift Bernie into a cab. The butler was also famous for his loud use of the N-word.

Bernie showed up unannounced at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a $10 million bequest, which was a happy surprise. He showed up at Duke University with $10 million too, which was a bitter surprise since many on campus had hoped for the entire $1.2 billion that Doris lodged in her own foundation. That number is deceptive as to her wealth, for Doris tied up as least as much by giving her homes, square miles of open land in a prime suburb of New Jersey, and her priceless art to other public trusts.

University President Nan Keohane chummed Bernie when he delivered the $10 million check and parlayed a photo-op into a paid Trustee's job at Doris' new foundation. When a judge ruled Lafferty incompetent (and also ruled Doris had all her bubbles when she gave Lafferty a $500,000 a year lifetime salary) Keohane ascended to leadership of the foundation in 1994, a part time sinecure she still holds.

Foundation tax returns for a typical year show Keohane worked 72 hours and grossed $126,078. Calculation: $1,751 per hour for working for a charitable organization. Yes this is the same Nan Keohane who insisted her university salary be kept down (to $500,000 or so) in order to achieve "parity" with the lowest paid employees.

As Fact Checker readers can surely conclude, Doris is iconoclastic, surely interesting enough for a complete essay some day. For now, suffice it to say that she too may be around. You see, Doris, like her beloved father, believed in reincarnation. She attributed her strong swim stroke to her previous life as a fish, but apparently had no prediction where she'd wind up in succeeding go-arounds.

For all you know, she might be the Fact Checker, watching over the university that daddy founded.

"...for Doris tied up as least as much by giving her homes, square miles of open land in a prime suburb of New Jersey, and her priceless art to other public trusts."

Keohane, among others, is responsible for destroying Doris Duke's gardens "Duke Farm" in New Jersey.


Some history: 11 Trustees and 11 Gardens
Updated April 2009:

Miss Duke's Gardens in central NJ were closed to the public in May 2008. Many people hoped that with the structures still intact and the statuary still present, future Trustees would remedy the closure and restore the cultural legacy of Doris Duke.

Over 5,230 protesters wrote personal letters to the Trustees or signed petitions asking them not to destroy the the Gardens. Over 600 people wrote to Governor Corzine asking him to intercede for New Jersey's heritage.

The Trustees replied: "[our] decisions about the future opportunities for Duke Farms have been properly vetted and are totally within the discretion of the boards under New York state law, as approved by the New York Attorney General."

Doris Duke personally designed and created these Gardens to honor the father she adored, who died when she was twelve. Duke Gardens are equal in size to the Haupt Conservatory, the centerpiece of the New York Botanical Gardens. They were opened to the public in 1964, and were a major tourist destination despite no advertising.