2-10-2010 Chronicle editorial board slams Brodhead

Fact Checker here.
Congratulations, Chronicle, for your strongest editorial of the year. An insightful analysis.

Back when our endowment was $6.1 billion, and other universities were watching their money wither, President Richard Brodhead assured all Dukies that our hoard was "stable" and "secure."

Well not quite. Our nest-egg shriveled to $4.4 billion and Brodhead has had precious little to say since. Indeed, as the editorial points out, we have to reach back to March 1, 2009, almost a full year, to an e-mail he wrote to all stakeholders.

His silence has been in the face of many opportunities to speak out.

-- The FACULTY is just now getting his annual report on the 2008-2009 academic year, usually delivered in October. This delay -- at the annual meeting of the faculty -- is all the more surprising because of the way he started his report on an autumn afternoon two years ago: "Colleagues, I have come to value the custom of the President’s Address observed on this day."

If Brodhead's failure to deliver this report weren't so serious, we could all chuckle at the explanation: Brodhead and the chair of the faculty senate, the Academic Council, agreed this year's report would be so important that it deserved a venue larger than the usual, a 108 seat lecture hall in the sub-sub basement of the Divinity School. Fact Check: there are 3,031 regular members of the faculty eligible to attend, to be held at the Nasher, apparently in the 173 seat lecture hall, identified in the official announcement as the auditorium. Does that tell us something about faculty interest or not??? Faculty engage?

In administration-speak, the word important does not embrace either "urgent" nor "timely." There is no hint of why Brodhead just did not commandeer a larger space back in the fall.

✔ ALUMNI returning to campus have had one perfunctory meeting. His travel schedule to alumni clubs around the nation is not available, though in years past it was widely advertised.

✔ And now EMPLOYEES. The forum is called Primetime, a regular chance for high level administrators to come out, and this is Brodhead's second appearance. On June 19, 2007 he was bubbling about the giant construction project called Central Campus, a project of course postponed indefinitely by the financial meltdown.

In the March 1, 2009 e-mail referenced above, Brodhead announced a wage freeze -- affecting everyone except those lucky employees of the prosperous Duke Health system, whose fate we have never learned. The freeze was mitigated only by a one-time check of $1,000 to employees with satisfactory work records who were earning less than $50,000. Mind you this was an e-mail, not a personal encounter. The president remained at his desk in Allen Building to blast the news, never standing with shaken employees.

Brodhead also mentioned the L-word. Layoffs. Nothing specific, just a sword that would continue to dangle over people's heads to this day. The most definitive comment on layoffs came from the board chair, who said there would be no "centrally administered" layoffs -- only department by department cuts like the good people who ran International House. What the board chair did not say is also important, for it is possible department by department cuts will add up to the same number of bodies as a general cut. Or more.

Twice in the past year, rather than appearing personally, Brodhead has sent a team of five white middle-aged surrogates to talk to groups of employees -- many if not most of them people of color -- about offers of early retirement.

The second of these meetings involved people who were identified by the university as expendable -- in other words people who might face the first layoffs if they did not seize early retirement. The president did not even appear before these frightened people. (There is a third incentive program, urging senior faculty to retire, and for four months administrators have dodged and obfuscated, and we know no details to this day of a potentially costly strategic move.)

So Brodhead is scheduled for Schiciano Auditorium in the Fitzpatrick Center, the Ciemas building until Michael and Patty Fitzpatrick opened their pockets, with the announcement of his appearance noting that only 200 can get in. Fact Check: depending on whether you count medical or not, Duke has more than 40,000 employees. Others can watch on the internet, and good luck on this: even though the VP for PR for the past 20 months prides himself on new media, Duke's broadcast of many events have failed miserably, most often with intermittent sound.

Oh, Fact Checker has tried to trace Schiciano, but neither the Chronicle archives, official PR archives, alumni directory nor Google provided a definitive lead to the person whose name is stuck over the door. There are 28 bigger auditoriums on campus.

Following a format that he has used before (I would say that our President used it during the lacrosse hoax but frequent poster Duke Parent will yelp), all the questions in the scheduled employee forum are screened by PR people. Some sent in in advance, some while the program is underway. There is no interaction with the audience, and no chance to follow up.

Topic #1 may well be the wage freeze -- will Brodhead extend it or will he dodge an answer. I would hope he has a substantive answer -- it would emphasize he is in charge, and that once again his staff did not put him out to dangle with nothing to say. He was able, you will recall, to make a decision by March 1 a year ago for the current academic year, and you would think he would be able to move now on next year.

Topic #2 may well be a reduction of lavish fringe benefits, including one of the most generous medical insurance plans on the planet and abusive tuition payments for employee children. The tuition plan is unique to the ivory tower and very unique at Duke: a low paid employee can double or even triple his or her wages through the plan. Even Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, on the payroll at $478,000 a year according to the latest documents Fact Checker can obtain, will be provided an extra $28,113 a year for each of his two children while they are undergraduates at any school. The amount of that benefit is not frozen as salaries are, and it goes up every time Duke soaks its own students for more tuition.

The Chronicle properly points out contrasts with other presidents. Faust at Harvard has held open meetings and enabled extensive coverage in the Harvard Crimson newspaper. With Tilghman of Princeton, there have been community meetings and extensive access for the Princetonian. And compare please with the President of Cornell David Skorton, who has shown true leadership and imagination. As a stop-gap Skorton asks donors not for the principal they would have donated to endowment in better times, but merely for the interest it would have earned for Cornell to spend.

✔There is no indication from reading the STUDENT newspaper -- no news article, feature, editorial nor column -- that our President has given the Chronicle any particular access or insight. Yes Brodhead has been quoted in the Chronicle about fiscal affairs, but only superficially, twice in the current academic year by my count. The latest of these comments came after the Trustee meeting in December, the focus $125 million in red ink. The Chronicle saw fit to quote three Brodhead words: "made significant progress."

The last substantial interview with the Chronicle that Fact Checker can identify came during the summer, when he mused with a columnist about returning to teaching.

And Chronicle people, as I have pointed out in posts and in private correspondence, you do not have clean hands during this fiscal crisis. Not at all. You have not been comprehensive nor probative. You have not fulfilled your responsibility.

One more point on Skorton of Cornell. He has attacked the administrative bureaucracy at Cornell: “We know we have had too much of a proliferation of assistant deans and assistants to ... And this crisis has stiffened my spine about it. My office has gone down from seven to five, people I’m never going to replace, and that has to trickle down.” Here at Duke, the 14 academic deans of Trinity College, the 10 deans of the Arts and Sciences and the 10 vice provosts are still... well... shall we say functioning.

✔ The President has also been silent on the issue of student participation in governance. Take the new dorm in Keohane Quad: Administrators, including Dean Nowicki, rolled over students from the rush-rush planning stage to the final insult of scheduling construction from 7AM seven days a week. What's the big rush, that we must incur overtime and extra expense?

As cutbacks hit directly at students, we did not hear a peep from Brodhead. Take your pick. The merger of International House and MultiCultural Center. The elimination of the student pharmacy. The elimination of weekend housekeeping in the dorms, so puke deposited on Friday festers until Monday.

Oh yes, there's the drinking issue. The Allen Building team came down hard on Tailgating. It has skirted around Last Day of Classes celebration. And it has been totally silent on the most abusive situation of all, the week after week bacchanalia we call K-Ville. Mr Brodhead, why are you so pusillanimous that you cannot speak out at this total disruption of the atmosphere and purpose of Duke? Students sleeping in tents outside the basketball stadium, in order to get the best seats for the Carolina game. Have you ever visited the place at night? Heard the noise. Smelled the booze. Wallowed in the mud? How rested would you be if at 4 AM each day you had to stand outside Hart House to be counted to assure you are still in line.

Is there any reason why members of the Harvard Community got a financial update after the September 30th end of the first quarter of this fiscal year, while Dukies got nothing? Even after they asked for information?

At the end of the second quarter, after December 31, the Chronicle had a story and so did the Herald-Sun, and you would never know reading the two stories that they covered the same six months of Duke's financial life. Why doesn't the University post the facts, all of them. Why doesn't it update the website created specifically to inform us of the fiscal crisis.

If Brodhead were only missing while we weather the fiscal storm, that would be bad enough. But Fact Checker has carefully examined the academic and fiscal year that began last July 1. Fact Checker sees a pattern, the lack of leadership on the fiscal crisis just the tip of an iceberg.

Here are the troubling Facts. You are the jury.

✔ for precisely 100 years, since William Preston Few wrote in great detail about the 1909-1910 year, the President of the University has issued an annual report to all stakeholders. For generations this was mailed to all alumni. No more. No report. In fact Duke's homepage links to the 2006-2007 edition.

Brodhead did write an important essay about Duke's future for Duke Magazine, the alumni journal. This publication, which is very interesting and often compelling, very rarely covers issues of governance. After filling 13 pages with pictures from an alumnus who happens to be a New York Times photographer, the magazine had little choice but to relegate Brodhead's 617-word essay to its website, where it is buried along with 24 other essays from others. Dukies, try to find this!

✔In separate incidents, two students were shot. The Durham on Duke violence included several armed robberies, and a spectrum of lesser crimes. Car break-ins, petty thefts, missing laptops. Has anyone heard Brodhead speak out?

✔Two grad students were burned out of their apartment just as classes were about to start last fall, a fire that evoked substantial response from several parts of the campus. Except the President's office.

✔Since the founding of the internet, the President's Quarterly Reports to the Trustees were posted. No more. For a while the University mouthpiece posted a substitute. No more.

✔ Since the founding of the internet the President of Duke -- like all presidents -- greeted visitors to its website with a welcome. No more. In fact the President's own home page disappeared in October, and there is a link to a montage of Senior Leadership instead. His speeches, once linked, are in the website, if you can find them! Another challenge for you, Loyal Readers.

Curiously Brodhead has also disappeared from Duke's press releases. Consider:

✔The PR archive includes Dean Nowicki's text from this year's freshman Convocation, but only notes that "Brodhead also spoke at the event." In fairness, and Fact Checker is fair, Brodhead's text is buried elsewhere, not in the archive. Try to find it. There is no link. It is not in the A-Z.

✔The president personally selects the Commencement speaker, but the PR release -- unlike prior years -- wrote him out of the picture: "Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker/economist and champion of the poor, will deliver the commencement address at Duke University on May 16, 2010, the school announced Friday." Fact Checker has corrected the date, which was wrong in the original release.

✔Most of the news releases that did mention Brodhead involved his ceremonial duties. For example Brodhead's very limited role at the re-dedication of the Veterans Wall, to introduce the main speaker. To be fair, and Fact Checker is Fair, his words on that occasion were truly moving. See link below.

But Brodhead followed this by being invisible on Veterans Day itself, as well as at the 9-11 observance when a wreath is placed at the memorial to the six Dukies who died at the World Trade Center.

Ceremonies aside, there was only one news release last semester dealing with substantial activity of our president. This compares with two releases on the new on-campus fish market offering fresh catch from the two Carolinas, and two releases on the activity of the faculty member who identifies himself as "thugniggaintellectual."

✔The one news release focused on Brodhead was an international news alert to tout his ringing of the closing bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York on December 18. Duke regarded this as important enough to provide the personal Email and phone of the PR vice president, not just the general number of the news bureau. Keep this in perspective: this is not the closing bell you see and hear on many newscasts. That bell as at the New York Stock Exchange.

Fact Checker can put this into further perspective: in the days before Brodhead, the closing bell was rung by Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal, stars of "Crazy Heart" being released by Fox. In the days right after Brodhead, the NASDAQ bell was rung by Buddy Valastra, master baker at Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, N. J. and on another day by the cast of the off-Broadway musical Grovaloo.

Brodhead thus goes down in history at the NASDAQ with other bell ringers: the clowns at the Ringling Brothers circus, Howard Stern, Miss Mississippi, Miss America and members of the New York City Sanitation Department, which is to say garbagemen.

In fact Brodhead has garnered very little publicity. We have to reach back three and a half years to a Washington Post op-ed. Check other major newspapers: aside from the lacrosse hoax, the New York Times has mentioned Brodhead only once since his arrival, in conjunction with a gift by Bill and Melinda Gates for DukeEngage. Clearly the Gates star-power created the article.

✔The PR department maintains a website with "major Presidential speeches." During the past semester, aside from the opening Convocation, there is no entry. None. And try to find this!! No link although there used to be! Not in the A-Z.

Brodhead's curriculum vitae reveals his last "major lecture" was in 2006 in Cleveland on "What Universities Are Good for."

Our president has failed to fulfill three major promises he made in public

✔ To convene a national conference of universities to study the way they treat students, faculty and employees charged with major crime, an outgrowth of the dismal handling of the lacrosse hoax. Duke's method is ad hoc and inconsistent. Apparently -- his spokesman would not say why when a Deputy Fact Checker asked -- Brodhead deferred to lawyers trying to wiggle Duke out of lacrosse litigation, lest the school's own investigation weigh against it.

In other words, students continue to be subject to a disciplinary system that our president has the greatest qualms about. And the lawyers' plan to defend Duke is more important than the truth.

During the past semester, sworn testimony came to light that a very high level member of the community, while allegedly drunk, allegedly sexually assaulted a female. This has been vehemently denied. It also came to light that a high level medical administrator was trying to pimp his little adopted boy to other perverts, a crime to which he pleaded guilty. And it came to light that a Duke Police officer allegedly drugged and raped a woman during an S and M scene, with his Duke Police badge and uniform, Duke gun, Duke handcuffs, whips, enema bag and butt plug among items seized. I heard nothing from Brodhead personally, and his administrator's responses defied consistency -- ranging from suspension with pay, to suspension without pay, to dismissa,l to nothing.

Nor has Brodhead made any comforting news available: Duke Police investigated the career of the officer? What did they find out? Where did he patrol? Did he have access to sensitive material? To files on sex asssaults? To sex crime victims in the hospital? How come this guy gave up a higher paid job in Raleigh and pension rights after almost ten years, to come to Duke. I cannot resist this: in Raleigh he held the rank of Master Patrolman, a designation that this alleged S and M devotee apparently took literally.

-- Brodhead called for a "national debate" on the legal drinking age, leaving us to guess his position. He has done nothing Fact Checker knows about to spark that debate. Nothing.

-- On women's issues, Nan Keohane built the momentum, and Brodhead let it fizzle. It is possible there will be a program on this later this semester.

✔n fact the President -- silent on campus -- has been equally silent on national issues. His highest profile action was a trip to Washington to lobby for faculty research funds in the basic sciences. Two years ago. He was eclipsed on that trip by the new president of Harvard, its first female.

But there was never a similar trip as Congress wrestled with similar questions involving student aid. Nor have we been assured in any way that Duke's lobby staff in Washington is pursuing this.

The PR department once said he had been selected as co-chair of a task force from the national association of college and university presidents to advise the incoming Obama administration on higher education issues. Fact Checker is unable to find anything, anything about this.

✔A Fact Finder survey established that Presidents of comparable universities typically receive one, two and three honorary degrees per year. Brodhead has three total, the last in 2007 courtesy of an alumnus and trustee who was then president of Fisk University.

Earlier it was tit for tat with honorary degrees: the president of a rather undistinguished urban branch of the University of Maryland in Baltimore was honored by Duke, and Brodhead was honored there.

He did receive a degree from his 2006 trip to China, from a major highly ranked university in Beijing.

There was a time when Brodhead's biography compiled by the PR staff listed his honorary degrees in the third paragraph. This reflects their status in the academic world. No more.

✔As for China, after his first trip in 2006, Brodhead told an interviewer he hoped to return every year or two. He wasn't seen there either -- until a few weeks ago -- just like he's been invisible on the Duke campus. The closest he got was Singapore last fall for the opening of Duke's medical school in Singapore. Chancellor Dzau did the honors, Brodhead in the wings of the official pictures.

As loyal readers know, Fact Checker has previously pointed out a very correct observation from Brodhead in his address at the annual faculty meeting, October 18, 2007, on Duke's international moves. Brodhead observed that Duke was being "opportunistic," that is following the money rather than a cohesive strategy.

Perhaps you can tell Fact Checker what plan has led us to scatter in Kunshan, China, Dubai, Singapore, somewhere in India, and probably soon in Inchon, South Korea. Mr. President, we deserve to know.

✔As I conclude, and I am not done yet, just as I conclude, I must note that nothing pisses me off more about Brodhead than his failure to answer e-mails. No acknowledgment. No response from the bloated staff.

Forget controversial issues. Deputy Fact Checkers have written him about no-brainers and he has not responded. Consider: the Memorial Wall for veterans. The neglect of 50 years bothered me a great deal, for I have a personal interest in this memorial.

Mr. President, you were discourteous in the best light in not answering e-mail after e-mail. More importantly you were disrespectful and disdainful of the appropriate role of stakeholders in this university. Not to mention the sacrifice of our classmates.

✔Mr. President, there have been times when you were truly brilliant. Today's Chronicle editorial cites Coach K. What happened to the Brodhead who joined hands with students under the coach's office to form the letter K, urging him to stay?

At the news conference announcing his decision to stay, Coach K said he would have told you earlier that morning, but he was not sure of your sleeping habits. You responded that whatever your waking hour, you were going to sleep better now. It was wonderful.

At this year's Convocation, you showed some real flashes. The avuncular uncle. Deep understanding and feeling. That was before you launched into a boring reading of your speech, some of it just copied from earlier years and much of it sounding as if you had not written it yourself.

Your conclusion in welcoming freshmen that they not only to study here, but to help create Duke's future was right on. And lifted from three years earlier.

Have you stopped to think how you enable student participation in the affairs of Duke. Or better, disable it with your secrecy on everything. Everything. Everything.

I have applauded your priorities. You gave a compelling explanation of the need for expanded undergraduate financial aid, saying that we overturned barriers based on race and ethnicity, and now we cannot erect a similar barrier based upon the economic circumstances of one's birth. Have you considered, however, that you yourself, with the never ending spiral of tuition increases beyond the inflation rate, create the very barrier that you complain about.

And you seemed dismissive of the idea that Duke could tighten its belt and avoid higher tuition hikes, explaining you did not think a generic version of a Duke education would fly.

And I have criticized you heavily, often for operating behind closed doors, for keeping everything a big secret like I was the Taliban.

Often I criticized you with a heavy heart, for I know one way for Duke to be great is for you to succeed.

I have pondered time and time again how you could be so beloved at Yale yet so beset at Duke. And discussed this with many others.

I hope that today's Chronicle editorial -- not to mention the Fact Checker essay -- awakens you to re-assessment, and to the emergence of the leader we know you can be.

I do have faith.

Thank you for reading Fact Checker. Some important links follow.

Duke's financial crisis website. Not kept up to date.
Duke Magazine essay, quite interesting.

Brodhead at the Veterans Memorial Wall. Quite moving and well worth reading.


Fact Checker again. There is one other curious thing about Brodhead that I wanted to point out.

He arrived at the same time as Chancellor Dzau (and had signed off on his appointment earlier). After four years, as is the custom, Duke renewed Dzau's contract and made public announcement.

There was only silence on Brodhead. And finally we learned as the end of 5 years approached, that he had signed a new deal. For how long? Why the delay? Is this idle speculation or tea-leaves?

correction: number of Duke employees 33,325

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