2-11-2010 Brodhead and his Annual Report to the Faculty

act Checker here. Good morning Fellow Dukies!

I begin not with the substance of President Brodhead's remarks, but with faculty attendance.

There are 3,031 regular members of the faculty who were eligible to attend yesterday. Fact Check: official figure, Quick Facts About Duke, university website.

The Chronicle states "about 75" showed up. The Duke News Service -- ever filtering the news and painting a rosy picture -- stated "more than 150 people filled the Nasher auditorium" (well not quite, capacity 173) and brought "new energy" to the annual meeting of the faculty.

The purpose was not only to hear from the President at a critical juncture in Duke's history, but also, according to the official news release, to honor "faculty members who received distinguished and named professors and university teaching and service awards, as well as faculty members who died in 2009."

3,031 regular members. A handful show up. What a disgrace. Not only to hear our President, but to pay tribute to fellow academics.

The President usually speaks in conjunction with an Academic Council meeting, and this year -- while said to be independent -- was not, for the chair of the Academic Council spoke at length as well. You would think that at the very least, the elected professors on the council, charged by their colleagues with participation in the governance of this university, would show. There are precisely 91 regular members of the council, plus 10 alternates and the chair ex officio, as well as the President and Provost. That adds up to 104, far more than the total number of professors that the Chronicle says were present.

This is inexcusable. It is rude to the President. It is strong evidence of a lack of caring about Duke and its future, a failure to define one's professional status here as an obligation to participate not only for today, but for the future.

The faculty has disgraced itself.
We move to the substance of Dr. Brodhead's remarks. I am hindered because the link on the PR page that should lead to his text, which I was hoping for, instead goes to the rambling speech by the Academic Council president. I am relying on the Chronicle story and a long news release, also quoted above.
Generally speaking, he was upbeat which is good. He traced the history of ups and downs, which is OK so long as it doesn't occlude the reality of the moment.

And certainly his priorities I can agree with, starting with ample financial aid to students and extending to internationalization. I have reservations about our ability to sustain a bigger faculty, which has already exploded in size in the last decade and again this year, and am holding my breath about plans to hire.

Fact Checker has long felt that President Brodhead has a blind spot relating to hiring new faculty in down times; after all he got his first job in the English department at Yale when hiring was frozen. Yale kept the freeze in place for seven of the next nine years, and we all know how well that school did! So I must question the talk of "faculty renewal."

While I do not want to quibble, there is a need to Fact Check.

First, the President said, according to the official release, that "steps already enacted or identified have cut more than $50 million from Duke's budget." That's a different story than the calculation in a January 13 Chronicle editorial which stated "administrators have cut nearly half of the $125 million budget hole." And far different from the Chronicle's December 4 preview of a Trustee meeting, which talked about $70 million in savings in hand.

There's also a numbers game with respect to the number of employees who have been cut.

Duke should simply put all its raw information on the website designed to keep us informed about the fiscal meltdown, and all of us can add for ourselves.

Forget those numbers. The critical point is: Duke has already picked all the low hanging fruit. We've lowered thermostats. We've cut phone lines. We've asked for voluntary retirements. We coordinated the purchase of computers so we buy in bulk. The next steps on our way to $125 million are going to be more -- far more -- painful.

President Brodhead backed into any decision to lift or continue the wage freeze imposed on everyone except Duke Health this year. He said there is money for employees but it is going to be largely eaten up by increased costs of fringe benefits, so "any pay increase will be modest."

He called Duke's benefits "excellent." I have used the word lavish. And he did not explain any effort to control them.

I feel there is a need for the President to make clear anew what the $125 million is cut from.

It's cut from last year's budget -- exclusive of Duke Health. The cut is from $1.85 billion -- not from the budgets we had presumed would be viable when we planned for this year, next year and the following. In other words, by July 1, 2013, after phasing in cuts for three years, our budget will be $1.725 billion.

I am hearing confusion about that. I am hearing attrition and excuses about that. We might as well get straight today if there is a change in the goal that the President so clearly enunciated in his e-mail of March 1, 2009:

"Duke’s budget, instead of growing steadily, will have to be approximately $125 million smaller than it is today."

Lastly, the president was overly optimistic in some of the figures that he cited.

Take donations as our example. His statistics were based on donations of $301.6 million last year, which he said were off 22 percent from the year earlier.

Yes, this is true, according to the accounting method used by fund-raisers with a vested interest in looking good. As Tallman Trask properly noted in his annual report, the far more common method, Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, showed gifts of $136.9 million last year -- off an amazing 62 per cent.

✔Thank you for reading Fact Checker.

Oh... there was some comment the other day about the way in which the President is identified. Is it Mr Brodhead. Dr Brodhead? Sometimes I have used just his last name, which is copying journalistic style and not meant to be abrupt. Post or write me at Duke.Fact.Checker@gmail.com

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