2-15-2010 Chronicle editorial slams Brodhead anew

Chronicle, another editorial like this one, and I will be able to take the day off!!

After watching our basketball team demolish Maryland and cheering Coach K not only for his 1,000th game but also for his "nyet," I turned to watching on-line video of President Brodhead's annual address to the faculty. Yes from the exciting to the sedate.

Loyal readers, you will undoubtedly recall the exceptional Chronicle editorial last Wednesday begging our President to assert leadership in the fiscal crisis:

"Brodhead should speak openly and candidly to the Duke community as a whole. We need to know the specifics of how the administration is moving forward and how it plans to finally close the budget shortfall.

"But more than that, we need to know how the University’s strategic goals have been affected by the crisis, how the administration is adapting and how they will move Duke forward despite the difficult financial times."

Sounds good to me. I made that the hoop, waiting for him to score.

For 12:05 (12 minutes five seconds for those of you who are not fans), President Brodhead dribbled on about the history of financing higher education during the last 150 years. If I were taking a course in this, I might have been interested in the lecture. He was full of statistics, graphs, and then graphs blooming out of other graphs, all projected over his left shoulder. But it's not what I needed to hear at all.

I was not discouraged. I have sat worried watching many basketball stars have a dry first half, only to rally.

Second half. Unfortunately, there was much blovation over DukeEngage, Kunshan and other pet projects, but no new graphs. There was nothing for stakeholders to latch onto. His references repeatedly were to execution of a a strategic plan developed in the go-go years with little hint that aside from the construction of Central Campus, Duke has to rein itself in.

Where was the Brodhead who told us a year ago that we must brace for "a smaller Duke." How will we get there? What road to travel? Specifics.

After a first half filled with numbers, there was only one notable statistic on the second half: Dr. Brodhead said Duke has $50 million in cuts "already enacted or identified."

Notice those quoted words carefully.

This was a far lower total than we have been hearing. For example a Chronicle editorial in the fall said we were half-way toward the three-year $125 million goal, while a preview of the December trustee meeting said $70 million in savings were "in hand."

Dr. Brodhead's quoted words are ominous. It means that we experiencing perhaps $40 million in cuts in the current budget, only a third of the way. Already we have been bruised.

It means we are going to be tolerating a lot more pain coming up, particularly when you remember that Tallman Trask has said we have gotten the low fruit so far, meaning the harvest is going to become more difficult.

ON some of its assertions, Dr. Brodhead's speech needed substantiation. He mentioned participation of a "broad" segment of the community in decisions, offering no specifics and moving rapidly on with no pledge to stakeholders who feel excluded.

He revealed for the first time that a lot of people are protecting their turf during budget talks:

"The most damaging consequence I have observed came as budget cuts gave rise to a sullen protectionism: the wish, while reluctantly acceding to inevitable reductions, to lock in every surviving resource in its current form. The sentiment is understandable, but the cumulative results can be quite stultifying, since they freeze in place one moment’s status quo."

With respect to the current salary freeze, he said there is more money for employees in next year's budget -- but most will be eaten up by fringe benefits. He offered no hint at how this apportionment was decided and what inputs he may have had from affected people.

With respect to layoffs, he said there would be no "sizable" campus-wide reduction, leaving open the definition of sizable, and never reassuring that department by department cuts would not affect just as many loyal employees.

Dr. Brodhead's delivery does not invite interruption. There were two murmurs of laughter. And no applause, even when he coupled his strongest words with an often repeated pledge:

"...we must ensure that this time of economic downturn—a time when the needs of many families has increased—will see no downturn in educational opportunity at Duke. As we tighten our belts elsewhere, we are committed to meeting our undergraduates’ full need for financial aid."

Faculty members also sat silent as Dr. Brodhead told of a visit to University of California colleagues who were furloughed. Tacitly he pledged no layoffs at Duke, in fact talking expansion:

"Hiring new colleagues brings the university fresh energy and new thinking that stimulates us all. If new faculty were not to be hired for some period, the university would miss whole cohorts of talent and lose an ongoing invigoration."

He did not mesh this at all with the concept of sustainability -- and the inexorable growth of the regular faculty to 3,031 now, from 2,877 a year ago, and 2,477 when he arrived from Yale five and a half years ago.

Fact Checker has observed before: Dr. Brodhead's years at Yale color his view of the Duke financial crisis. He got his first faculty job during a hiring freeze and he recounted anew several Yale crimps in the decades after that. Most important: he seems to view the current situation at Duke -- which our Trustee chair has called "dire financial strait" -- as just another bounce, with some good years, some bad years, but all of it routine. He seems to deny the historical nature of the current economic crisis.

Loyal readers, remember that Duke has been accumulating its wealth for generations, though all the Trinity College years and since 1924 as a university. In the last academic year, fully 30 percent of our net worth went poof.

Dr. Brodhead closed by saying Duke has always forged ahead in hard times. He told of Union Institute's being founded the year after a financial crash, of the move to Durham after another, and the Great Depression arriving soon after James B. Duke forked over the big bucks.

I do not read the history of our school the same way. For example after 1924, construction was stalled, we had to postpone creating the Medical School, there was hardly enough money for the Chapel and two Trustees had to dig into their own pockets to fulfill the desire for a carillon. The Allen Building was not put in place to complete the main quadrangle until the 1950's. The giant fountain that Mr. Duke -- a running water freak -- envisioned for the West traffic circle never was built. Neither was the lesser display in front of the Chapel itself. And the lack of money meant we did nothing with the ravine along side the Admissions Office (once the President's home), planned for a lake, which ultimately and fortunately allowed for the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

Despite Dr Brodhead's view, Duke was a school deeply affected by the financial times. Its vast dreams could not be fulfilled, its spending had to be tamed, its growth delayed. All something President Brodhead seems unable to adjust to.

Over his left shoulder, the new Power Point slide showed Doris Duke laying the cornerstone as he explained "One of its most striking lessons is that Duke did not better itself in good times alone."

Maybe Dr. Brodhead does not know that moments after the picture, a huge thunderclap scattered the crowd, followed by a downpour. And he neglected that when construction workers dried off and tried to put the cornerstone into the Union, it did not fit.

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