3/1/2010 Surprise: Trustees up tuition

Fact Checker headlines:

✔Cost of Duke leaps over $50,000 a year.

✔Trustees hit undergraduates, grad students with increases far beyond inflation

✔No word on 2nd year of employee pay freeze. No new word on layoffs.

✔Official press release marginalizes Brodhead, offers extensive quotes from Nowicki and Moneta.

✔Magic in Allen Building. Trustee chair said "dire financial strait" five months ago. Now "The University is in a sound position financially.."

Fellow Dukies, boy oh boy, do you need the Fact Checker analysis today!

For undergraduates, the cost of a year at Duke has crossed the $50,000 line!!!!

Not only that, but we are a leap ahead of some schools that we like to talk about in the same breath as Duke. Example: Yale.

President Brodhead, call your old buddy Levin up there in New Haven and boast that you won!!! A graph in the February 24th Yale Daily News shows Yalies will pay only $49,800 next year; by resolution of our Trustees this weekend, Dukies will get soaked for $51,865.

The Yale cocktail all around: dry vermouth, gin, blue curaçao and bitters.

Not so long ago, when the Chronicle's news pages, editorials and particularly its columns focused on campus news, a substantial tuition hike would have meant a bulletin: large type with a red background updating the web page plus an e-mail blast to everyone who had signed up. But alas, today's dudes are too busy filling the paper with Washington Post by-lines, comics, crosswords and gee-whiz travel stories from ecstatic DukeEngage participants to give us the news until Monday; even then the editors' judgment features a dorm that will house 150 students in the future above a tuition and fees hike that slams into 13,000 students immediately.

K-Ville goes up every winter, so does tuition!

The first word came mid-morning on Saturday, when the PR office posted a carefully crafted, pre-written news release as the Trustee quarterly meeting continued. The official announcement did not even have the decency to include the hike in the first paragraph, which was reserved for the Brodhead administration's congratulating itself over Trustee approval of its pet project, a new dorm.

The headline: "New Residence Hall To Serve as Housing Model" was hardly news, since Dean "Call me Steve" Nowicki has been explaining this for a year. The lead paragraph said the dorm had just gotten final approval, as if there were some chance the Board of Lemmings would turn it down!

Alas we are insured the outside of the dorm will look like the others in Keohane Quad. Huh? Was there any other option before the Trustees? Show is the pictures?

In following paragraphs of the news release, as the subject moved on to the cost of attending Duke, the official news release did not even have the decency to nod to students and their families struggling to make ends meet, offering no cogent explanation whatsoever for big increases in tuition and other costs. Yes Brodhead and Chair Blue mouthed a few words on this to the Chronicle, general words without specific clue on where the new money will go.

Just eight days after the federal government reported inflation at 2.6 percent in the last year (source: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm), our Trustees zonked undergraduates with a 3.9 percent increase. That's compounded atop increase after increase, year after year above the inflation rate.

Moreover, anyone reading down to the 12th paragraph in the news release finds out that tuition is going up more than 3.9 percent, that is, fully 4 percent for undergraduates, with slightly lower hikes for room and general and fees (but a surprising bump for board) averaging it all out to 3.9 percent.

I would surmise from the Chronicle article that the increase allocated to food is just going to vanish in air, and that the $2.2 million deficit that Duke Dining is running will remain intact. Notice to those who feast in the Marketplace and other captive university-run eateries: federal cost of living statistics showed the cost of food going down in the last year. If anyone noticed that on East or West, contact a Deputy Fact Checker forthwith.

By the way, the federal inflation statistics show the cost of medical care -- both commodities and services -- went up 3.5 percent. Maybe universities should face Congressional hearings too, sharing some of the spotlight with health care costs.

Congratulations Trustees!!!! Congratulations Team Brodhead!! $49,895 this year. $51,865 next year. If anyone is really spending that little to attend Duke, please contact a Deputy Fact Checker forthwith. For perfectionists, $49,895 is from last year's press release announcing tuition hikes for the 2009-10 academic year; Duke has also issued other figures about the total cost in the current year.

You have to wonder if all the Trustees consented to this, or if some voted no. Presumably we can find out on February 27, 2060, after the 50 year secrecy rule expires and with permission of the Archivist, future Fact Checkers can scour official papers.

Exactly a decade ago, on February 28, 2000, the Chronicle reported tuition, fees, room and board for the coming academic year would be $33,017 in Trinity College. While on-line inflation calculators yield slightly different results, the one favored by your Fact Checker shows that if Duke had increased its costs at the inflation rate -- rather than gouging -- the new cost would not be $51,865 but rather approximately $41,500. What an outrage!!!!

Duke's carefully crafted news release did not mention -- as previous releases in other years consistently did -- how much additional money the Trustees would earmark for financial aid. There was vague talk about a need-blind commitment, properly noting this time that our "guarantee" includes loans and student work as well as a family contribution.

The Chronicle says "financial aid will not be increased this year" -- which I guess refers to the structure of an individual's package? or the total amount for all Dukies? Aren't little details like that important to people on this campus?

The paper goes on to quote Trustee chair Blue saying 30 to 40 percent of new money from the increase in tuition will go to financial aid. Why couldn't he simply say, "we are increasing tuition. I want everyone receiving financial aid to know their grants will increase; they will not have to take out bigger loans or work more. Families will not have to scrape to come up with more money." Right, Fact Checker, what you smoking this morning?

And of course the official news release paid homage to the Financial Aid Initiative, accompanied by the adjective "successful" which is mandatory anytime any flack writes about the Initiative. There was no discussion of the fact that while $308.9 million was achieved, some of the pledges were never forked over (there is a surprising default rate, even before the Wall Street meltdown) and fully 24.5 percent of what we did collect was immediately lost by Duke Management Company.

And no mention of the fact that the loss puts Initiative money "under water," that is, the current value is less than originally contributed. Thus, under policy and law, we cannot spend earnings on Initiative money until the investments once again return to the same value they held on the day Duke received them.

Fact Check, source Quick Facts Duke University http://news.duke.edu/resources/quickfacts.html. Counting the educational division and Duke Health (most budget statistics we see exclude Duke Health) the general administration of Duke is eating up 16 percent of our budget. Scholarships, fellowships and grants 1 percent. Official Duke figures, not mine.

A Fact Checker apology to graduate and professional students, for leaving you out until now. Unlike the undergraduate totals above, these numbers are only for tuition:

Pratt graduate students - up 5.9 percent to $38,440.

School of Nursing - up 5.8 percent to $42,660

Law students - up 5.5 percent to $46,926

Fuqua daytime MBA - up 4.6 percent to $47,960

School of Medicine - up 4 percent to $44,482

Divinity - up 3.5 percent to $17,750

Graduate School Ph.D. - up 4 percent to $39,150

Sanford (graduate) up 4 percent to $35,360

Nicholas School of Environment (graduate level) up 2.8 percent $29,000

I just re-read the press release. There is not one word in the news release indicating any Lemming even spoke up at the board meeting about this outrage. Not one word expressing solidarity with students and their families facing this upward spiral of costs, though in interviews afterward, we got some pap.

Not one word saying that Duke is going to take the lead and control its galloping tuition, and set a new national role model.

Fact Checker, what planet do you live on to even suggest that historic move? Actually it was thoughtfully proposed by another person who posted on the Chronicle website.

Saturday's news release continues a pattern that Fact Checker has previously noted: President Brodhead is marginalized. He appears in just one paragraph deep in the release, with 17 words of direct quote in one paragraph that is 21 words long. Compare please with Dean Steve, 114 words of direct quote in four paragraphs, and Vice President Moneta, 100 words of direct quote in three paragraphs.

Please note: not just in this one press release. Marginalized repeatedly.

Steve and El-Mo discussed the new dorm. I become a chucklehead every time I think of this: a dorm designed so that people interact with each other; you know, bump into each other while being channeled thru limited doorways so their intellectual juices spurt. This is a dorm planned by people who park their cars in spaces on the main quad that were formerly grass, so they never bump into students as they duck 20 feet into Allen Building, where their offices branch out along a corridor closed to students. Lunch time? Do they eat in the Great Hall with all those sophomores, where you might bump into someone and start conversation/ No no, try upstairs in the Faculty Commons, students allowed to choose to eat there only after professors have left campus for the night. Such hypocrites.

There is no mention of how the dorm will be paid for. Presumably no donor is in sight, so I suggest calling it Rich Dorm. No no, not after the infamous alumnus K. Thaddeus Rich '17, Sigma Chi. Since a great portion of the rooms will be high priced singles or suites, all with air conditioning surcharge, K4 dorm has the potential to become the least diverse place on campus! Thus Rich Dorm.

You watch.

Presumably the Trustees okayed borrowing to construct this, $133,333 per bed at the latest estimate. As Fact Checker has noted, this does not include the price of land which we already own; it would be vastly cheaper to build $500,000 houses for four students all over Durham, thereby meshing us with our beloved community.

The press release does not mention Trustee chair Dan Blue at all. And the Chronicle slips this into today's story: "The University is in a sound position financially." Did the reporter say, "Excuse me Sir, but just five months ago in early October you said we were in "dire financial strait."

This would be one of the biggest turnarounds in financial history. Chronicle, did it ever occur to you that it is your job to recall what the man said five months ago and try to pin him down?

It's not unusual when there is bad news like a tuition hike for the big man in any organization to duck from the official news release. Ask Rick Wagoner, Trustee vice chair and heir apparent, erstwhile chair of General Motors, how many times he personally announced the unraveling of that enterprise under his leadership before he was fired, and how many times he let subordinates twist in the foul wind.

While the press release does say that the Trustees discussed much of long-term impact, it lacks all meat:

-- did the Board take up changing the endowment payout? A January 25th Chronicle news story sourced to Executive VP Trask mentioned this deep down, the editors missing its tremendous significance for the future of Duke. If approved, this folly would give us more to spend today, at the expense of future generations of Dukies. It means we would be consuming more than our fair share of the endowment, cheating our successors, rather than living within our current means.

Is this one reason the budget gap narrowed from $125 million to $100 million? This gimmick?? This place needs leadership and resolve to live within its current means, not gimmicks.

-- will the free on employee wages continue into a second year, or is there some money left after paying for fringe benefits? No word. Did the Trustees consider cutting the lavish benefits?

Loyal readers, last year Brodhead was able to send out an e-mail on March 1st announcing the freeze; this would indicate to me that all the budget numbers are lined up for the next academic year starting July 1, and an announcement should have been made for anxious employees and their families.

-- there was also no comfort for employees worried about layoffs. No word in the official release, regurgitation in the Chronicle. And for sure no word at all extending Trustee feelings to the people who have been canned so far. Has anyone ever heard one peep from the Board of Trustees directed to these poor people?

The latest revelation of the ax falling came late last week from the Dean of Fuqua, who sat down for one of the public conversations conducted by the Dean of the Chapel. Fuqua has had layoffs in one of its divisions, dealing with continuing education programs for executives. Hithertofore unknown fact. Never revealed before.

-- there was no indication the Trustees ever took up anything on the student agenda. Did they even discuss the overall dining situation, coupling the deficit with the higher fee they announced? Did they praise the so called student involvement in planning the new dorm -- assuming there was some -- and thank the participants? No mention of Durham on Duke crime.

-- and despite our big push into China -- and its being central to the future of Duke as Team Brodhead sees it -- there is only word that "international strategy" was discussed. What the hell does that mean?

How about Inchon? Careful readers of Fact Checker will recall the news that this South Korean city may be dangling money in front of us, and we may bite. The strategy, it seems, is opportunistic. Show us the money, we are en route!

-- there was also no word on the two new Trustees "elected" at the last meeting in December to fill partial terms. It beats me why we cannot find out after an election who "winners" are, so I assume we will have to wait for next fall's meeting (the first after the fiscal year starts) and watch for new faces going in. Fact Checker bet: corporate bond king Bill Gross.

So the Trustees have had their winter meeting, sequestered behind closed doors, eating in the WaDuke and avoiding the Marketplace, taking pride in a new dorm proclaimed to be a leader in protecting the environment and making Duke green. Afterward the clump of private jets idling at RDU airport took off for the four corners of the nation, spewing carbon the entire way, a trail of unnecessary pollution contradicting the vote just taken.

Trustees will return for Commencement, once again in the service of Dear Old Duke.

✔✔✔✔✔ Thank you for reading and supporting Fact Checker. The lemmings deserve this rant.

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