3/3/2010 Brodhead: the evaluation continues

✔Fact Checker here. This is a very good editorial, very nicely presented.

I would add to your list of duties of the President: the responsibility of becoming highly visible beyond the borders of the campus, in order to exert a leadership role in the educational world and society.

In some respects, Brodhead does this more than he is generally given credit for, particularly through his quiet service on the board of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, quite possibly one of the most influential and distinguished positions that a university president can achieve.

He also wins plaudits for what he has not done -- not becoming a paid director at a profit making corporation. I think his predecessor, Nan Koehane, was sometimes distracted by her membership on the board and executive committee of IBM.

And witness the current turmoil at Brown University, that has just resulted in its president giving up her directorship at the Wall Street vulture Goldman Sachs. That was a part time gig that paid her a nifty $350,000 last year, not to mention a nest egg approaching $4 million for ten years of service. And it was just one of three major directorships. But I digress.

Brodhead has wonderful priorities. He has stated that while our nation has gone far in knocking down barriers, at least the legal barriers, based on race and sex, there is danger from a growing barrier based upon socio-economic status and the happenstance of one's birth. Thus his firm commitment to need-blind admissions even in this era of tight budgets.

In the medical area, frequently hidden from undergraduates, he has helped spawn Duke's role in addressing health care inequities throughout the world. As he has championed efforts to bring Duke research forward through a translational process to serve society.

What he has not done, alas, is to capitalize on these priorities, and to build his profile to truly stand out from -- and stand above -- 25 or 30 or 50 other university presidents. Keohane, perhaps because she was one of the first female presidents of a major research university, did this very well.

No one should be surprised that this profile is expected. Every day Dukies pass a bronze tablet on the main quad. Some of it gibberish, and some of it with great meaning today, words from James B. Duke:

"I request that this institution secure for its officers, trustees, and faculty men of such outstanding character, ability, and vision as will insure its attaining and maintaining a place of real leadership in the educational world..."

There is one element of the editorial that I disagree with. It's where the editors write "Students, faculty, staff and alumni do not need to know all of the financial details, but they must be reassured that the administration is up to the challenge."

The best reassurance is in the details. It is access to the nitty gritty that allows for broad conclusions. There is no reason other than a mindset of secrecy that prevents far far more information about Duke's governance from being posted on the internet.

✔The other day Fact Checker was privileged to be the guest of an alumnus of Duke who is about to enter the Half Century Club -- meaning graduation 50 years ago in case that is not apparent. Dinner at WaDuke, boy oh boy that place surely is expensive and I am glad that the alum not only paid, but figured out a way to get a 50 percent discount (hint: executive membership).

The point under discussion at dinner: during this alum's years as a Dukie, the school has had eight presidents. (This includes as one the three co-presidents who were installed after Douglas Knight was ushered out of town.)

Moreover, its current administration boasts only two top officers who have been in place more than five years. And only one alum in the top ranks.

Yes, current Trustees and administrators hold the keys at the moment. But Duke does not belong to them. It belongs to all of us who have a greater continuity, thus the word "stakeholders."

And all of us hold a great institutional responsibility that the administration cannot deny -- to stay informed, to keep this place on track, to insure its greatness in perpetuity.

✔For those of you who like your Fact Checker in depth, continue reading. Everybody else is dismissed for the day.

Today's editorial is the first since President Brodhead appeared before the employees in the format of the PrimeTime program, and the editors properly conclude that it introduced us to a new phase of the Brodhead presidency, for he had not communicated substantially on the money crisis since an e-mail on March 1, 2009.

Under the ground rules, this editorial marks the first opportunity readers have had to post on both Mr. Brodhead's annual address to the faculty and to employees. Fact Checker capitalizes on the moment!!

✔For more than a year, as Duke grappled with what our Trustee chair called "this dire strait," we focused on only one side of the budget: what we spend.

In his two appearances, President Brodhead was able to report we have implemented and identified as much as $60 million in cuts.

But the big news was that the target is no longer $125 million, it's $100 million. The difference -- as best as Fact Checker can determine -- comes from greater income than anticipated.

Brodhead needs to explain this.

With only sketchy information available, the increased revenue seems to be coming from four sources -- each with a great big caveat.

✔1 ) More masters programs. We make no bones about it: they are profitable and we want to milk them.

We are loading up on masters students because unlike undergraduates and Ph.D candidates, they are expected to pay full freight. Warning: people who can pay full freight come from one socio-economic class.

And we are creating these masters programs on the cheap: Dr. Brodhead cited with pride faculty members in Fuqua who are taking on extra burden to teach and mentor the masters students. Earlier, the Dean of Fuqua had been quoted as saying each professor holding a chair had agreed to teach one extra course.

Let's not kid ourselves. The extra workload the faculty is assuming is temporary. And some of the masters programs are so shaky that the Academic Council has appointed a special committee to monitor them to insure that they merit a Duke degree. I hope the committee also monitors diversity in admissions to these programs.

Take the profits now and run.

✔2) The second element of increasing income for Duke is the tuition hike. I thank the Loyal Readers who have written me in the past few days, since the headlines told of Duke's cost going above $50,000 next year.

Fellow Dukies, we went over that psychological meridian three years ago!!! Watch future Fact Checker reports.

Nationwide administrators at many private schools are trying to justify the failure to curtail the tuition explosion by saying only wealthy students pay full freight, so it doesn't matter how high tuition goes.

This is irresponsibility at its height.

Tuition at the most selective universities drives the charge at other schools as well, right on down to community colleges. And higher and higher tuition encourages cherry-picking among candidates for admissions. .

✔3) Take more money out of the endowment. Dr. Trask said Trustees were considering abandoning the formula that controls how much we consume each year and how much we leave to future generations. This would yield more for the annual budget now -- a rather shortsighted solution.

Hopefully, one day we will learn what the Trustees did!!!

I guess this is one of the details that the Chronicle thinks everyone does not have to know!!! Trust me, any further tampering with the endowment payout formula (we had a clandestine assault a year ago on endowment funds reserved for student financial aid, taking out 28 percent more than we would have if we had left the formula intact) will lead to disaster.

✔4) President Obama's stimulus plan has pumped more than $160 million into Duke this year and next. Surprising no one, the academic world is starting to stir with desire to keep the trough filled even after the stimulus program ends.

There is no doubt that much of the research is valuable. Stronger word invaluable. That's not the issue: our federal government is borrowing 40 cents every time it spends $1, almost enough to dig a Black Hole and provide for a new Big Bang.

How is all this reflected in future Duke budgets? What are we counting on?

Fact Checker solution embracing all of the above: Dr. Brodhead should post full details -- line by line -- of his budgets.

OK loyal readers, all of us together, let's take the pledge to reassure our administration we are True Blue: "I promise not to reveal to the Taliban any numbers from Duke's budget."

At the start of the fiscal crisis, Duke created a special website to keep us informed: www.Duke.edu/economy. This was an excellent idea -- truly reflecting administrators responsibilities to keep us informed.

It is now pathetically out of date. For example the first link I clicked brought me to the 2007-08 financial report. The 2008-09 report (our fiscal year starts on July 1) has been available for almost six months.

I had hopes this website would also give us a running total of the savings we have achieved, but alas, nyet.

And to be honest, I am very uncomfortable with some of Dr. Trask's numbers, for example savings that he touts from early retirements. Has he factored in higher pension payments over the span of more years for people who accepted incentives?

While these boosted pension checks do not impact upon the annual budget, they sure do eat at other Duke money, our pension reserves. We cannot just look at one pocket which is saving money, when another pocket is being bled.

Why do I want to know these specifics and do my own calculations? Ronald Reagan answered that question when dealing with the Soviets, quoting an old Russian proverb: "Trust, yet verify."

And one other point: I want to double check to see if we are all singing from the same hymnbook. On March 1, 2009 in his Email to all stakeholders, President Brodhead talked of a "smaller Duke" explaining we would experience three years of cuts so that by the 2011-2012 school year, the budget would be $125 million less than it was in 2008-2009. In other words, down from $1.85 billion -- excluding Duke Health which has its own revenue stream from patients. Is this still his thinking? I have heard too much fuzzy talk.

✔Yes President Brodhead had exceptional appearances before both the faculty and employees. But two weeks do not make a season, much less a career.

Hopefully he will adopt transparency and accountability as two of his deep values.

Fact Checker's menu:

-- post the Trustee agenda along with a reasonable description of what is going on.

-- post the results of any Trustee vote, with the issue fully described and each Trustee's ballot listed individually.

-- post the full minutes. Honest, I do not represent the Taliban. I am not going to subvert you.

-- provide for open meetings -- if not of the full board then of committees. Notice I did not say that anyone who shows up should be able to speak. Just listen. It's been said that Trustees feel if their remarks are privileged, they can be more open; my response is that if current Trustees do not want to stand and be counted, that we find people with backbones.

✔ As for student contact, as the Chronicle suggested, Brodhead need look no further than Coach Cut. No matter how pressed during the season, this great man goes into the Union weekly and discusses XX and OO with anyone who wants to attend. Dr. Brodhead should emulate, so that his appearances on campus -- like the faculty meeting and session with employees -- are not unusual, not great big events but just part of an ongoing process.

✔✔Thank you for reading and supporting Fact Checker.

✔ More Fact Checker.

I want to return to the paragraph in the editorial that I said I disagree with: "Students, faculty, staff and alumni do not need to know all of the financial details, but they must be reassured that the administration is up to the challenge."

Chronicle, can you give us some examples of "financial details" that we do not need to know?

Student pharmacy? This seems to be rather small in the grand sweep of things. But the Chronicle itself had a couple articles about its closure, explaining how the newspaper was unable to get its questions answered, an element that should appear in every story when questions go unanswered. So I would assume the amount of money saved by closing student pharmacy is not a detail that administrators are entitled to withhold, since you asked about it?

The paper has had stories about the salary of various officials, including the President and basketball coach. I would assume this is not a detail we are not entitled to know? What difference does it make what Brodhead or K make?

I know that the paper is currently trying to find out about the third retirement incentive plan, and has not been able to. I would assume your enterprise is not in pursuit of details we are not entitled to know? How much was deposited into the retirement account of the professor who walked off with the biggest incentive package.

Yes I believe the administration owes us ALL the numbers. How much was saved by the student pharmacy closure. How much was larded into professors' retirement accounts to get them to leave. Not naming individuals, but precise information about amounts given, including the max amount.

Is the following a detail that we are not entitled to know? The IRS requires a tax exempt institution like Duke to state how many of its employees earn more than $50,000. A Deputy Fact Checker has tried to find out the demographic breakdown of that number -- how many males, how many females. How many whites, how many blacks, how many Asians and so forth. The administration won't budge. Is this a number we are not entitled to know? (The IRS requirements are changing. Fact Checker will win!)

Are the editors of this newspaper satisfied to learn from Fact Checker rather than the administration, how the formula to distribute endowment money for student aid was tampered with so that last year we withdraw 28 percent more money than the formula allowed? Is this an arcane detail that we need not know about? I will tell you what this is: this is greed. It is the inability of our administrators to live within today's means, at the expense of future generations who are rightfully entitled to the money we spent.

I would like to see your list, Chronicle. And then I hope you will realize how wrong you are about any stakeholder's not being able to obtain FULL information.

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