Brodhead comes out swinging at faculty critic

Updated at 5 PM Monday

✔✔✔✔✔ President Brodhead -- just back from several days in China and confronted by an unprecedented torrent of criticism of his handling of the Kunshan Initiative, including a call from a Chronicle columnist for the Trustees to fire him -- has sent a lengthy e-mail to the faculty member who has taken the lead in raising questions.

The e-mail is notable for its detail and is in sharp contrast to the kiss-off that Professor of German and Eads Family Professor of English Thomas Pfau received after furnishing Brodhead with a copy of his recent letter to the editor of the Chronicle.

Brodhead claims there has been significant consultation with faculty. He minimizes the financial risk, and insists that the subsidies Duke must make to the Kunshan project will not come out of the Arts and Sciences budget.

✔✔✔✔✔ (In a related development, senior faculty who have been formulating a petition asking the Academic Council to launch a full, formal investigation of Kunshan, seem to be ready to abandon that effort. (( CLARIFICATION: my use of the word abandon is being misunderstood. They are thinking about turning from their original effort to another, but still realize the necessity of a thorough investigation. )) They realize this is beyond the capacity of the Academic Council; there is a proposal being discussed to ask the administration for a budget and staff, and to form a committee with faculty who would be relieved of teaching duties temporarily. FC will have more on this later.)

In the e-mail to Professor Pfau, Brodhead says the subsidies for Kunshan will come from money in Fuqua's budget and the Strategic Priorities fund. He does not get into whether the A and S budget could be larger if so much were not devoted to (and hidden in) Fuqua and Strategic Priorities.

There are several other developments. FC will have more later. The text of Brodhead's letter follows.

From: Richard Brodhead, Ph.D.
To: Thomas Pfau, Ph.D.

Dear Thomas,

Duke’s Kunshan project represents a major step for Duke and deserves the fullest consideration. Having been a faculty member all my life, I understand the important role of faculty in that consideration, and I also recognize that people will legitimately hold different positions. Debate on important issues is a sign of health in an academic community, and I welcome your contributions to this debate. I do, however, want to correct some misunderstandings in your recent letter, and to answer some questions you raise. You are welcome to share this communication with anyone interested.

Faculty consultation. Faculty engagement in Kunshan has been extensive, both formally and informally. Provost Lange, Vice President Jones and I have each addressed the full meeting of the Academic Council several times, beginning in December 2009 as the opportunity in Kunshan moved from speculation to reality. At the March 24 Academic Council meeting, the issue was discussed for the best part of an hour.

We have also briefed the Executive Committee of the Academic Council (ECAC) on an almost monthly basis over the past year, and have had regular contact with the Chair of the Academic Council and individual faculty members as requested. The same level of formal consultation has taken place with the University Priorities Committee and the Academic Programs Committee. Last year, with my strong support, the Academic Council created a new Global Priorities Committee to ensure faculty engagement in all our international activities.

At the programmatic level, the number and diversity of faculty who have been involved in planning for Kunshan is considerable. Fuqua, Sanford, Nicholas, Law, Medicine and the Global Health Institute are either developing or actively contemplating academic programs at the new Kunshan campus, and a number of departments within Arts and Science have expressed interest in participating at some point in the future. I encourage you to visit the new website that the Academic Council created to catalog both the planning documents for Kunshan and the extent of faculty consultation.

Financial commitments and budget implications. Launching a new program on the scale of Kunshan is a complex enterprise involving numerous issues and decisions on everything from admissions and curriculum to furniture and IT. University staff, faculty, members of the Board of Trustees, and outside advisers have been involved in the planning process. Their Planning Guide was provided to the Academic Council several weeks ago and was covered in The Chronicle and on Duke Today. The financial modeling on this project has been as extensive as any that Duke has done in recent memory and has been reviewed by faculty committees and the Board of Trustees in great detail.

To be sure, every investment that Duke makes represents a choice among possible priorities. People will differ on the best way to strike the balance between existing and innovative programs, but there is an important educational case to be made for Duke’s new involvements in China--I did my best to lay it out in my address to the faculty on February 17. On the other hand, significant care has been taken to minimize the financial commitment in Kunshan. (Please let me correct your misperception that Duke is buying the land or building the buildings: those expenses are being borne by the Municipality of Kunshan.) Further, the Duke funds to be used for Kunshan come either from existing Fuqua budget lines or Strategic Investment Plan (SIP) funds, and have not been drawn from the Arts and Sciences budget.

Access to information: I spoke to the differences in intellectual culture between the U.S. and China very frankly in my February address. I won’t repeat that detailed consideration here, but I do hope you will consult it. In sum, while Duke cannot expect the identical systems of free expression in China that we know at home, free access to information and the free expression of ideas are the foundation of our academic values. Duke will actively advocate for these values in our Kunshan project, and we will be prepared to shut down the venture should the climate become untenable.

I expect for Kunshan to remain a matter of interest for some time, and I look forward to continuing dialogue with the University community on this important subject.

Best wishes,