Chronicle columnist calls on Trustees to fire Brodhead

✔✔✔✔✔ As the faculty of Arts and Sciences considers a petition for a special investigation into Brodhead's signature initiative -- Kunshan -- a Chronicle columnist has called upon the Trustees to fire him.

FC gives you the text, for your convenience.

By Antonio Segelini.

In an email to alumni a year ago, President Richard Brodhead proclaimed that, despite budget cuts that came as a result of the recession, “care was taken to preserve our core commitment to financial aid, to sustain the quality of the student experience and to continue the hiring of outstanding faculty.” In the year since that message, Duke has seen its economic situation improve substantially, leading to the University resuming “merit-based pay increases this year,” according to a March 28 email sent to employees. Sizeable deductions and reviving financial markets “put the University’s budget back on a sustainable footing.”

Yet, recent events have shown that Brodhead himself has led Duke away from its “core commitment” to this campus. A year after celebrating the groundbreaking for Duke Kunshan University, an event he equated to the vision and creation of the Sanford School of Public Policy, Brodhead has seen the project in China suffer multiple setbacks. Professor of German and Eads Family Professor of English Thomas Pfau spoke up about the issue in a letter to the editor April 8, claiming that Duke administrators had once again circumvented faculty counsel. Pfau argues that “much of the growing resistance to the Kunshan adventure... stems from the faculty’s pervasive alienation from, and distrust of, a University administration that consistently fails to consult its faculty’s collective expertise.”

An entire week has passed, and no faculty member has openly refuted his statement.

Brodhead’s lack of communication is not just a product of this initiative. It has become the standard for his presidency at Duke. On April 4, Judge James Beaty allowed a claim by 38 members of the 2006 men’s lacrosse team against President Brodhead and members of the administration to proceed. As The Chronicle reported, the claim states that Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek, “who holds a law degree, told them not to hire a lawyer or discuss the case with their families,” creating a “‘relationship of trust’” with the players by promising confidentiality and then sharing the information about the incident with Durham police.

This incident was followed by Justin Robinette, former chair of the Duke College Republicans, filing three new complaints “alleging that Duke failed to adequately prevent harassment and discrimination.” Robinette had already filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, claiming that Duke discriminated based on sex and race.

In these three instances, Duke’s community needed answers. Students have the right to be updated, which can be done without jeopardizing current litigation.

In a year during which multiple things have gone wrong, from Tailgate reaching a new level of debauchery to Karen Owen’s PowerPoint, Duke’s campus needs stability and a strong hand to guide it. President Brodhead has disciplined relatively well, responding to students’ wrongdoing by sending an email to us, saying if “features of student culture... strike you as less than ideal, I urge you to face up to them, speak openly about them, and have the courage to visualize a change.” However, when the administration is being unclear or there is uncertainty among students, the strong hand seems to weaken.

Brodhead’s inability to start a discussion about a controversial topic was evident in his January email to “Duke alumni, parents, and friends” (seriously, Brodhead? My dad had to forward it to me), in which he talked about the surging financial status of the University, increases in applications for the Class of 2015, all of the personal awards Duke students have won this year, Winter Forum and the passing of Professor Reynolds Price.

Although we need to celebrate student and University accomplishments, not once in these communications did Brodhead mention that Duke is building another campus in China. He also neglected to say that administrators estimate $37 million over the next six years will be spent on this campus’s initial operating costs. Passing on this information would seem crucial, given that the lease is only for 10 years (can they kick us out if it’s going well?), and administrators can’t guarantee Web freedom for the campus.

In asking for Richard Brodhead’s resignation, I consider what he does say to be so much more important than everything he leaves out. He shouldn’t portray University problems, like the potential for limited Internet access at DKU, as opportunities that will “help our students to learn.” Nor should he be only “fairly certain” that the DKU campus will have unrestricted Internet. The president of a university should never be “fairly certain” about anything that big.

Hopefully it won’t take Brodhead 171 days to apologize and admit his mistakes this time. And maybe he will be kind enough to submit his letter of resignation as well. Duke needs a leader, not simply someone who exhibits all the bad qualities of one.

Antonio Segalini is a Trinity sophomore. This is his final column of the semester.

✔✔✔✔✔ Fact Checker here.

Thank you Antonio, for opening discussion on this most vital of topics. Your column is incisive, insightful and courageous. And unfortunately right.

Rather than reviewing the past seven tortured years, FC would like start by looking forward.

Duke is overdue for a major fund drive, the likely dimensions of which stagger the imagination. 36 other universities are seeking $1 billion or more right now, and two of the schools we consider our peers, Stanford and Columbia, are both seeking $4 billion or more.

Such a drive must have continuity of leadership; Dick Brodhead was 64 on Sunday.

If we add a year or two for the "quiet phase" of a drive, then at least five years for active fund-raising (and probably more since that will allow us to make our goal look bigger) we find a man in his 70's engaged in one of the most rigorous tasks of his life right at the end of his working years.

I am not so certain that he -- having mused about returning to teaching -- wants that.

Remember, please, that Nan Keohane was only 61 when she announced her retirement and return to scholarship.

For the reason of his age (his birthday was Sunday) and the need for continuity, without further review of his tortured presidency, Fact Checker joins in calling upon the Trustees to begin a search for a new President.