Professor Pfau writes amazing Letter to the Editor of the Chronicle

Following is the text as published Friday.

It ought to be pointed out that the proper procedure would have been to present a coherent and responsibly detailed vision for Kunshan to the faculty before committing to this venture.

Once again, however, the Duke administration has chosen to bypass faculty counsel on another major issue of strategic planning, preferring instead to present the Kunshan adventure as a “fait (presque) accomplit.”

Even more disturbing is that this particular initiative highlights the administration’s growing confusion as to Duke University’s identity. We are (and hopefully will remain) a dynamic and complex research institution in Durham. What we are not (and should not pretend to be) is some multinational corporation peddling an increasingly amorphous and empty commodity marketed as the “Duke Experience.”

Had The Chronicle’s independent Editorial Board done due diligence, they would have inquired about the collateral effects of the Kunshan adventure on our finances here at Duke, which, contrary to the starry-eyed projections of our administration, remain a zero-sum game.

For some time now, the administration has been financially squeezing and intellectually starving its academic core units (aka departments), and it continues to do so even now, ostensibly because of a sizeable budget deficit in Arts and Sciences.

This worrisome development has manifestly reinforced the University leadership’s strategy (well known to observant faculty) to shift attention and support to new centers, programs and a flurry of often uncoordinated and ephemeral initiatives—of which Kunshan is only a recent and conspicuous instance. Much of the growing resistance to the Kunshan adventure (correctly noted in the editorial) stems from the faculty’s pervasive alienation from, and distrust of, a University administration that consistently fails to consult its faculty’s collective expertise and wisdom before the fact.

No doubt, it is assumed that the Academic Council and other relevant bodies will eventually rubber-stamp a project in Kunshan that, when the question is posed, will have advanced beyond recall, even as its intellectual merits, financial rationale and institutional necessity were never convincingly articulated.

A less high-handed and more timely, consultative approach would have allowed everyone to consider and evaluate the Kunshan adventure’s comparative merits vis-a-vis various other, far less cost-intensive (albeit less headline-grabbing) proposals, such as a formal and focused comprehensive faculty exchange initiative.

Thomas Pfau

Professor of German and Eads Family Professor of English