Brodhead ridicules senior faculty member who questioned academic freedom in Kunshan

Search words: Duke University Duke Fact Checker Richard Brodhead Duke.Fact.Checker

✔✔✔✔✔ What follows is a revealing look at how people who dare to speak up and to question, who dare to express their own honest opinions, are treated.

President Brodhead takes off Friday evening for Europe, Asia and Africa, an unprecedented three-week summer-time spree on Duke's credit cards.

FC has reported on the extravagance as revealed by a mole in the middle of Allen Building: for airfare, for Brodhead alone, $14,315.80.

His wife -- always identified as Cynthia Brodhead and not Mrs. Brodhead, who receives $132,500 a year for her spousal position as "senior adviser for external affairs" -- has a similar airfare bill, slightly less because she is staying in Shanghai while Uncle Dick, as he calls himself, or Tricky Dick as some others call him, takes a first class day trip to Wuhan University, our second choice for silent partner (as required by Chinese law) in China.

Loyal Readers, you can also add in support personnel, like the director of the Nasher and curators, plural, who already are in London to greet the Brodheads at the Tate Museum.

FC is still working on tallying the supporting cast's cost. Plus hotels, plus limos, plus, plus, plus. Given that one of the early goals in the financial crisis was to hold down travel costs, and the Arts and Sciences has seen its budget that includes travel sliced from $500,000 to $100,000 per year for 645 faculty, this is obscene.

In case you are mathematically inclined, that works out to $155 per faculty member, which, according to the Greyhound website, is just about enough to get a professor to New York and back. But we digress.

✔✔✔✔✔ As Brodhead departs, FC has learned that an encounter that he had with a senior professor at a reception is roiling the faculty. As well it should, for it was discourteous, unprofessional and un-Presidential.

Fact Checker will not identify the professor involved for a number of sensitive reasons; obviously the professor's identity is known to the president. This faculty member has taken no public role in the debate over Kunshan.

We ascertained the following facts from several sources, and presented them to Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for PR, for the President's confirmation or denial. We also told Schoenfeld we would like Brodhead's version and his help in understanding the situation. No response.

The scene is a meeting of the Bass Society of Fellows held in the richly appointed University Club (a private enterprise with no Duke connection) atop one of Durham's premier buildings, the 17th floor of 3100 Tower Boulevard. The semi-formal evening was just starting, with chatter, cocktails and wine, when the professor who always attends meetings, and the president who does not, struck up a conversation.

The little-known society -- which meets several times a year -- derives its name from a member of the Board of Trustees with no previous connection to Duke, who was brought aboard in 2003 by former President Nan Keohane because of a family interest in higher education. More specifically, because the Basses of Fort Worth, Texas, had given significantly to Yale and Stanford, his alma maters. And with a fortune estimated (Forbes, 2010) at $5.5 billion, which started with an oil inheritance and grew in many directions, Nan figured correctly there was plenty more to spread around.

Anne Bass, the Trustee, and her husband Robert (please be careful, for Robert's brother Sid is divorced from someone also named Anne Bass, but you are more likely to read about them in the National Enquirer) have quietly given Duke millions. Unlike some donors who insist that their name be trumpeted on a building, the Basses received only brief mention in a press release for what is believed to be their biggest gift: they quietly pledged to match contributions from others who created endowed chairs in their own names. Unlike customary endowments which only involve full professorships, these allowed for endowment at the assistant professor and associate professor levels as well. At a million or two or three per clip, this gets expensive. We believe 37 endowed chairs were created by this program.

The Fellows -- as the men and women holding these chairs are known -- are "selected for their extreme dedication to teaching undergraduates and for their success in motivating students to excel." They are also picked for offering "students exposure to cutting edge research" and for their fresh approaches and classroom innovation.

✔✔ At the gala Bass Society evening marking the end of the academic year, the professor who fell into conversation with our President chose to raise with Brodhead the issue of academic freedom on the Kunshan campus. As Loyal Readers know, this issue received no attention as the Fuqua Business School faculty dissected and decimated the finances of proposals for two degrees in Kunshan -- but it is sure to loom large if any proposal ever gets to the next step, to the elected faculty senate, the Academic Council.

The professor noted that in his teaching, he routinely assigns reading and internet queries on subjects the Chinese regime gets quite upset about. The Dalai Lama for example.

This development of a conversation over cocktails seems quite legitimate to Fact Checker, for our president's strongest assurance to date on academic freedom has been that he is "fairly certain" there will be full internet access from the campus; as FC has pointed out, there will be no academic freedom guarantees for anyone beyond the walls of the university.

All this means that the Chinese students who will populate Kunshan, if it ever gets going, may be able to Google for the Tibetan religious leader while behind the seven foot high steel walls of Duke Kunshan University, but certainly not at home on a break from school.

Brodhead said he doubted anyone would get into trouble, but the professor -- with wide experience and travel in Asia, with an understanding of a paranoid dictatorship -- persisted, saying there remained a chance someone could wind up in a Chinese prison. Including the professor!

✔✔✔✔✔ With that, Brodhead labelled the professor a "worrier," and in a nasty rejoinder that our president used to end the conversation, Brodhead snapped that if he ever needed a "worrier" on a committee, he would know whom to appoint.

The professor, who speaks quite eloquently and is not prone to earthy, street words, has described himself as "pretty pissed."

We believe the professor correctly evaluates the threat to academic freedom as more than a worry. And he correctly assesses Brodhead, whom he says has an overly optimistic view based upon "blissful ignorance."

Bon Voyage, Mr. President. Fact Checker will have a Special Report on academic freedom on the proposed Kunshan campus on Monday. Have a good trip.

1 comment:

  1. it seems to me that dicky B needs more worriers and fewer yes men on his committees.....this university would be in better shape


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