Spinning the rebuke, Allen Building sees a silver lining

✔✔ Good day, fellow Dukies. Fact Checker here.

Arrogant. Defiant. Dismissive.

Those words sum up the reaction of the Brodhead Administration to the Fuqua faculty's rejection of plans for two graduate degrees in Kunshan, a decisive move that was a rebuke of the leadership of President Brodhead, Peter the Provost and Fuqua's Dean Blair Sheppard.

At least Brodhead might have emerged from his lair to talk personally about an initiative which he properly identifies as the biggest since James B. Duke turned Trinity College into a university. He owes an explanation to all stakeholders to tell us how his administration came up with financial projections for a Master of Management Studies degree that were called "overly optimistic assumptions." Which is a very polite way of saying we got numbers that were just plain deceptive.

Brodhead might have said he now realizes the depth of sentiment against Kunshan, that the chair of the Academic Council was right when he confronted him in a meeting, telling Brodhead that he could not find a single "champion" for Kunshan. In a room filled with elected representatives of the faculty from all around the university, not a single hand went up, not a single word was spoken to ameliorate the verdict.

Brodhead might have said administrators must have new sensitivity to the wishes of the faculty and other stakeholders, and would now engage them as he should have three years ago.

Or he could have said he now realized the reality of the entire folly, and was calling it off.

Instead, with Brodhead sheltered, it fell to the official mouthpiece Michael Schoenfeld to spin, to welcome the Fuqua's faculty decision, claiming the rebuke "indeed will result in an even better program." Classic Schoenfeld.

And more spin, declaring "This does not affect the schedule for the opening in fall 2012."

Whoa. Whoa. What a disconnect! The Fuqua faculty said it would entertain alternative proposals this coming fall, and if any pass muster, we figure a vote would come probably in early November.

The issue would then go to the university-wide elected faculty senate, the Academic Council, which must also approve. If the administration is lucky, that would occur before the end of the semester, which is to say before the month-long Christmas break. Very lucky.

Remember please, that the Brodhead Administration has not officially shared with the Academic Council most of the documents on Kunshan that FC has liberated. The Council will probably form a committee or two of its own to do leg work, do its own research and "due diligence" just as in Fuqua.

What leads Schoenfeld to think students can then be rounded up, professors too, and profs could formulate courses, which in our humble opinion, takes a hell of a lot more work than writing buoyant press releases?

✔✔ Loyal Readers, it is critical to understand that the faculty committee on the MMS degree thought through far more than the current proposal. The committee looked ahead and forecast changes. It tested options to bring students to Durham for a term. It considered how to increase the number of regular faculty who teach, from the absurdly low level of 25 percent that Dean Blair Sheppard put forward.

And with each change of direction, a major roadblock came into view.
For example, using regular faculty rather than adjuncts -- to control and insure quality -- sends the financial projections into a new tailspin. For example, bringing students to Durham will plant the idea that they should come to Durham for the entire program, not just one term, so we will be competing with our own Durham based MMS. Not to mention that it would leave the Kunshan campus empty for the Durham term.

All of this is just masturbation trying to make some faculty feel good. Our sources tell us that talk of a revamped proposed MMS is just a sop to the few faculty who supported Kunshan, "rather than leaving the administration high and dry."

✔ As for the smaller offering of an executive MBA, the committee investigating this followed the same procedures. After finding the Chinese:

-- did not have a clear need for such a degree

-- had little interest in obtaining it within their own country

-- wanted a degree with more networking and less study

-- would not be able to pay Duke's tuition

-- and the entire applicant pool, nation-wide, was only 370 people,

the committee and faculty rejected the proposed degree.

While the MMS degree is on life support, the executive MBA in Kunshan is dead. The committee did leave the door open for an alternative in Shanghai, which opened another can of worms.

Laughable, but the faculty for this high level program would be poached from those in Kunshan to teach the MMS, go to Shanghai one day a week plus weekends, and hopefully, be able to tailor the same course they were teaching to MMS students, to the executive MBA candidates. Duke on the cheap.

Or another alternative, for Durham faculty to shuttle to China twice over a three week period.

Oh yes, to boot, being taught in English, the committee thought much of the MBA material would sail over the heads of even the brightest Chinese, and require far more class hours than planned, meaning of course soaring costs.

✔✔ On the Trustee level, we did not expect to hear from the current chair, Dan Blue, whose term expires June 30th, or his replacement, chair-elect Rick Wagoner (whom we have just written asking for a substantial interview, offering to fly to his Detroit office).

We will not let the chair of the special China committee, David Rubenstein, get away with silence however.

Certainly Rubenstein is familiar with the concept of due diligence, that is, making appropriate inquiry before making a strategic financial move. After all, he heads the Caryle Group, a profit-churning private equity company with a world wide-reputation as vultures waiting to pounce. (Personal wealth: $2.8 billion according to Forbes.)

Issue: How could Rubenstein take the same financial data as the Fuqua faculty and lead the Trustees to give the green light to Kunshan. Unanimously, according to Dean Sheppard.

Issue: How did Rubenstein miss that the entire scheme was a house of cards about to fall, and that the grandiose scene simply was not sustainable.

Issue: How did Rubenstein react when he saw the operating deficits, piling higher and higher year after year.

Issue: What did Rubenstein say when presented with the fact that Fuqua has been in the red for four years -- since before the world-wide financial meltdown -- and that applications for next fall are languishing? Or as the committee expressed it, "All this leaves the School with dwindling financial reserves. Consequently, the School has limited, or no, ability to absorb losses from (Kunshan)."

✔✔✔ The Fact Checker plan

✔Duke needs to come up with a new strategic plan -- replacing the document that has as its heart the creation of Central Campus, which we can no longer afford because of the financial meltdown three years ago. The new plan would include a clear statement on our international intentions -- not the giant stretch of fuzzy words that have been selectively presented to try to justify Kunshan.

Trust FC: our current strategic plan says nothing, nothing about creation of a new university overseas, to teach the people of that country. Nor to try to duplicate this in a dozen cities around the world. Here, read it yourself. http://stratplan.duke.edu/

Our administration should restore its focus and time commitment to Durham. Brodhead should curtail his lavish, summer-time splash through Europe, Asia and Africa. He was in China in April; returning in July is excessive. Plus, we do not know if he will go with the basketball team in August, back to China and to Dubai.

Funding for the arts and sciences must be fully restored. Foreign language programs -- all of them -- must be protected against savage federal cuts that seem to be coming. Every academic department should have a goal and a road-map to reach it: to become as good as the very best department at Duke.

✔ Brodhead owes us public comment about a new development campaign, what the reality is, why we are languishing. In particular he owes us a discussion of his age and whether he can -- or will want to -- see the entire multi-year campaign through.

✔✔ Peter the Provost -- in office longer than any provost in Duke's history -- should pack it up; this is a position designed for someone on the rise, who might become president of Duke or some other university, not someone festering.

✔✔ And Dean Sheppard of Fuqua should resign as well, having been shown to have little support in faculty. His surprising deficits and unfettered ambitions are irresponsibly out of scale.

Thank you for reading FC.

We are working on some good essays: Academic freedom? Not likely. An American journalism professor in China tells us how imprisoned he feels. Also, Duke's athletic department is sparing no expense -- and sharing no information -- for the men's basketball team's journey to Kunshan and Dubai. Check back often.


  1. It's disheartening to see Duke mired in controversy over an expansion in China when, more generally in higher ed, debates are ramping up about basic core values of academia and the value of a degree. "Academically Adrift" has raised questions about how much students are actually learning in college. Legislators are questioning funding for academic research and asking hard questions about accountability. The economic crisis has Duke and other universities slashing staff and faculty while offering the same level of quality.

    Where is Duke in all of this?

    Far from being a leader, Duke was dinged in its latest SACS accreditation for not having clear assessment programs that demonstrate that students are achieving learning goals in departments in programs. Deans and administrators aren't providing leadership on the issue beyond vague calls that it "must be done", leaving many departments and programs not taking the issue seriously and brushing off a serious issue.

    The revelations on the Ponti research mess leave more questions than answers with the university going into spin mode rather than showing strong leadership and a commitment to research integrity. Duke still skirts the issue of corporate influence on research and medical recommendations for patients. Will the Ponti scandal add more fuel to the fire of legislators calling for cuts in research and reform of how taxpayer dollars are spent in cutting edge universities? Will the resulting lawsuits erode public confidence in Duke and similar institutions on the value of the research they provide? Why isn't Duke out-front, making sure our researchers are accountable, improving the hiring and vetting process, and building confidence in university research?

    The economic crisis has shown the cracks in Duke's leadership facade. Cuts to programs seem more politically motivated than strategic and often come off as random, hitting core services that impact students in a direct way. We embrace building a new campus as plans on improving what we have in Durham flounder and languish. We have no overall vision for what Duke will be in the next few decades, just random, entrepreneurial initiatives that get some pr for a few weeks, then disappear into some university void.

    The lingering lawsuits and fallout from the Lacrosse case are the big elephant in the room with the potential to drain financial resources from the university and mire administrators in litigation for years to come. Administrators may have "moved on" from the Lacrosse case, but the damage to Duke's reputation, relationship with the local Durham community and to alumni, parents and students has created doubts about the university's leadership and motives, impacting fundraising and the institution's ability to function effectively with community partners.

    Let's not kid ourselves. Duke is adrift and in desperate need of accountability, new leadership, healing and renewal.

  2. There is a marked disconnect between leadership and the work taking place. Warnings of potential issues are constantly ignored and allowed to become large scale scandals involving negative publicity and million dollar lawsuits. It would behoove our current leadership to focus on the Durham campus needs before making resources available overseas. Global Expansion is an exciting goal, but the home campus is suffering.

  3. While I am hesitant to accept SACS data as a reliable, let alone meaningful basis for assessing how Duke or any other institution is doing, I fundamentally agree with "anonymous" about Duke being adrift. Until and unless new leadership is found, however, there is no prospect of the situation being remedied: to wit,

    1) by restoring priority to undergraduate education by strengthening the identity of individual majors and reverting the intellectually anemic and incoherent culture of learning perpetratedby Curriculum 2000.

    2) by supporting genuinely academic and intellectual culture on campus (and off), rather than fostering the "theme-park" culture of tenting, Duke-UNC rivalry, partying, binge-drinking, etc.

    3) by recognizing that a corporate structure of management (and the priorities to which it gives rise) are fundamentally incommensurable with a Liberal Arts concept of learning.

    4) by recognizing that the faculty is the source and core of a university's collective wisdom, and that it is both arrogant and foolish for presidents or provosts to proceed without consulting and involving their faculty in strategic initiatives from the beginning. A president who dismisses a senior faculty member's concerns regarding the blatant disregard for academic freedom by the Chinese government by belittling him as a "worrier" (even when that faculty member has extensive expertise in Chinese culture, history, and religion that our president so obviously lacks) is a disgrace.

    5) and, most importantly, by appointing administrators capable of humility and of learning to reign in personal ambition (or Napoleonic delusions of grandeur) in favor of an institution's long-term flourishing. Above all, that requires a type of administrator committed to the good of the existing university, the one here in Durham--and not some fantasized entity in China or sundry other locations across the globe.


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