For Richard Brodhead, the issue is now survival. A Fact Checker essay

✔ Fellow Dukies, good day!

Allen Building is alive with rumors. We share some with you, with the caveat that neither FC nor Deputies can confirm them with second sources.

#1 rumor. The Ministry of Education in China has granted Duke's application to operate a school in Kunshan -- but specified a tuition so low that the project is not viable. And who put together the economic plan for the most important academic programs? Dean Blair Sheppard of Fuqua.

#2 rumor. At their June 17th meeting, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, examining four years of red ink in Fuqua under Sheppard, discovered an even deeper hole for the fiscal year starting July 1. As the faculty committee evaluating (and rejecting) Fuqua's plans for Kunshan noted in its secret report (liberated by FC), the school will face a budget disaster this fall, with fewer students anticipated in many of its degree granting programs.

#3 rumor. Trustees are pissed that we are likely to miss another Kunshan deadline, which is to start classes in August, 2012. Brodhead had made personal assurances. In this regard, a Loyal Reader made a point that we did not think of in outlining why President Brodhead should seize the leadership and announce a delay if not a full moratorium. And that is, Chinese students thinking about a masters degree are laying their plans now, collecting information, making decisions. Who can possibly rely on a school that does not know if it will be up and running, a school that cannot tell you its tuition much less the quality of its student body and professors?

No one is talking, not even good FC sources. The atmosphere is bad. More than bad. Think invective. Think vituperation. As FC wrote last winter, the Administration has circled its wagons, the people leading us into uncharted territory fearing every arrow as much as American settlers going West.

✔✔✔ And now today's essay:

In the springtime, King Richard the Englishman was riding high. On his visit to the conquered lands in April, it was stressed he would encounter the Premier of China. On another international spree in June and July, he would travel from Europe through Asia to Africa with his band of Merry Men, including the Duke of Fuqua.

But in the summer, fortunes changed, and now the issue is no longer exultation, but survival. For the same forces that unwound the Duke of Fuqua in seven days time are still rampant on this campus.

Richard Brodhead has been in deep water before. The lacrosse crisis comes to mind, bungling so bad that ultimately he himself felt compelled to stand and apologize. But in that turmoil, he had Robert King Steel (his actual middle name) at his side, a known loyalist with deep affection, the Trustee chair who, just three years earlier as leader of the presidential search committee, had found Brodhead at Yale and lured him to Duke. Indeed, the proud Steel would support Brodhead to the extent of saying that if anyone wanted to blame the President for the university response to the lacrosse hoax, they should blame him and other Trustees too.

Today, King Steel is gone, removed by term limits that were installed by Terry Sanford. His remaining base of university influence is an obscure panel tucked into a recycled building, the advisory board for the Duke Global Health Institute. His full-time job is a demotion too: no longer atop Goldman Sachs, no longer the #1 official in the federal Treasury dealing with the domestic economy, today he is Deputy Mayor for economic development of the City of New York, his Rolodex filled with the likes of Marty Markowitz, the Borough President of Brooklyn who knows a thing or two about vigorish, and Rueben Diaz, a Bronx political hack who mostly scoops up Medicaid dollars and rants against gay marriage.

✔ In Steel's place, after a bland two-year tenure by Dan Blue, this university has an unknown: Rick Wagoner, former chair of GM. So far, we have heard only hash from him, as in this interview written up in the Chronicle on July 1, his first day in office:

“Duke is fortunate enough to have a very capable faculty and administration, and it also has a very effective and highly engaged Board of Trustees.. All of us have been pleased with the progress we’ve seen with Duke over the last decade, and everyone is committed to continuing that, including close engagement with students, faculty and the entire Duke community.”

Reading this endorsement last night, FC could not help leaping to Chapel Hill, to think about Butch Davis, the UNC football coach who, while his players sputtered morally, enjoyed months of personal accolades. Until he was hauled on Wednesday morning before a closed door meeting of the Trustees -- and summarily fired. The same athletic director and chancellor who supported him now had a new explanation: “To restore confidence in the University of North Carolina and our football program, it’s time to make a change.. What started as a purely athletic issue has begun to chip away at this university’s reputation." Hmmm

Wagoner is from a vicious corporate culture at GM. He was criticized for hesitancy in cutting off people who had moved past their prime productivity -- and is unlikely to make the same mistake twice.

And at his side is David Rubenstein, who has studied forcing the hand of the mighty. This billionaire personally owns a copy of Magna Carta, signed by King John in the 1200s, result of a direct challenge to the monarchy that gave serfs liberties and guarantees.

Rubenstein too is an unknown -- ducking FC interview requests. His secretary most politely and firmly explains month after month, that he's stretched and stressed, traveling the world for his private equity firm, not to mention sitting, by his own count, on 20 to 30 boards. FC has even not been able to find out who is a member of the Trustees' China committee which Rubenstein chairs.

As Brodhead begins his eighth year at Duke, he might survey the Board and count a majority aboard because he selected them. He can count his cabinet and see only two who have predated him -- Peter the Provost and Executive Vice President Trask -- both of whom he reappointed.

But boards and cabinets are tricky. And making sanguine assessments risky. Witness Harvard, where Lawrence Summers arranged for the addition of ex-Duke president Nan Keohane, good friend and confident, to the highest governing board, known as the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Only to have her turn in a year's time and take the lead in forcing Summers out.

Our president surely must know someone beyond Blair Sheppard will bear responsibility for the Kunshan debacle, and he must wonder every day if the Sheriff of Nottingham is scheduling an archery contest, and whether David of Doncaster will warn him in time.

Thank you for reading FC and caring for and loving Duke.

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