Brodhead returns from spree in Europe, Asia and Africa, to a campus unsettled by his international aspirations

Loyal Readers, this is Fact Checker. Probative. Provocative. Our apologies for not including our trademark check; this is a new computer and Windows 7 has got everything screwed up.

President Brodhead returns this afternoon (Wednesday) from Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, the last stop on a three-week promotional spree through Europe, Asia and Africa. He carries only one small tangible accomplishment, and will find that in his absence, there was deepening concern among stakeholders about his international ambitions.

The accomplishment was announced Tuesday in Uganda, but not in Durham. The Principal of Makerere University's College of Health Sciences, Nelson Sewankambo, said Duke will oversee a master's degree for people wanting to be neurosurgeons. It's any one's guess what this master's degree involves, as Sewankambo noted it takes seven years beyond medical school to become a neurosurgeon in the traditional manner, and Uganda could not wait that long. The nation has only five neurosurgeons now.

As for the deepening concern, this "Global Outreach Tour" -- to quote the name of a special blog set up by the PR people to send breathless news back home -- spawned disquiet that bricks and mortar in other nations have become an obsession -- a mission to be fulfilled no matter what risks become apparent. And a grandiose mission it is, as evidenced by Brodhead's blogging about his visit to the backwater of Kunshan, China, where Duke is creating an entirely new, separate university: "Today an academic village is halfway built. In five or ten years, this will be a major educational 'draw,' a place for bright students to learn together from around the world." That's the kind of growth in size and reputation that has taken decades and even centuries for other schools to achieve.

Remember, Loyal Dukies, that the full-fledged research university in Kunshan is just the first of a string of Duke creations around the world.

As one faculty member told a Deputy Fact Checker, "We could not get him to spend 30 minutes with our department discussing its squeezed budget, its current needs and future needs, so I think we are being robbed of the needed focus on Duke in Durham." As if to underscore this faculty member's point, the blog quotes Freddie Ssengooba, senior lecturer in the School of Public Health at Makerere University, Uganda “We are grateful for the President’s visit, and feel that we are getting the support to move this program forward... Sometimes it’s this kind of energy that helps you feel that your efforts are making a difference.”

After several lengthy conversations, including one with our mole in the middle of Allen Building, FC can report that there is now a realization among many stakeholders that the trip was not only a mistake, but a PR disaster.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the university has not issued a news release about the trip since June 21, three days before Brodhead left. FC cannot find a single story in a international newspaper nor has the PR office circulated or posted coverage, as is its custom.

Absent from local newspapers aside from the Chronicle, the trip did warrant coverage by Duke Today, the on-line employee "newspaper," which has carried "stories" and pictures, including the obligatory one with Brodhead in yellow hat at the Kunshan construction site.

Michael Schoenfeld, Brodhead's spokesman, pressed by the Chronicle on day 14 to cite an accomplishment of the trip, could only that say a potential donor for the Kunshan campus was sought out, revealing no identity, no dollar amount and no timetable for the donation. But no sooner had the PR man spoken, than Duke came alive with speculation on whether this donor might have given to the mother campus had he or she been groomed that way, and if so, if this were not another example of Kunshan's stripping Duke of limited resources.

Though donations play a big role in meeting huge costs in Kunshan -- including so far $5.5 million to oversee construction and tens of millions more to make up yawning operating deficits year after year -- there has only been one gift announced for Kunshan.

Brodhead has said he got an anonymous $5 million -- but a FC investigation puts an entirely different light on this.

The gift is spread out over five years -- to be spent in Durham to rev up our fund-raising office for Kunshan. Thus it will not "count" toward our share of Kunshan's deficits.

As Loyal Readers surely realize now, this rev up will put fund-raising for Kunshan and for Durham in competition with each other. And so far, this essay has not talked about a separate fund-raising operation planned for Duke Kunshan University. This will surely create further competition for scarce dollars.

The Duke Endowment, a separate charity located in Charlotte, has given the university contributions to rev up fund-raising in the past. However, The Endowment specifically denies it is the source of the anonymous gift -- and in a particularly biting comment -- nor the source of any gift to Duke for international adventure.

Brodhead did not collect an honorary degree either, despite his being the speaker at the first commencement ceremony at the Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) medical school.

Loyal Readers, remember, please that at Duke's commencement in May, the recipients included the President of the NUS. A tit-for-tat scheme is quite common, as evidenced by one of Brodhead's three honorary degrees being from a rather undistinguished Baltimore branch of the University of Maryland, whose president got honored by Duke.

Pressed by FC, Schoenfeld stumbled through an explanation of the lack of an honorary degree, saying NUS grants few degrees, which is true, and none to people who are not Singaporeans, which is not.

At one point in his seven years at Duke, Schoenfeld's PR department was issuing an official Brodhead biography with his honorary degrees in the third paragraph, touted as a measure of success and standing in academia; this has receded as the president went to commencement after commencement without any additions.

The cost of the trip has become a very sensitive issue. FC discovered Brodhead's airfare alone was $14,315.80. With his wife and a posse of officials and hangers-on in tow -- both Brodhead and Schoenfeld have refused to list the members of the posse -- FC calculates and estimates the cost of the trip at $250,000. A quarter million dollars when Duke is still reeling from the impact of the financial meltdown. A quarter million dollars when the Arts and Sciences budget that includes travel has been sliced from $500,000 to $100,000 a year. A quarter million dollars when Mr. Brodhead himself declared at the start of the fiscal crisis that cutting travel costs was one of his major goals.

PR played a heavy role. In addition to Schoenfeld, a speechwriter from the Duke Global Health Institute was on board. And so was a PR person we just found out about last night, Alyssa Zamora.

The itinerary took the Duke delegation to London, Shanghai, Kunshan, Wuhan, Singapore, Tanzania and Uganda.

China was clearly the most important focus. And most notably the delegation stayed in Shanghai, as if to suggest this is the place to be, and not the backwater of Kunshan. We believe there was only one foray into Kunshan, enough to snap the picture carried in Duke Today. No surprise, but no one blogged about the city of Kunshan, or getting there from Shanghai, which has become a point of contention between Brodhead's minions, who make it sound easy, and others who shake their heads.

Brodhead was also in China in April; it is not known if he is going to make a third trip this year in August, when the men's basketball team goes for exhibition games in Kunshan, Shanghai and Dubai. This trip was conceived in the go-go days of Kyrie Irving, when Duke had its eye on a consecutive national championship. As it stands right now, with no Kyrie, no Nolan Smith and no Kyle Singler, there's plenty of space for boosters with big bucks on the team charter.

Back on campus, Brodhead will undoubtedly be briefed about the efforts of Dean Blair Sheppard to overcome opposition within the Fuqua Business School faculty to the entire Kunshan project, which revolves initially around two business school degrees. On June 1, the faculty stunned Brodhead, Peter the Provost and Sheppard by rejecting two degrees planned to be offered starting in August, 2012.

In turning thumbs down on a proposed Master of Management Studies -- a 14 month masters program that is considerably less rigorous than the traditional MBA -- the faculty raised many objections. One involved the unlikelihood that this was financially viable, even with Dean Shep's niggardly use of Duke tenured faculty, leaving 80 percent of the teaching to adjuncts.

The faculty also made clear, that very few -- if any -- are interested in going to Kunshan to teach.

With respect to a planned Executive MBA, the faculty concluded there was no need nor demand for this in Kunshan, but promised to consider a Shanghai offering. That opens another can of worms -- a campus in Shanghai competing with Kunshan, all run by Duke. In fact, Shep has been secretly negotiating for a location in the Bund, the Wall Street section of Shanghai.

The faculty reports on these two proposals looked ahead to what might be fashioned and saw little hope that Sheppard's tinkering would overcome substantial obstacles.

Kunshan -- like the medical school in Singapore and a smaller outpost for global health in Beijing -- will issue full Duke diplomas, just as if the students came to Durham. That means under university by-laws, the faculty has a two step approval process. First in the school offering a degree must approve, and then the Academic Council, the elected university-wide faculty senate, assent as well.

(FC has been thwarted so far in attempts to find out if these diplomas will include the words "Religio and Eruditio," or the Duke seal with its Christan cross. A Deputy Fact Checker is hard at work)

Last year's chair of the Academic Council (who was replaced July 1), Craig Henriquez, associate professor of biomedical engineering, told a sullen Brodhead at an open meeting this spring, that he could find only tepid support all over the Durham campus for Kunshan, and for sure no "champion" of Duke's unprecedented, unbridled international expansion.

Very little is known so far about the approach to the international adventures by M. Susan Lozier, professor of physical oceanography and chair, earth and ocean sciences division, Nicholas School of the Environment. She is the new Academic council chair.

A second Deputy Fact Checker has now been assigned to find out if Duke's financial projections for Kunshan -- put together a year ago -- are still holding. The official projections came in with Duke's share of the deficit -- Kunshan picking up around 45 percent -- being just under $40 million for six years; after extensive research and many interviews, FC has estimated the deficits easily at $100 million, more probably at $150 million and possibly higher in the first decade. We called it a sinkhole.

We will be careful in evaluating any new figures. Last winter we were snookered when Brodhead said the continuing deficit in Kunshan would require only $1.5 million to $2 million annually. We thought the words of this English professor turned administrator were clear, but Peter the Provost, political scientist, had to unravel them. Brodhead, it turned out, was only talking about one pot -- Duke's strategic initiative funds -- and multiples of the President's total would be needed annually.

There is a huge subsidy for Kunshan hidden in the Fuqua budget. And another masquerades as a loan from Duke to Kunshan -- a year after year loan. No terms, no amortization schedule. To FC, this sounds like an appropriation.

Significantly, Duke's #1 financial man, executive vice president Tallman Trask, has never signed off the financial projections for Kunshan. Indeed, we are not dealing with estimates of revenue but guesses. No one knows how many students will enroll, nor how much tuition they will pay. For that matter, Duke's administration won't even tell us how much it stated it would charge in filing a formal application seeking approval of the totalarian Chinese regime at the local and national Ministries of Education.

One of the unknowns is whether the special Trustee committee on China -- headed by David Rubenstein -- has awakened to a new view in light of the faculty rebuke of Brodhead, Peter the Provost and Dean Shep. We trust Rubenstein has a committee, knowing only that former Trustee chair Dan Blue said he was chair. We have never been able to find out -- despite more than 20 contacts with Rubenstein's office -- the names of Trustees on the committee. We are certain that unlike other Trustee committees, there is no representative from the student body or faculty.

We do not think Rubenstein is ducking us. Rather, by his own count, he sits on 20 to 30 boards, plus he founded and runs the politically powerful (Republican) private equity Carlyle Group, which requires extensive international travel. He even missed the May Trustee meeting where he was elected Vice Chair. As Loyal Readers do not have to be told, FC is persistent and will catch him near his Washington phone one of these days.

Finally, Loyal Readers, please note with Kunshan under attack, the PR department has taken all other international ventures off the map. In the heady days, there was a long list, from Dubai, to St. Petersburg, to Sao Paulo, just to begin the list, with news flowing about each. We believe Allen Building still fantasizes about all of them and more, but only in its own quarter now that there has been criticism of the sheer scope of going so many directions at once.

And so the spree comes to an end. Brodhead's last flights -- business class -- were tough. Nine hours out of Africa to London (the airline only lists beverages to be served, no meals), a brief overnight, and then another 8 hours and 45 minutes into Raleigh-Durham. At least the final plane has one of the neatest things in the sky: they are called shell seats and they envelope the business class passenger in great luxury. The seats move electronically into a thousand positions, even lying flat for the best sleeping.

Thank you for reading and sharing your love of Duke.

FC regrets that Brodhead refused to be interviewed for this article, and that we received minimal cooperation from Schoenfeld.

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