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✔✔✔✔ The most important point raised by FC's recent coverage of our president’s world-wide vanity trip concerns the incontrovertible fact that the Duke-Kunshan folly is draining Duke's resources -- of time, personnel, money and, above all, institutional focus.
Even if the particular donors that are being sought for Duke's imperial outposts may not have been available for donations here, grooming them has obviously kept the administration from pursuing other potential donors for Duke University in Durham. President Brodhead and Provost Lange cannot clone themselves (which, on balance, must be accounted a good thing), and their Quixotic scheme of conquering the globe in installments only serves to expose their manifest lack of understanding their true responsibilities ... which of course are to the long-term flourishing of Duke.
Brodhead's embarrassing photo-ops, with yellow hat at Kunshan, or benevolently smiling at whatever dog-and-pony show locals may have arranged for him in Shanghai, Tanzania, or wherever, bring to mind Werner Herzog's Aguirre spinning delusional fantasies about conquering new worlds while rafting down into an alluring and indomitable world far beyond his comprehension. The resemblance might be amusing, were it not for the vapid and ingratiating pleasantries spouted by the President about Duke's reincarnation as a "globally-networked university."
For behind these and similarly hollow slogans stands the harsh and disquieting reality that in Kunshan, Duke is getting into bed with one of the most repressive regimes in the world. And for what? For a slogan? To keep up with the Joneses? Or is it just the vanity of a president who, nearing retirement (fervently anticipated by many in the Duke community), covets some Mausoleum to signal his “accomplishments” to posterity?
The plain and incontrovertible fact is and remains: Duke does not need to create old-fashioned brick-and-mortar outposts around the world to be a great university. In fact, it will only ever succeed in being a great university of it finds new administrators with sufficient good sense to understand that the flourishing of Duke University will pivot on the real, substantive, and sustained academic work of faculty and students here in Durham, North Carolina. Few people would be so foolish as to draw the inference that Duke is a major educational institution from the fact that it has sundry outposts around the globe. Rather, students from around the world will want to experience that quality first hand at the source. Quality is not some advertiser’s mirage or a function of global "spin." Instead, it is only achieved through a concentrated, sustained, and appropriately scaled effort.
In case President Brodhead is in any doubt as to how his persona is perceived by a large portion of faculty and alumni, he may want to betake himself to his library again, pull T. S. Eliot from the shelf, and read the opening stanza of "The Hollow Men." Having arranged the royal treatment for himself and his costly entourage on his latest peregrinations around the globe—so costly and yet so empty—the president should have no difficulty applying Eliot's "we" to himself:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.