An Unfulfilled Vision
Like our football coaches during the decades- long drought, Richard Halleck Brodhead enters another year of his Presidency in desperate need of a victory. His major initiatives are mired down, each of his goals elusive.
Unlike Coaches Wilson, Goldsmith, Franks and Roof, Brodhead is secure, to remain in office through the Duke Forward fund-raising drive which has four more years to run.
The most obvious initiative that is in the air is the proposed Duke Kunshan University. But there are more:
– Brodhead told the first Dukies that he addressed, the Class of 2008 when they were freshmen, that they would benefit in their senior year from an entire New Central Campus focused on the arts. This was the heart of the latest strategic plan for the university; it is not even mentioned in Duke Forward, which is supposed to raise money to implement our priorities. What might have been a victory for Brodhead, had he delivered, is now a liability because he has not.
– Brodhead created a new level of administrator, Dean of Undergraduate Education, who promptly set about recreating dorm life. Keohane 4 was to be just a prototype, an example of our highest priority to combine and enhance the residential and dining experience. This, too, was at the heart of strategic planning; and this too, amazingly, is not even mentioned in Duke Forward. We repeat: what might have been a victory for Brodhead, had he delivered, is now a liability because he has not.
– Brodhead recounted how Duke had struggled to tear down the walls of racial discrimination that kept some students from attending. How ironic, he said, if we were to allow a new socio-economic wall to become just as big a barrier. To his great credit, he instituted need-blind admissions, but today the commitment is strong, but he has not raised enough money to sustain his dream; indeed it is alive today only because we are dipping into endowment funds that should more properly be left for future generations. What might have been a victory for him is now teetering.
– Brodhead has not delivered on equality either, not in composing the faculty or his administration. He has fudged: even though Chancellor Dzau arrived at Duke at the precise time as Brodhead, Uncle Dick has claimed credit for installing an Asian in a key post. The simple fact is that Brodhead presided over eight years when no person of color reached the top rungs. And now three years in which we have fewer black professors than earlier.
Need we repeat: what might have been a victory for him is now a liability.
– Brodhead got hit with a world-wide recession that took away a quarter of our endowment, and he properly sought to ease in the pain, a “smaller Duke” he said, rather than having us take a thump. He had a three-year plan to return to a sustainable budget — but in the 5th year, we will still dip more than $100 million into reserves. That cannot continue. But he seems helpless to make it stop.
Duke forward right Campaign logo– While other university presidents who took office at the same time as Brodhead were completing their major fund raising drive (example: University of Pennsylvania), Brodhead was just starting his. There is no doubt that $3.25 billion low-balls the need, and even so, there are substantial doubts about progress toward raising it. Example: there is only one $10 million gift from a new donor. Rather than shining with results like Bollinger at Columbia or Hennessy of Stanford, each of whom raised 50 percent more than their target, which is to say totals of $6 billion, there is a distinct possibility that Duke Forward will fall short.
Just as Brodhead’s mini-fund raising drive, the Financial Aid Initiative, had to move the goalposts in order to claim victory.
– There is no albatross around his neck that weighs more than Duke Kunshan University. He grew defensive about it, and then contradictory. He last addressed stakeholders on this 13 months ago. If the Chinese reject our plan, or spoil it through violations of academic freedom and other agreements, we will have to withdraw. We have no plan B for intensive international involvement.
Make no mistake: even if the Chinese regime approves the start of DKU, its troubles are just beginning. The risk of failure seems far greater than the opportunity to succeed.
In achieving what he has in his nine years at Duke, Brodhead has been highly dependent upon a trio of top subordinates — Lange, Dzau and Trask — that is dissolving. As one thoughtful administrator wrote us, “A lot of treading water around here now…all waiting to find out about the new team and budgets. (Most) feel uninformed, unconsulted, and at risk.”
So those are the broad areas that we had hoped our President would address and make progress in, and why we started this essay saying he is in desperate need of a victory.
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