Duke’s Brodhead Under Attack

Duke president Richard Brodhead has presided over what could charitably be termed a checkered administration. His botched handling of the lacrosse case led to a reported $18 million settlement with the falsely accused players, as well as millions of dollars in legal fees to fight off (thus far unsuccessfully) a civil rights lawsuit filed by many of the unindicted players. The university experienced a major case of academic fraud after revelations that a member of the medical faculty, Anil Potti, had exaggerated his credentials and fudged his research, prompting him to withdraw four published papers. Potti eventually resigned, and Duke belatedly halted his clinical trials. Whether Duke will suffer legal liability from any patients in Potti’s clinical trials remains unclear.

Now, reports the Duke Chronicle, Brodhead is facing faculty pressure regarding Duke Kunshan University (DKU), a proposal to create a new university, jointly funded by Duke and the city of Kunshan, in China.

Creating overseas branches of U.S. universities is always a complicated task, with the possibility of long-term financial benefits for the home institution balanced against the short-term financial risks. Faculty members complain about exclusion from the process, even though there’s no way such a venture ever could be launched with professors running things. Moreover–as perhaps was most clearly seen in NYU’s venture in the United Arab Emirates–such proposals risk compromising academic values in diplomatic negotiations with the host nation.

Some of the reaction against DKU appears to be little more than the complaints of professional complainers. For instance, Group of 88 extremist Paula McClain, who opened her tenure as chair of Duke’s Academic Council by positioning herself as a leader in “healing” the institution and offering quotes from Nelson Mandela in the process, lobbed attacks on the administration for its allegedly not soliciting sufficient faculty input.

But criticism of Brodead’s venture has come from faculty voices not known for McClain’s type of ill judgment. Earlier this month, English professor Thomas Pfau penned a letter to the Chronicle claiming that “this particular initiative highlights the administration’s growing confusion as to Duke University’s identity. We are (and hopefully will remain) a dynamic and complex research institution in Durham. What we are not (and should not pretend to be) is some multinational corporation peddling an increasingly amorphous and empty commodity marketed as the ‘Duke Experience.’”

The Pfau letter triggered a broader array of faculty criticism, centered on the fact that the DKU budget envisions shifting $7 million in resources from Duke’s activities in Durham to Duke’s activities in China. And the current chair of Duke’s academic council, Craig Henriquez, a well-respected professor of biomedical engineering, has now urged more faculty members to start speaking up about the proposal.

There is something of an irony in the growing signs of unrest. Brodhead and the Duke Trustees have gone to extraordinary lengths to shield extremists in the faculty from the consequences of their own bad behavior. The settlement with the falsely accused players precluded the players from suing individual faculty members. And the lawsuit filed by the unindicted players has forced Duke to argue (successfully, to this point) that the university shouldn’t be held legally liable for the professors’ harassment of former Duke students because the university’s anti-harassment code, student bulletin, and faculty handbook aren’t binding documents that can be enforced through court action.

These actions appear to have purchased the president little loyalty from the faculty. Perhaps Brodhead’s greatest failure in the DKU affair was in his assuming otherwise.


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

3 thoughts on “Duke’s Brodhead Under Attack

  1. Having reviewed several Duke documents the DKU proposal appears to have some major problems over and above those raised by Professor Pfau.
    Firstly, the likelihood that Duke will be able to establish a JV university under the 2003 regulations (amended in 2007) is very slim. The only other three JV universities permitted by the MoE thus far have all started out as UG institutions. Approval to award Masters degrees is taken at the State Council level and is much more tightly controlled. While DKU may be offering Duke degrees, these will be of little use to any Chinese students hoping to work in Chinese government positions. Furthermore, the China Market Research Report asks the wrong students. These students will either go to world class universities overseas, or to leading Chinese C9 institutions. They will certainly not pay $40k+ for a Masters degree that cannot be registered with the MoE.
    The second problem (after the slim chances of being permitted to launch with Masters programs), is the $260m on the table from Kunshan to cover building costs. But the land is also provided apparently free by Kunshan. 200 acres, or 810000sqm of land. This is an extraordinarily large site. Furthermore, Duke have already agreed to subsidize US$37m over the first 6 yrs? Scale down the size of the campus.
    Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I cannot figure out what Wuhan is getting out of this arrangement. Duke seem to think that Wuhan have “agreed” to be their partner. Well, the President of a JV university must be a Chinese citizen, under Chinese law. That President will also be a board member. Secondly, Kunshan or Wuhan will also have to appoint a PArty Secretary to oversee the JV university, and if the Exec President is from Duke, the PArty Secretary will likely be very powerful.
    Professor Pfau is right to be concerned. There are serious questions about this and most worrryingly for Duke, those involved seem to have a complete disregard for due diligence and understadning (a) the Chinese legal context, (b) the concept of a sino-Foreign JV university (c) the difficulties in establishing a university in Kunshan (which is not a major city) and (d) the very different environment in which universities must operate.
    Duke could be a real success in China, but it is very plain that those involved in drawing up this plan have been wined and dined by Kunshan, Wuhan; have no real clue what will happen once they sign the agreements; have no idea what those agreements allow them to do; do not understand the extremely lengthy process of being approved by the MoE, and will not personally be running the campus. They are also incredibly stubborn and riding roughshod over the recommendations of consultants and, more importantly, those who have already established campuses in China, whome they spoke with on their last visit.
    Come back to China and speak again to the people already running Sino-Foreign JV universities (XJTLU, Nottingham in particular) and especially those who were on the ground at the beginning. and speak to both the Chinese and the UK partners.

  2. You left one bit of information out. I have been a reasonably large donor to Duke over the years. I now no longer make donations to the University and will not do so again until several things change including the exit of Brodhead. I have informed development people of this and have been told that many former donors have said the same thing. I am convinced that his action along with those of some of the faculty have cost the university a lot in donations.

  3. Let’s face it–Brodhead has cost Duke MILLIONS of dollars in legal fees and settlements (some yet to come, I believe) in connection with the lacrosse hoax. He is going to cost Duke MILLIONs of dollars in settlements, I believe, in connection with the patients that were receiving “treatment” from Dr. Potti in the medical center. He now wants to spend MILLIONS of dollars (look at the ten-year projections, not just the first year) launching a satellite university in China. What about Duke in Durham? Where does he think this money is coming from–the printing press in the basement of Allen Center? I don’t think so! As long as budgets are being slashed and employees aren’t getting raises in Durham, these other things are much too costly and Brodhead should have been gone long ago. Maybe then there would have been more money available!

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