Since the April 7 Chronicle editorial encouraging the administration to “get faculty on board with Kunshan” (and Professor Pfau’s response to it the next day), countless conversations and email exchanges have demonstrated for us several things:
• Support among faculty and alumni for Duke Kunshan University is tepid at best, and in large portions of our University, non-existent.
• The administration has failed to articulate in a coherent and compelling way the substantive educational and research mission served by operating a bricks-and-mortar campus well outside Shanghai.
• The administration has revealed no concrete plans how to deploy a sufficient number of Duke’s core faculty for the new programs at Kunshan, but without whom Kunshan cannot provide a Duke-quality education and research operation.
• The administration still has to provide a financial plan to make DKU a sustainable, let alone meaningful, undertaking during a time of fiscal duress here at Duke.
While the administration has intermittently consulted with the Academic Council and a few other committees, our follow-up conversations with members on these deliberative bodies reveal that many of the hard questions put to the administration have gone mostly unanswered. To have allocated“the better part of an hour” to discussing DKU with the executive committee of the Academic Council—to quote a charmingly naïve phrase from an email that President Brodhead recently sent to Prof. Pfau—hardly seems adequate for a venture that, even by the administration’s breezy accounting, will at least divert $37 million in net subsidies from Duke’s U.S. operations to China over the coming six years. Moreover, with any venture of such complexity, initial cost projections will invariably double (at least) in the course of their implementation.
The University committed significant amounts of resources before offering a detailed plan for the intellectual mission and practical operation of DKU, thus putting the proverbial cart before the horse. We, therefore, demand a thorough faculty review of all operational teaching and research programs planned for Kunshan—and a concurrent moratorium on contractual commitments for the DKU campus until the Academic Council, the Board of Trustees and Duke’s senior management have agreed on the operational outlines of these plans. Among the many unresolved issues demanding a robust and sustained critical review by a body representative of the faculty (and genuinely responsive to its concerns) are these:
• Is the magnitude and quality of the DKU undertaking sustainable, particularly in regard to committing Duke faculty to conduct teaching and research on a new campus 7,500 miles away?
• What is the educational content of teaching and research at DKU, how does it benefit Duke, and what justifies the heavy fixed costs of a new campus? Before any further investment in bricks-and-mortar construction is made, faculty must be given the opportunity of a thorough review and final approval of the educational mission of DKU.
• Being keen to secure Duke’s know-how, our Chinese partners seek above all to secure the strong and sustained involvement of regular and senior faculty. How is this to work? Are there enough Duke faculty willing to get involved? What are the costs of incentivizing and deploying faculty for this purpose? Are our senior administrators prepared to manage this effort in a foreign environment?
• What about the deficit certain to result if current (likely inflated) tuition revenue projections need to be revised due to lower-than-expected interest by English-fluent Chinese students whom we expect to pay for University education in their home country, without the benefit of overseas cultural immersion? What about the costs associated with incentivizing regular faculty to participate on a regular basis in University activities halfway around the globe from their families and students?
For the complete editorial and details regarding a moratorium on the entire DKU initiative, go to https://sites.google.com/site/dukekunshaneditorial. For the sake of Duke’s continuing academic integrity, reputation and financial health, faculty and alumni are encouraged to weigh in on this matter now.
Professor of German and Eads Family Professor of English
George V. Allen Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science and Professor of Germanic Languages and Literature