Executive Vice President Tallman Trask is a man who knows how to listen.
When Trask was named as the University's chief financial officer last May, he said that he was not coming to the University with any specific set of goals. Instead, he said, "I'm going to start out by talking to a lot of people. You'd be surprised how many people forget to do that." After a full year of getting his feet wet, Trask has impressed his colleagues with his direct and inclusive approach and he says he can't wait to do more.
But most administrators, from President Nan Keohane on down, can't seem to say enough about the positive impact Trask has already had on the University.
"We knew that Tallman Trask would make a good addition to our senior administration.... He has more than fulfilled our high expectations," Keohane said. "He is a wonderful colleague-bright, witty, thoughtful, able to target in on a complex problem, take it apart strategically and suggest good solutions."
Others who have worked closely with Trask on major University issues share Keohane's positive impressions of his leadership.
Susan Coon, associate dean of University Life, who is serving on Trask's Bryan Center and West Union Committee-which is charged with determining how the space in those facilities can be allocated more adequately through either renovation or construction-said that Trask impressed her as a "true visionary." Coon said that, although Trask is direct and decisive-qualities that will serve the University well-"he also has an excellent sense of the big picture... and he knows when to listen and take time."
Trask arrived at Duke after having served since 1987 as the executive vice president for the University of Washington in Seattle. He brought with him, therefore, significant experience as the chief financial officer of a large research institution-experience that he said has made the transition between universities fairly easy.
One of the more interesting distinctions between Washington and Duke, Trask said, involves the differences between a public institution and a private one. He said that when he considers ways to fund major projects such as the Levine Science Research Center, he sometimes laments the fact that he can no longer call on the state for help. "The state legislature is a wonderful source of capital," he said. "It is a lot easier to convince them to give you $75 million than it is to convince 75 people to give you $1 million each."
Trask added that a common enemy such as the legislature can sometimes be useful for a university, but that, at Duke, "all of the enemies are internal." Despite these differences, Trask said, "in the end, the issues are fundamentally the same."
One of the major issues that Trask has set out to address, and one that is central to most universities, is the balance between the administrative and academic interests of the University. He said he understands that academics should always remain a top priority.
"I have a general commitment to the provost," Trask said. "He and I have agreed that my budget should grow less than his budget. Over time we are going to try to transfer resources from administrative functions to academic functions."
He added that the University does not have an extraordinarily expensive administrative structure when compared to other universities, so immediately evident places from which to transfer funds are few and far between. Trask said, however, that he and Provost John Strohbehn have started looking for creative ways to make that type of transfer possible.
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In working with Trask on the relationship between academic and administrative funding as well as on other projects such as computing, Strohbehn said Trask has proved to be both a good listener and a source of creative ideas. "He moved in to the University relatively quickly and easily," Strohbehn said. "He is a relatively low-key person.... He has an open attitude and lots of good experience."
Trask's commitment to placing top priority on the maintenance of academic programs is perhaps best illustrated by his communication with William Chafe, dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences, before their arrival at the University.
Chafe said that he and Trask were appointed to their respective posts at about the same time, and stories on both appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Chafe said that his picture, however, appeared larger and more prominent in the publication. Shortly after seeing the publication, Chafe said he received a note from Trask rhetorically asking why Chafe's picture had been larger. Trask's suggested answer was that it was because the University truly had its priorities in the right place, with academics coming before the administration.
Although fine-tuning the administrative budget is a primary concern for Trask, it is not the only area in which he deals. Trask's most visible impact at the University will be felt in the major construction and renovation projects he will oversee. As executive vice president, Trask is responsible for supervising and assisting the planning and implementation of major projects such as the new recreational facilities to be built on West Campus and the possible construction and renovation of the Bryan Center/West Union area.
Joe Pietrantoni, associate vice president for auxiliary services, said that Trask is extremely qualified for these types of projects. "He really is knowledgeable-he knows housing, architecture, design.... He has a whole series of strengths."
With all of the strengths that Trask brings to the University, he and other administrators recognize that those strengths will be tested by the many challenges he will face in the coming years. From managing major construction projects to maintaining a billion-dollar budget, Trask said he knows he is going to keep busy and remains eager to get going. "I just want to go do some stuff," he said. "I haven't done anything big. Next year is going to be a pretty productive year."