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Letter: Committee member disagrees with Chronicle characterization

As one of the members of the Arts and Sciences Task Force that reported on the likely budget crunch facing Arts and Sciences in the next few years, I was surprised to read The Chronicle's front page characterization of our report as endorsing a cut of 50 faculty members in Arts and Sciences. Our task force was charged with providing alternative scenarios for keeping the Arts and Sciences budget balanced, and we were limited in what kinds of solutions we could consider as a task force. One possibility for balancing the budget is indeed to cut 50 Arts and Sciences faculty positions in the coming years. However, I believe that the task force would consider an actual cut of this size to be rather dramatic and potentially quite damaging to the competitiveness of Duke as it attempts to compete with the very best universities. This is true especially in light of the fact that the burden of such a faculty size cut would fall disproportionately on some departments while others would continue to grow, and in light of the fact that ongoing initiatives to create greater diversity of our faculty are likely to suffer from such a large cut.

Duke, unlike some other elite universities, is an institution at which Arts and Sciences occupies the very core of what we are about. If the scenario that would lead to a cut of 50 faculty positions were indeed to take place, it is likely that the University would want to consider whether, given the centrality of Arts and Sciences to Duke's mission, this is indeed the best course to take. At the same time, a number of alternative scenarios were described in our report, including scenarios under which increased revenues or the postponement of certain capital projects would lead to the need for substantially less dramatic solutions that would allow Duke to continue to compete for the very best scholars while at the same time ensuring that its faculty continues to become more diverse.

Thus, I believe that a more balanced interpretation of our report would lead to the conclusion that our budget situation is unlikely to allow the faculty in Arts and Sciences to continue to grow at the rates it has in past years and that indeed it may in fact have to shrink somewhat. At the same time, unless relief from additional revenues or postponed capital expenditures alleviates the budget crisis, the stark scenario of a 10 percent cut in the faculty size is unlikely to serve Duke's best interests and should therefore lead us as a university to think of alternative ways to address the upcoming budget shortfall.

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