President Richard Brodhead used his annual "State of the University" speech Saturday to reassure returning alumni about the University's ability to cope with the economic downturn.
Speaking to a crowd ranging from the Class of 1941 to the Class of 2009 in Page Auditorium, he said Duke's tradition of innovation would carry the school through trying times.
"The secret of Duke was never about having tons of resources," Brodhead said. "The secret of Duke was having tons of ideas."
He added that investments made when money was looser-particularly in facilities-would allow new ideas to flourish.
"It won't be altogether easy, but we'll be fine," Brodhead said, adding that the downturn had not been met with "hysteria" on campus.
The University announced in March that the value of its endowment had sunk by roughly a third, and Duke is currently working to slash about $130 million from its budget. There have been few other disclosures about the University's financial status.
Finances were front and center from the start of the event, which kicked off with presentations of class gifts from the gathered classes in friendly competition. Gifts ranged from the Class of 2009's $8,898 check to the approximately $2.8 million donated by the Class of 1984.
Since these classes last had a reunion, they have given more than $75 million to Duke, Brodhead said.
The president said the gifts were important for promoting excellence at Duke, from building academic programs to maintaining the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.
"It's competitive, it's love of school, but most of all, it's about Duke providing the most it can to its students," Brodhead said.
He also discussed the recently completed Financial Aid Initiative, a major topic of last year's address. The initiative raised more than $300 million for student aid.
He added that although the physical appearance of the campus had changed drastically since some of the audience had graduated, the spirit had not.
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Jennifer Hillman, Trinity '79, said she had not found the economic downturn to be a major topic of discussion among reuniting alumni but added that it was good to hear how Duke was doing.
"People were very intrigued to hear about all the changes," she said. "We also heard about the good investments Duke made before, and that message was very clearly conveyed."
Although some alumni have openly criticized Brodhead for how the administration handled the lacrosse case and Duke's response to the economic crisis, others expressed approval of the president.
Spruill Bunn, Engineering '59, said he was initially skeptical when Brodhead was brought to lead Duke from Yale University in 2004, but said he has since been very impressed with the president and with the direction of the University.
"The one-liner would be, I'm extremely impressed with what the University is doing, all across the board," Bunn said.