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Make transparency our business

The Fuqua School of Business canned its incipient expansion into the Middle East last month with the same curtain of obscurity that has covered the project from the beginning.

The Master of Management Studies in Finance program was scheduled to open this June in Dubai. It would have offered a two-year part-time degree for working professionals, modeled on the MMS degree in Durham. Academic Council approved the program in October 2011 and passed it on to the Board of Trustees for approval. The Executive Committee of the Board signed off on it in early November, because Fuqua wanted it approved before the next full Board meeting in December.

Fuqua got what it asked for, but what became of it?

The school began accepting applications in January, but when asked by The Chronicle, none of its key leaders or spokespeople would go on the record with substantive details about the program. Potential applicants could not even see a schedule on the degree website. This stubborn opacity from Fuqua Dean William Boulding and his public relations specialists should have set off warning bells.

Boulding finally broke this silence to announce the suspension of the Dubai program in a May 30 press release. Not only had Fuqua failed to line up the necessary local sponsors for the program, but the two-year license the school obtained from the United Arab Emirates has expired, and they will have to reapply. They had a window of opportunity to get this off the ground, and evidently squandered it.

Fuqua leaders have offered little explanation other than a generic sense that programs of this scope are challenging. Boulding wrote with corporate panache, tossing in choice phrases like “bold initiatives” and “a renewed sense of these challenges.” This sort of explanation would fit right in at a briefing intended to quiet frustrated stockholders by convincing them the problems they saw did not really exist. However, this lack of open and honest communication threatens the success of the broader Duke community.

The University strives to create a fertile environment for the proliferation of knowledge, by convening large numbers of accomplished experts to pursue their research and talk to one another and students about it. Teaching a course requires that a professor share their knowledge with the class. Publishing requires a researcher to share their knowledge with the world. The university would lose its footing if any researcher could get away with announcing an exciting new study she was conducting, and then not telling anyone anything about the results until she decides to mention that she stopped it because she did not get the proper funding lined up.

Fuqua has a unique mission in preparing its students to compete in the business world. But, as a member of Duke University, the school ought to recognize that saying something about its key initiatives benefits the community. President Richard Brodhead learned this in his approach to planning Duke Kunshan University, and decided that opening up the process to greater faculty input was in the interest of the University. We would hope the president will similarly encourage the business school to lift back the curtain covering its major international initiatives, so we can see if there is anything substantial hiding behind it.

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