Walsh has served in his current role since 2011 and has worked with trustees, faculty, and students to manage and grow Duke’s financial resources. Prior to serving as the vice president for finance, Walsh worked with the Duke Administrative Reform Team, saving the University more than $60 million annually. Walsh also worked on financing the University’s international activities and spearheaded efforts for greater transparency via a monthly reporting of Duke’s financial performance. Walsh also chaired the Research Administration Continuous Improvement initiative, which oversaw $800 million in research funds.
When Walsh started in his role, he oversaw Duke’s growth in long-term investments as the University was still suffering from the aftermath of the 2008 recession. Under his leadership, Duke’s deficit fell to around $40 million by 2010, and the University eliminated 400 jobs. By reducing expenditure in some areas, namely the media department, Walsh was able to avoid eliminating any more.
Walsh was also involved in the move to repurchase debt issued during the financial crisis, which he described in May 2011 as a “defensive maneuver,” and insisted that the move was not driven by a desire to make profit. That same year, with the deficit eliminated, Walsh reported that Duke had the “best operating results we’ve had since 2006, which really reflects the successful rebalancing of our operating budget since the financial downturn.”
A good chunk of this financial recovery during Walsh’s tenure can be attributed to a single event: the monetization of the patent for Myozyme, which treats the genetic condition Pompe disease. It was developed by the Duke School of Medicine and brought in $90 million in profit.
“The scale of the School of Medicine drives... the entire revenue structure of the University,” Walsh said in December 2012.
Over the following years, Walsh would stress that even though the University had eliminated its deficit, it was important to remain vigilant about spending. Despite improving finances, the University continued to face challenges in revenue and funding in 2012 given the financial strains posed by undergraduate financial aid, a decrease in federal support for research and the need for residential renovations.
Walsh spoke in February 2011 of the three main sources of funds for the University: the Duke University Management Company (DUMAC), which manages the institution’s investments and endowment; the Duke Health System; and fundraising campaigns. However, since the costs for projects like dorm renovations are mostly sourced from profits from DUMAC, he acknowledged that these projects are often perpetually low on funding.
In January 2019, when fears of a potential recession were mounting, Walsh noted that DUMAC had a strategy in place to alter its portfolio in the event of dire financial circumstances. He emphasized that Duke was committed to meeting student’s financial needs, even though a recession would create increased demand for financial aid that could limit the University’s ability to expand new programs.
“If there are more families who need financial aid, Duke will just need to take more of its other money to pay for it,” Walsh said.
He told The Chronicle in October 2019 that Duke was planning a fundraising campaign for the construction of new buildings, faculty advancement and expanding financial aid.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Walsh has also served on Team 2021, which was tasked with advising President Vincent Price on decisions related to the current academic year given the challenges of the pandemic.
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The University has already seen financial hits, with the endowment slipping from $8.6 billion to $8.5 billion amid a chaotic investment year and revenue projected to fall by hundreds of millions of dollars. Duke has put in place a variety of spending cuts to make up for the lost revenue.