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Despite endowment boom, faculty sees increased workload without related pay increase due to 'financial deficits'

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Duke’s endowment returned 56% in the 2021 fiscal year. But throughout the year, one department’s faculty members were told Duke was experiencing financial deficits as justification for administrative decisions.

The University had a $12.7 billion endowment, a $4.2 billion increase from the previous year. Bloomberg attributed the gains to “soaring public markets and investments in private assets.”

The endowment and other investment income made up 23% of Duke’s operating budget for the 2021 fiscal year. Bloomberg also reported that Duke aims to spend between 4.5% and 5.5% of the average value of their endowment funds over the previous three calendar years “to finance academic initiatives like student financial assistance and faculty salaries.”

However, among other issues, some faculty members did not see their salaries increase, despite being given additional work from the University based on claims that they were experiencing financial issues.

The Chronicle emailed Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanaugh for comment on the increased enrollment cap and lack of salary increase in the face of the increased endowment. He referred The Chronicle to Valerie Ashby, dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, who did not respond in time for publication.

Expanded course sizes due to “financial deficits”

Paolo Bocci, a lecturing fellow in the Thompson Writing Program, said that the enrollment cap across Writing 101 courses increased from 12 to 15 students, a 25% increase—but not because of a staff shortage. DukeHub shows that all Writing 101 courses offered in fall 2021 have upper limits of 15.

“As I’m sure you are all aware, Duke is facing a massive financial deficit as a result of the pandemic,” TWP Director J. Clare Woods wrote in an email to the TWP faculty in January, a copy of which was obtained by The Chronicle.

Making departmental changes due to “financial deficits” wasn’t a unique phenomenon for the TWP—the email noted that all department chairs and program directors were “asked to examine their own budgets and look for ways to reduce spending” in fall 2020. The email does not clarify who spoke to department chairs and directors about these matters.

The rise in enrollment was an alternative to “[reducing] staff support or any of the other resources, facilities and funding opportunities we offer to our faculty.”

Bocci believes that rather than being about staff shortages, the class sizes were increased to reduce the number of the TWP staff.

“They want to fire us. And one way to do that is to increase the cap size so they can have fewer faculty,” he said.

In a May letter to the editor, lecturing fellows and instructors in the Thompson Writing Program expressed concerns about the student learning experience with enrollment cap increases.

“Writing 101 faculty will decrease the number and diversity of course offerings for students. There will be fewer offerings to choose from each semester, and students will have less opportunity to choose a course that matches their disciplinary interests,” they wrote.

Despite workload increase, no related salary increase

Members of the Duke Faculty Union attempted to negotiate for a salary increase based on their higher workload.

As a result of the negotiations, non-regular rank faculty across the University got a 2.5% pay increase in July due to inflation, but faculty in Bocci’s department didn’t receive any additional salary increases.

Bocci said that this is his first time since joining Duke in 2017 that he’s received a pay increase for inflation.

“Every year, faculty are getting less and less,” Bocci said, referring to their salaries not keeping up with inflation, “and students are getting less and less.”

Tuition increases despite record endowment

The tuition for the 2021-22 year at Duke is $58,085, a 3.9% increase from the 2020-21 year despite the record endowment numbers. Now, Bocci reiterated, students are paying more but getting less out of their education due to less individualized time from instructors.

“That’s the most frustrating aspect of this whole story. [Duke is] making students pay more and they receive less, while we’re working more and receiving nothing,” he said.

Duke scrapped a 3.9% tuition increase for the 2020-21 year and waived a number of student fees.

Duke has not fully restored retirement contributions

Duke suspended University-paid contributions to the Duke Faculty and Staff Retirement 403(b) plan in May 2020 after projecting a possible decline in revenues of more than $250 million. The contributions were restored in June 2021, but beneficiaries only received a “one-time deposit of the amount that would have been received between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2021.”

Bocci said he still hasn’t received the contribution he would have received from May 2020 to Jan. 1. Duke has not publicly announced whether or not they intended to give beneficiaries these missing contributions, nor have they communicated any intentions to staff, according to Bocci.

Previous bargaining by TWP results in separate agreement

Lecturing fellows in the TWP played a large role in finalizing a collective bargaining agreement between Service Employees International Union—which includes the Duke Faculty Union—and Duke in 2017. But Duke outlined a separate memorandum of agreement for the TWP that has different terms than the collective bargaining agreement, which applied to all non-regular rank faculty at Duke.

Under the memorandum agreement, TWP fellows who were at Duke before or starting July 1, 2016 would have contracts renewable every three years contingent on high performance reviews. But TWP fellows subsequently hired after the agreement would have three-year, non-renewable contracts. 

During that three-year term, TWP faculty would have a teaching load of no more than four sections per academic year. They were also promised a mentor from regular rank faculty and “support for career development similar to the support provided to other University trainees.”

Currently bargaining TWP faculty were given an option under the memorandum: take the three-year non-renewable appointment or take a five-year non-renewable appointment “pending successful review of teaching materials and performance during the second semester of year two.”

Those under the five-year appointment would have a larger workload: no more than five sections of Writing 101 per academic year in the first four years and no more than four sections in their fifth year. Additionally, the memorandum agreement did not state they would receive any training or mentorship opportunities.

The five-year contract faculty work the same duties as those under the three-year renewable contract—no more than five sections per academic year—but they don’t have the same job security, Bocci noted.

TWP is the only department at Duke to have lecturing fellows without renewable contracts.

Editor’s note: The Chronicle will update this story pending responses from administrators on any of the allegations.


Leah Boyd | Editor-in-Chief

Leah Boyd is a Pratt junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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