How Things Begin: Duke Check

Ed Rickards, a retired lawyer and journalist, writes Duke Check, a blog about Duke University, which I enjoy reading even though I have no connection with Duke. It emphasizes scandals and bad governance but also praises. He started it in 2009. There have been plenty of scandals since then, including the Anil Potti cancer research fraud.

I recently asked him a few questions.

Why did you start Duke Check?

I started DukeCheck — originally Duke Fact Checker — because of a lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the school’s administration. You may want to review this Chronicle profile, especially the comments from the late law professor John (Jack) Johnston, about the need for such a column and my goals. I want to provide stakeholders in Duke — students, parents, faculty, alumni, workers, everyone — with the information so that they can participate and have their thoughts count. I really do not care if they agree with me or not, just so long as they step forward.

After you graduated from Duke, did you have further association with the school (e.g., worked there)?

I graduated from Duke 1963 and Duke Law 1966.  No, I never worked for Duke or had any relationship other than alum. I continued to stay in touch, I wrote various letters about my feelings, but the internet is what opened it all up. and made it possible for me to write my blog from either NY (where I used to live) or Coconut Grove (dead of the winter).  I have recently closed up NY and live near Princeton NJ . . . on a golf course which is a big switch.

Have you ever been a professional writer?

After brief flirtation with the law, and a job in private equity that was totally boring, I returned to my first love, Journalism, which attracted me while I was in college, and also during the summers when I worked for a local daily newspaper in my hometown.  I have worked at the Associated Press, ABC, CBS and NBC, so I have been all around!

[This makes Duke Check a super-hobby — combining the freedom of a hobby with the skills of a professional. This blog, too, is a super-hobby.]

Duke has just opened a campus in China, in Kunshan, which is near Shanghai. The campus is called Duke Kunshan University (DKU). Does the DKU story point to/illustrate any general lesson(s)?

The DKU story will end with an empty campus in Kunshan. Many colleges have hit brick walls with their international adventures and this will be another. 15 years ago, Duke was gung-ho to open in Frankfurt; our president at the time, Nan Keohane, held an international news conference linked by satellite with reporters asking questions in Durham, NY, and Frankfurt.  Six years, $15 to 20 million later, it died.

Duke should pursue international opportunities; but trying to export bricks and mortar to China will not fly. For one thing, academic freedom is a very strong tradition at Duke, and no Chinese leader will tolerate it. The new campus cannot teach nor allow religious services. We were founded by Quakers and Methodists.

We also see our administration going overboard on finances. At a time when money is tight, unbelievably tight, we’re exporting green like mad. The numbers do not add up: number of students, amount we can charge them. This may well be the first thing to implode, academic freedom the 2nd.

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