Just days ago, at the end of its December meeting, Duke’s Board of Trustees failed refused to release actual, current numbers about its investments.
Last evening Duke reversed course (I wonder why). President Richard H. Brodhead acknowledged a 19 percent loss in the value of the endowment, a total of $1.2 billion gone poof.
He issued the statement himself. Trustee chair Bob "Wachovia" Steel was no where to be found.
Brodhead could have included in his statement – an email address to faculty and staff - the words "lost so far."
Like Harvard, whose president recently explained its giant holdings in hedge funds and private equity still have to be re-evaluated, Duke has focused its holdings in these turbulent areas.
In fact, Duke has focused more in these areas than Harvard. As of July 1 Duke had 42 percent of its money in hedge fund; and 23 percent of its money in private equity.
There is no ready market for these: the Wall Street term is how these investments are "marked" -- that is -- how you estimate their value. These estimates can vary widely.
Harvard’s President Drew G. Faust correctly warned that its numbers will be adjusted downward when all the dust settles; President Brodhead did not
In November, Barrons, the weekly magazine of the Wall Street Journal, estimated that such holdings in university endowments have already lost half their value. If that's true for Duke, its reported loss of $1.2 billion will prove to be $2.5 billion.
In his only formal statement before tonight, Brodhead reassured us that Duke was "stable and secure" with a "strong financial foundation." A sunny island in the tempest. That was misleading to say the least.
Let's look at what $1.2 billion -- the acknowledged loss in the endowment -- means so far to Duke:
-- In recent years, Duke has gotten contributions of about $125 million per year for new endowment. That means a whole decade of giving is wiped out.
-- It took Brodhead one "quiet" year and three years in public to eke out $300 million for the Financial Aid Initiative. This wipes out this gain -- and four others just like it.
-- When the full impact of the loss is felt, Duke will have $60 million less to spend in its annual budget. The highly touted increase in this year's financial aid budget amounted to only $11 million.
In the past 24 hours, there was one other set of numbers with ominous implications for Duke. Sixty-six percent of the young people who were given early admission to the class of 2013 said they needed financial aid.
Statistics for the class of 2012 were not released a year ago, but in the two years before that, only half as many -- around 32 percent -- said they’d need financial aid.
It's clear Duke's budget will not only have less money to spread around, but its highest priority -- need based undergraduate aid -- will be crying for more.
Tonight's statement by Brodhead touched only Duke's endowment. Duke Management Company invests all of the university's funds, huge amounts of money.
-- There will be similar losses in the two Duke Pension plans; perhaps driving their value to the point where Duke will have to increase contributions from its annual budget to keep them fully funded.
-- There will be similar losses in the cash account. For example, money that parents paid last summer for tuition for the fall semester just ending was in the same pool -- where at least 19 percent has been lost.
There is much more that needs to be said in the interests of informing the Duke community.
But for now, I’ll just end with this: What I missed most in President Brodead’s statement was any sense that the financial plight of Duke is a responsibility and burden for all of its. There was no invitation for ideas to save money, no suggestion there be a dialogue to adjust priorities.
Brodhead's statement is consistent with his way of operating -- to deny information to students, faculty and alumni so that their effective participation in university governance is emasculated.