Brodhead Tells Employees How To Support Duke Campaign

Conversation at Primetime employee forum covers range of timely topics

President Richard H. Brodhead discusses the Duke Forward fundraising campaign and other issues during Primetime. Photo by Megan Morr
President Richard H. Brodhead discusses the Duke Forward fundraising campaign and other issues during Primetime. Photo by Megan Morr

President Richard H. Brodhead told Duke staff and faculty Thursday that the best way for them to support Duke's new $3.25 billion development campaign, Duke Forward, is to keep doing what they do best: strive for excellence.

His remarks came during the Primetime employee forum with several hundred gathered in Griffith Theater and a few hundred more watching the event live online.

"If you go [to potential donors] and say, 'I'd like you to support Duke University,' the needle doesn't move," Brodhead said. "When you show people the quality of people who work here, how meaningful their work is to them and how hard they try for it-that's the best thing any of you can do to support the university. Do your job in the best and most imaginative and loyal way you can."

In addition to the new development campaign, Brodhead talked about a range of topics, from Duke's campus in China and university finances to diversity and health care.

The audience applauded as Brodhead announced that Duke had raised $1.3 billion of the $3.25 billion "Duke Forward: Partnering for the Future" goal before the official launch Sept. 29.

"There has always been a hunger [at Duke] to figure out what could we grow into and what is the promise we could fulfill, and it has always taken philanthropy to make those changes," he said. "We wanted to raise enough money [before the launch] to have confidence that we could eventually reach the goal. I am positive that we will get there."

In addition to discussing the Duke Forward campaign, Brodhead described Duke's progress creating a campus in Kunshan, China. He said classrooms are being built, senior leadership roles have been filled and key preliminary approval from the Chinese government was obtained late this summer. Progress overseas is matched by increased interest among faculty at Duke, he added.

Brodhead also reminded the community that while Duke is planning for the future and growing, it must also be cautious, given the economy. He explained that money raised by the Duke Forward campaign is for specific, long-term priorities, not for payroll or university operating expenses

"We have made it through the financial crisis, but we are in uncertain economic times, and the university still needs to behave with prudence," said Brodhead, who used an analogy of someone who lost 15 pounds on a diet not celebrating with a binge that put those pounds back on. "We are still in a time where we have to be careful, as every family does."

In response to a question about issues of race and inclusivity, Brodhead reminded the audience that this year at Duke marks the 50th anniversary of the first African-American undergraduates.

"There is no more important thing that has happened in the last 50 years in this country than to identify form after form of discrimination and to say we are not having that anymore," he said. Brodhead spoke proudly of steps Duke has taken to eliminate discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. "I regard this as a year when we all ought to see it as our business to use this fiftieth anniversary to remember the importance of all of these values and to challenge each other to live up to the highest standards with respect to them."

Among other questions during the conversation, Brodhead addressed rising health care costs as "one of the great unsolved political questions of this time." He said practicing a healthy lifestyle is one way to help reduce costs.

"The best way to mitigate those, both nationally and locally, is at the level of individual behavior," he said. "Waiting until you are really, really sick is a really, really expensive model of health care."

Brodhead said Duke has experienced success in saving millions of dollars in health care expenses in the past year by encouraging individuals to use lower-cost generic medicines and mail-order medications. Those savings are important at Duke because the alternatives are less appealing - either passing costs on to employees or reducing the number of employees, he said.

Ruby Thompkins, administrative assistant for the Duke University Police Department, said she found it valuable to hear about how Duke is addressing health care costs. "It's something that affects everyone," she said.

Thompkins will continue the conversation with Brodhead because she and Jackie Gottlieb, director of web and technology solutions for the School of Nursing, won the raffle for lunch with Brodhead later this year.

"I'm excited, but now I'll have to spend more time thinking about what else I want to ask him," Thompkins said.