This announcement has just arrived, from John Burness:
It's been a long time in the making, but I wanted you to know that we are announcing today that I will be retiring at the end of this academic year. I told President Brodhead when I was renewed a few years ago that I'd give him two more years. Little did I realize that lacrosse would emerge with a half-life that extends seemingly forever.
Since I've been at Duke, I've had perhaps the best and most interesting job in higher education and truly outstanding colleagues to work with. This place has been on a roll and it's been a joy to be in the middle of it. But I'm coming up on my 63rd birthday, and after 17 years of 70+-hour work weeks at Duke-accentuated by the intensity of the saga of the past year-and-a-half-it's surely time for me to slow down and get a new life. I plan to lose weight and do some writing on issues on issues in higher education-not necessarily in that order. Anne and I plan to stay in Durham, and I'm looking forward to continuing to be active in issues that matter to me.
I had a massage this morning, and my masseuse told me she had never seen me so relaxed. Must be a sign.
Over the past 18 months, there were, obviously, some University-related issues on which I disagreed with Burness. That said, he always treated me professionally. He was courteous in answering any and all questions that I had, on or off the record. And his deep knowledge of both Duke's institutional history and the Duke-Durham relationship was helpful to me in trying to understand some of the cross-currents in this case.
Lacrosse issues aside, Burness enjoys a very favorable reputation among people who write about higher education issues. His understanding of how the academy operates and his general preference for transparency are qualities not all that common in University publicity chiefs.
In writing about the case, one valuable Duke initiative that bore the Burness trademark was the on-line archive of presidential statements and articles/editorials. I'd like to say that any university involved in a case like the lacrosse affair would have maintained such a website. But, as anyone who follows higher education knows, in fact few universities would have done so--the normal (and erroneous) reaction is to do everything possible to shield the institution from any outside scrutiny.
Burness' retirement presents an opportunity for Duke to have a new public face--ideally, someone with a background in issues related to due process or students' rights. I'd like to think that the administration will take advantage.