11/3/2009 Endowment transparency

√ Fact Checker here. (Responding to letter in the Chronicle)

1) Will the letter writer please give me footnotes for his belief that revealing where our endowment is invested will mean lower returns. Is there a study? Are you quoting someone? What support is there for your tirade.

I know Michael Schoenfeld, Duke's PR Chief, has said the same thing. I have previously challenged him for the same information and gotten only silence.

2) I would like to inform the letter writer that Duke University traditionally made available precisely the information that is now being sought. Kindly visit the University Archives and view the reports before your next attempt at diatribe. Then cite for me the years that Duke did not maximize its returns because of this openness.

You may be shocked to learn, letter writer, that much Duke money is currently invested with full transparency. Please review the annual reports and tax return Form 990's of The Nanaline Duke (James B.'s widow) Fund for Duke University, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation (niece) and a foundation established by Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans (grand niece). Have you heard the Trustees of any of these institutions say they lost money because of accountability?

And then there is Warren Buffet. He has been led so far astray as history's must successful investor, that he even lets people know what investments he is making through Berkshire Hathaway! Let Duke reveal the same information, and then tell me how it has been hurt.

3) No one is asking Duke Management to reveal its investment strategy day by day, or even month by month. Any information made public will have far outlived its usefulness to other investors. Perhaps the letter writer is so busy being a sophomore that he did not notice financial news expires every minute.

4) Would you also give me support for the idea that Duke must go to the financial trough and eat as much as possible, putting aside all concern for social responsibility and leadership so long as we slurp up the most. I know people who have given substantially to Duke -- and that was never their idea.

5) As for the letter writer's rather vulgar put-down of "activists" who would have Duke investing in "cow dung processing communes and free trade coffee distributors," I have two responses:

A) First, that may be occurring right now, behind closed doors. It's one reason people want transparency, so you too can see in. You know, there are an awful lot of fuzzy liberals running around Allen Building.

B) I liked the idea that Mr. Brodhead expressed at this year's Freshman Convocation. He welcomed everyone not only to study at Duke, but to participate in creating its future. I submit that to fulfill this assignment intelligently and responsibly requires that Duke Management and every other arm of the university make much information widely available.

Letter Writer, let Fact Checker give you a stock tip. Buy FES. Flat Earth Society. It's a good fit for your portfolio.

√ Vote today. Often.

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