2/1/2010 Electing Young Trustee; Chair Dan Blue writes Chronicle

This is a very unusual and very welcome letter, a direct communication from the chair of our Trustees to stakeholders in Duke University.

When our previous chair, Bob Steel, used this device to try to explain his bungling of the lacrosse hoax, the head of our PR operation said it was the first instance he could remember of the chair's reaching out to everyone. And now a second broad message. Fact Checker can only hope that Dan Blue expands on the practice.

I must admit though that the substance of Mr. Blue's letter today troubles me.

Mr. Blue gives tacit approval to a public debate on the positions of the candidates on issues in Duke's governance, and for everyone's having a vote. Perhaps he could explain his endorsement of this process, while at the same time acquiring his own Trusteeship and then the board chair in secret.

As a matter of fact under Mr . Blue's leadership, the secrecy has reached its zenith: the Trustees recently selected two new members for partial terms, to fill out terms of people leaving the board, and no one will tell us who was picked. We have to wait until they actually take office July 1.

This is merely one instance of the board's operating as if the rest of us were Taliban. What reason in hell could support this policy?

There is an additional step in the selection of full term adult Trustees. Under the by-laws, rather than selection being finalized by the Trustees themselves, candidates are nominated clandestinely, to use a charitable term, with the current Trustees -- after careful vetting by the administration -- putting forth one name to fill each vacancy. Then the real charade: 12 of the candidates are "elected" by the leadership of the Alumni Association and 24 are "elected" by the North Carolina Methodist Church. I cannot fathom why the Church in particular tolerates this falsehood.

Does anyone know what Dan Blue stands for? What is his position on any issue confronting Duke University? Has he ever stood before us in competition with other candidates to tell us why he is better? Indeed, has anyone even heard him speak? In the coming weeks, the Trustees will decide whether to spend more of our endowment each year -- a decision that let us live beyond our current means at the expense of future generations. We learned this only by accident. If the Trustees go forward, it will have a great negative impact upon what we transmit to provide for the greatness of Duke in perpetuity. Where does Mr. Blue stand on this folly?

Mr. Blue also slips in the word "confidential" in describing the board, as if this were the norm. Sir, why is this necessary? Tell us about your counterparts at UNC, for example, who conduct their business in the sunlight. What would be lost if you were to do the same; I see a great deal to be gained. Please post the agenda, report on each vote taken and furnish us with the complete minutes, as steps toward fully open meetings.

In some respects, in my head, I compare the Trustees with the US Senate, both august bodies, deliberative, charged with advice and consent. This analysis collides with reality of course, because our democracy requires the US Senate to meet in public. This openness has helped build our nation and is a source of strength, rather than something to be feared.

I suggest current candidates for undergraduate Young Trustee be asked whether they will make a high priority to inform and persuade other board members of the need to come out of their closet. And that their answers be a key element in whether they gain your vote or not. I was pleased to see in this morning's Chronicle that one of the graduate and professional candidates for Young Trustee, Adrienne Clough, bases her campaign on transparency and accountability for all on the board.

Finally I call upon the leadership of the Alumni Association and the Methodist Church to "elect" as adult trustees only men and women committed to the principles I have outlined.

I am sorry that I find flaws with the substance of Mr. Blue's letter, as enthusiastic as I am about his very good judgment in writing.

✔Fact Checker thanks you for reading and wishes you a good day.

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