Former Trustee chair Steel joins Fact Checker in calling for transparency at Duke

Fact Checker here. Good day Fellow Dukies!!

Deep in this morning's Herald Sun article about Founders' Day -- and barely mentioned in the Chronicle -- I could not believe my eyes.

Bob Steel -- former chair of Duke's Trustees, who two years ago engineered the end of partially open Trustee meetings begun in 1972, who even stopped the tradition of meeting with reporters as he left Trustee meetings -- was calling for "more accurate public information" about the university. Administrators must become more open even if it makes them uncomfortable, for "it will be worth the price."

And the killer quote, the university must be run with "more transparency and openness than has been the case."

This man must read Fact Checker!!!!!

✔Hopefully President Brodhead listened and learned from the man who more than any other is responsible for his tenure at Duke. Steel was vice chair of the board when Nan Keohane decided to return to research and teaching, and he was tasked to find a new president.

Steel and his committee surveyed internal candidates and passed them over. He became determined to lure someone from "the upper Ivies" but the Provosts at Harvard, Yale and Princeton were all brand new -- their predecessors having just moved into Presidencies. So he turned to the #3 man at Yale, the Dean of the College, a job unlike any that existed at Duke.

Their first meeting is instructive to us today. Rather than holding a discussion in New Haven -- where chances are no one had any idea who Bob Steel was, much less what he and Dick Brodhead were talking about -- they met at a remote restaurant along the Interstate highway.

This became a pattern, the metaphor for the way Steel, soon to be chair of the Trustees, and the new president would operate. Clandestine. Secretly. Out of the public view.

Yesterday, in cap and gown in Duke Chapel, Steel asserted that he got new religion. Better late than never.

Fact Checker and Deputies have long sought more information about Duke, and this weekend, we will send to officials who have not responded to our previous inquiries, an invitation to answer now in the spirit of Bob Steel.

At the risk of offending people who think that these essays are too long (hey, reading is voluntary) we shall move into background: Steel was chair during two crises.

First the financial meltdown. History has preserved only two words by Steel, and you have to shake your head at them. As universities all over the nation began to feel the pinch on their budgets and endowments, Steel said he had "good news" -- the only Chronicle quote. Brodhead standing next to him explained our money was "stable" and "secure."

By year's end, Duke's endowment had shrunk from $6.1 billion to $4.4 billion. There were similar losses in the pension funds and hospital reserves. And the net assets -- everything Trinity College and Duke had ever accumulated -- tumbled 30 percent from $10.5 billion to $7.5 billion.

Steel, forced from the board by term limits, left it to his successor, Dan Blue, to say we were in "dire financial straits."

✔Steel was also chair during the lacrosse crisis and maybe that's where he learned the following, quoting the Herald-Sun:

"The best antidote to harmful speculation about the university's operations, he argued, 'is more accurate public information' about how Duke operates."

The word "accurate" jumped off the page, for he was the Chair of the Trustees when our public relations office put out a lie in an official news release. A total falsehood that set the tone for the entire official response to the growing lacrosse hoax.

The official news release said Coach Pressler had quit.

In other words, the university was falsely stating the coach walked away from his team in time of greatest need, walked away from three players whom he had recruited, who now faced 30 years in jail for a crime that never occurred. Walked away from their families too, just as Brodhead did when he refused to meet with parents of the three who were indicted.

This essay could easily turn into a litany of what we do not know about Steel during the lax crisis. Everyone who lived through that ordeal seems to have his or her own list of actions and in-actions that did the most harm and peeved the most.

Maybe Steel can get religion on lacrosse too, no matter how late, instead of remaining as the most divisive Trustee chair in our history.

President Brodhead spoke out and apologized. Steel stood in the back of the room, silent, arms crossed over his chest. Today he fights lawsuits growing out of the debacle as if he were a used car salesman fighting odometer tampering.

In the new spirit of transparency, Bob, tell us what happened. Turn Duke's response in the litigation into the search for truth, instead of an adversary proceeding with a Washington hot shot lawyer who bills us for $2 million a year.

And now a Founders' Day lesson.

There is absolutely nothing in Duke's history that would point to a celebration yesterday. On September 30. Nothing.

Maybe on December 11th, to mark the day in 1924 when James B. Duke -- nicknamed Buck -- ceremoniously signed a document called an Indenture forking over the big bucks. But that falls during the exam period and no one would attend, not that over the years as the event skipped around from date to date, there was ever any stress on the capacity of Page Auditorium or Duke Chapel.

Maybe on December 29th, when the Trinity College Trustees met to change the school's name to qualify for the loot. But that falls during vacation time, no one attending for sure.

So here we are, Fellow Dukies, date plucked from a hat. Academic robes, the gold and silver chain around Brodhead's neck, the organ filling the Chapel, the pageantry is a late addition, trying to add spark with yet another Convocation, an occasion that has spawned only yawns over the decades.

And a final word about Harold Spike Yoh '58, who received the highest university honor yesterday. Yes this is the Yoh for whom the football building is named, fan #1 for more than half a century. And also the namesake of a Professorship.

He was a student during some of Duke's glory years on the gridiron: ACC championships and two Orange Bowls under Bill Murray. In those years, people would check each week for the national ranking of the football team, just as they await the basketball standings now.

And my point: Yoh's support was just as strong during the lean years. Duke students who walked out of the Alabama game two weeks ago when the score went lopsided could learn a lesson from him.


Thank you for reading Fact Checker. Have a good weekend!!!!