Chronicle profile of new Duke Endowment chair reads like a junior high school newspaper story

✔✔Having passed on (or missed) the January press release about a new chair of The Duke Endowment, the Chronicle tries to recover today. In a story that is the least probative in a generation, the paper properly salutes Neil Williams '58, Law '61 for his long service to the university as well as the separate charity called The Duke Endowment. But the newspaper does not raise a single substantive issue.

A team of PR agents could not have planted a better bouquet. "Williams Embodies Loyalty to Duke."

Fact Checker offers some questions:

✔ -- The Duke Endowment got battered during the great financial meltdown. It came out far worse than many endowments, losing 1/3rd of all its investments. As a result, you had to curtail many gifts throughout the Carolinas. To churches, to orphanages, to hospitals, to community programs, and to the four universities that The Endowment helps. One example: here at Duke, for 17 years The Endowment had funded the Duke-Durham office with great benefit, but you ended this grant and caused an uproar in the city because the university refused to use its own money to continue the office. Does this $80 million gift signal an end to the austerity? What message does such a large gift send to charities that have been crimped?

✔ -- When The Endowment gave $75 million for the Financial Aid Initiative, it was stressed that this gift was above and beyond the "normal" gifts -- it was extra. By normal we mean those funds that Mr Duke himself specified be paid to the university every year, and also that share of the extra discretionary gravy that The Duke Endowment trustees voted for the university consistently each year. With the $80 million, there is no such statement. What are we to read into that? Is this just a PR packaging of expected gifts over the next several years -- all wrapped up in glitz?

✔ -- When The Duke Endowment gave $75 million for the Financial Aid Initiative, it was in the form of a challenge grant, encouraging others to contribute. This time, there is no challenge, as is common in gifts of this size. Why?

✔ -- All over America people volunteer. In their churches, on the Little League fields. In hospitals. We saw where some Duke students gave up their spring break to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in Texas. To volunteer is at the heart of the DukeEngage program too. You yourself volunteered for many years and were a trustee of Duke, even its chair, and you received not a cent, not even reimbursement for your travel costs. So why does The Duke Endowment feel its trustees must be handsomely paid -- about $132,000 a year for each as I recall. Yes, Mr Duke provided for payment, but Trustees can change that by court order and indeed they have gone to court to clean up the language on their own fees, as well as other language on several occasions. You could also refuse to appropriate the money or refuse to take it like Doris Duke did.

✔ -- Mr. Williams, for all the good The Duke Endowment does, it sometimes seems as though its own house is not in order. Since 1924, you have had only three black trustees, including two who continue to serve. In fact, in the 60's a consultant whom The Endowment hired told the Trustees their most urgent task was to elect a black -- but 13 other life-time white male trustees and one white female member of the Duke family were elected before John Hope Franklin was picked at age 80 in 1993. Your office staff -- as recently as three years ago -- included 43 people (since reduced by about five since you farmed out the management of your investments) and your predecessor confirmed only two were black and one an Indian. The highest ranking black ever hired -- in charge of evaluating programs and not initiating any -- has departed. We believe it accurate to state that The Duke Endowment has never promoted a black employee. This hardly reflects Charlotte where you are headquartered, much less the Carolinas which you are charged to help. Your comments please.

✔ -- Last question. Mr Williams, at every other university, the Founder put the loot into the hands of the university itself. Every year when the original endowment yields capital gains, dividends and interest, there is merely an unheralded announcement of return on the investment to keep stakeholders informed. But at Duke -- with legal title vested in the separate The Duke Endowment -- we view the "grants" as a gift, with big splash press conferences, speeches, photo ops. Isn't this a distortion? Isn't this just money flowing from the left hand to the right, and not a new strength for Duke University? Shouldn't The Duke Endowment gifts be excluded from university fundraising, because they give a distorted picture, particularly when compared with other schools.

✔ ✔ Thank you Mr. Williams. If we have any other questions, Fact Checker of course will be in touch.