Although the Board of Trustees made several changes to endowment policies this weekend, members of DukeOpen were dissatisfied that endowment transparency was not presented at the meeting.
Among the reforms are the establishment of a social choice fund, modifications to the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility and a more direct manner of reviewing concerns related to investments. DukeOpen’s request for limited disclosure of the endowment’s investments—an arrangement in which members of the Duke community would be able to view time-delayed, hard-copies of direct holdings in an office setting—was not presented to the Board.
DukeOpen interrupted the Board meeting Friday in an attempt to present their full proposal.
“I’ve given them an answer, as they well know, which is in accord with the majority of what they asked,” Brodhead said before presenting to the Board. “The part that I did not agree to represents a fairly technical feature. The notion that if I were to agree to that, suddenly everything would be transparent—and that if I didn’t, everything is opaque—is really not the nature of this.”
David Rubenstein, Trinity ’70 and chair of the Board, analogized endowment transparency to everyone in the University having access to students’ grades. While it is important for select administrators and professors to view students’ academic records, not everyone should be given access to that information, he said.
Members of DukeOpen said that they took issue with the fact that Brodhead was allowed to present on their behalf.
“I worry when a group of students brings a proposal to the administration, and the administration says, ‘We’ll represent your interests before the Board,’” said senior Jacob Tobia, one of the leaders of DukeOpen. “I don’t think we gave consent to be represented by President Brodhead today, and he should not claim to represent us or our interests if we haven’t given our consent as a student community to be presented by him.”
When asked whether DukeOpen members informed Brodhead that they did not want him to present the proposal on their behalf at this meeting, Tobia said it was “certainly implied, if not explicitly stated.”
Several members of the Board noted that DUMAC’s current performance could be compromised by transparency.
“DUMAC—our managers—have a special ability to pick and choose certain managers so we can do better than other people,” said trustee Xiqing Gao, president of the China Investment Corporation and Law ’86. “I believe that DUMAC right now is producing enough of the information.”
Gao added that he has faced similar questions of transparency as the leader of a sovereign wealth fund.
Brodhead noted that the foremost goal of the endowment is to generate money to support the University.
“People gave money to support education at this school,” Brodhead said. “We make the best return we can because that allows us to give the most support. The people who gave us the money didn’t give us the money to make little return.”
In DukeOpen’s proposal, it is noted that two of Duke’s peer institutions—Yale University and Dartmouth College—practice time-delayed investment disclosure procedures and have not seen diminished returns.
Tobia noted that there currently are not effective ways for students to bring concerns to the Board. Although his role in Duke Student Goverment allows him to serve on the Board’s Business and Finance Committee, he noted that the structure of committee meetings does not always permit student input.
“The meeting structures are not set up such as that students can bring up concerns effectively,” Tobia said. “I would have had to interrupt the meeting, even though I’m a member, to really effectively bring it up.”
DukeOpen filled the week leading up to the Board’s meetings with campus protests—wrapping the James B. Duke and Benjamin Duke statues in black plastic, hanging a banner reading ‘Transparency Now’ in front of the Allen Building and encouraging students on the Bryan Center Plaza to call Brodhead’s office expressing support for endowment transparency.
The group did not receive acknowledgement from the administration at any point during the week, said Bobo Bose-Kolanu, a second-year graduate student in literature and one of the leaders of the coalition.
DukeOpen’s appearance at Friday’s Board meeting, however, quickly brought administrative response.
“You and I have had many exchanges as recently as the past few days,” Brodhead said to Tobia. “The trustees have heard extensively about this issue.”
The 12 students knocked on the door of the meeting—held in 115 Teer Building—shortly after it began.
Brodhead spoke to the group for about three minutes before returning to the Board.
“We’re in the middle of a meeting, and I’ve got to get back,” he said.
Following their dismissal, DukeOpen members said that they were not satisfied with the response.
“When a group that represents over 2,000 students, faculty and alumni that have been campaigning and researching an issue for over a year knocks politely at the door dressed in formalwear and requests a two minute presentation, I don’t think that that disrupts the agenda,” Bose-Kolanu said.
DukeOpen members were able to speak with Board members after Founder’s Day Convocation and during the day on Saturday about their proposal and advocacy tactics.
“The trustees were generous with their time and genuinely interested in our proposal,” Bose-Kolanu wrote in an email Friday.
He noted that Board members remarked how civil and polite the DukeOpen students were, especially compared to student protests in the 1960s when some of the trustees were in college.
Lauren Carroll and Danielle Muoio contributed reoprting.