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Ground rules

Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.

I penned my first column in this space in the spring of 2005 with the intent of making this opaque, private institution just a little more transparent. To that end, during the following three semesters, I did my best, once a week, to acquire and subsequently publish anything and everything "confidential" that I could get my hands on. That included ARAMARK's (now expired!) contract with Duke, part of the Auxiliary Services budget, and numerous internal memoranda, in addition to obscure public documents for which I had to actually pay the University.

As president of Duke Student Government last year, however, I became privy to far more information than I ever before dreamed of-much of it from records and documents that I was told as a columnist didn't even exist. Sixteen months, discussions in nine University and Trustee committees, and an uncountable number of meetings after my election, I now know far more about this place-both good and bad-than any student probably wants to.

But most of that knowledge came at a price. My involvement in much of the University's decision-making over the past year was predicated on written and verbal agreements of confidentiality (full disclosure: I still sit on the Business and Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees, and the same rules apply for that involvement). Consequently, I know everything I ever wanted to know as a Chronicle columnist, but can't act on it as I would have only two years ago.

I intend to honor my agreements, and thus everyone in the Allen Building who has been talking frankly with me for the past year (and I do appreciate it-a lot) can breathe a sigh of relief. That doesn't mean they're off the hook, however.

Deciding not to seek re-election as DSG president was an extremely hard decision that took into account numerous considerations-some personal, others political. One of the main reasons involved a recognition that: (1) University decision-making is almost always far more complicated than is understood publicly, and (2) that lack of understanding often limits the ability of the student body to collectively advocate on behalf of its own interests.

All that's necessary for us to do so is a public discussion of the often-complex issues at hand, and that's exactly why I'm back here, on the editpages. Instead of being solely dedicated to institutional transparency, however, this column is now about keeping those in power at the University honest and, more importantly, accountable.

Throughout this process, I intend to rely as much as possible on rational, deductive argument-something that is sorely lacking in certain segments of administrative decision-making (namely Student Affairs). Thus, this column is now titled "Q.E.D.," the initials for the Latin phrase "quod erat demonstrandum," or "that which had to be demonstrated, was demonstrated," a statement that often is found at the end of mathematical proofs. It's the academic equivalent of "eat that."

But now that my column is taking on a new, post-Elliott-as-an-insider incarnation, I need to lay out some ground rules, governing both how I will use information and what this space will be dedicated to (in no particular order):

(1) There are no sacred cows.

(2) I will not reveal anything I only learned in confidence through my involvement with DSG.

(3) I will primarily rely on written documentation.

(4) All documentation that I can possibly provide for my arguments will be posted online at

(5) If I criticize a specific University policy or administrator, I will make a reasonable effort to donate some of my space in The Chronicle to allow a response from the appropriate administrator (should they desire to respond).

(6) Bear with me, as I may occasionally digress.

(7) I'M BAAAAAAAACCCCCKKKK!!! (a little older, a little wiser, but just as irreverent).

Stay tuned; I have set a tentative agenda that will deal with the Office of Judicial Affairs (a long series on changes in judicial procedure), Duke's compliance with subpoenas from the RIAA, the athletic department, lacrosse, the follow-up to the Campus Culture Initiative, the University's relationship with the Durham Police Department, changes in Duke Dining Services, Central Campus and more.

I swear this will be my only article about "nothing" this semester.

Elliott Wolf is a Trinity senior. His column runs every Thursday.


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