Policy may limit news on Trustees

Although the Board of Trustees has no legal obligation to open its meetings to the press, members of several media outlets said a press blockage will limit transparency and coverage of the 36-member group.

Media will be barred from all parts of the Trustees meeting this weekend, and Chair Robert Steel, Trinity '73, and President Richard Brodhead will not hold the press conference that traditionally capped the meeting.

"In the long run, [the limited access] makes it harder for [the Trustees] to communicate to the public and raises unnecessary barriers to media trying to get fair information," said Bob Ashley, editor of The (Durham) Herald-Sun.

The change-to be applied to all future Trustee meetings-was made following an internal governance review over the past year.

"It's always a loss when you've been accustomed to having free flow of access to information and then you don't," said Linda Williams, a senior editor at The (Raleigh) News & Observer. "I would hope that something like the Trustees' closing of their meeting doesn't mean that people still won't make themselves available to the press."

Because Duke is a private institution, the Board is not considered to be a public body, and is therefore not required to comply with the North Carolina Open Meetings Law mandating that meetings of governing committees be open.

Despite being private, the University does receive a large amount of public funding. During the 2007 fiscal year, the government gave Duke $545.5 million in grants and contracts, according to 2006-2007 Financial Statements.

Editors of local papers-The N&O and The Herald-Sun-said that although the closed-door policy is disappointing, there is no legal basis by which they can appeal it. The Trustees' bylaws also do not mandate any portion of their regular gatherings be public.

Williams and Ashley said they have usually found the University fairly accessible to the media, but they will now have to look into other ways of getting information about the meetings-such as building stronger source relations with individual Trustees to maintain coverage.

Ashley noted that the press conference did not offer particularly profound access for media to the meetings, but it did at least allow for reporters to ask questions and gather information they deemed pertinent.

"We could pursue angles that we may think readers may be interested in, that the University would not have thought [to announce] or may have preferred to indulge," Ashley said.

Chronicle Editor Chelsea Allison, a junior, said press releases are "imperfect by nature of their polish" and "inadequate" for relaying information to readers.

"This new resolution removes the Board from scrutiny of any kind," she added. "It creates the impression of secrecy, and that just breeds mistrust."

According to bylaws, the Board of Trustees meets at least four times each year and is comprised of alumni and students who serve as young trustees. It approves the University's budget and discusses matters to advance the University's long-range plan.

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