Trustees OK plans amid fiscal, governance changes

This year, the Board of Trustees has embraced new members, altered its media and governance policies, and voted to move forward with campus planning amid a national financial crisis.

The crisis hit close to the body, too, as Board of Trustees Chair Robert Steel, who was named president and CEO of Wachovia Corp. in July, attended part of the board's Oct. 4 meeting while weighing offers from Citigroup, Inc. and Wells Fargo and Co. to acquire the Charlotte-based bank. The Federal Reserve approved Wells Fargo's $11.1-billion purchase of Wachovia last week.

At the Trustees meeting, the Trustees heard updates on Duke's financial situation, considered the University's outline for New Campus and approved plans to architect the expansion. Financial constraints for the project presented a potential cause for concern in light of the Wall Street crisis.

"It would be detrimental to dampen our ambition," Schoenfeld said. "We will be very prudent and careful, but at the same time Duke must continue with its forward momentum."

Phase I of New Campus is expected to cost approximately $400 million. The plan for linking Central and West Campuses could see infrastructure advances by Summer 2009 and buildings constructed by 2011.

Media were not allowed to attend the Oct. 4 meeting, however, and the customary weekend press conference with Steel and President Richard Brodhead was cancelled indefinitely. The changes stemmed from a year-long internal governance review.

"When you have an open session, what it means in effect is that the Trustees are no longer engaged in the kind of confidential conversation about open questions of the University," Brodhead told The Chronicle earlier this month.

The new policy is not a response to a specific incident, but simply a reevaluation of how the board can best operate, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.

"This new resolution removes the Board from scrutiny of any kind," said Chronicle Editor Chelsea Allison, a junior. "It creates the impression of secrecy, and that just breeds mistrust."

Local media outlets also expressed their frustration with the new protocol.

"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," Bob Ashley, Trinity '70 and editor of The (Durham) Herald-Sun, told The Chronicle Oct. 2.

As a private institution, Duke has no legal obligation to keep the meetings open, but Linda Williams, a senior editor at The (Raleigh) News & Observer said she hoped that members of the board would still make themselves available on an individual level.

"It's always a loss when you've been accustomed to having free flow of access to information and then you don't," she told The Chronicle Oct. 2.

In addition to the changes, the Trustees also welcomed one new member and two new Young Trustees to its body in July.

Ryan Todd, Trinity '08, started his appointment as the undergraduate Young Trustee and Xing Zong, a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in physics, began his tenure as graduate Young Trustee.

The board also added its first Asian trustee over the summer, Xi-Qing Gao, Law '86, who is president and chief investment officer of sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corporation. Gao's position involves managing China's foreign exchange reserves, which include $200 billion in U.S. investments.

Gao was the first Chinese citizen to pass the New York state bar exam. He worked for a Wall Street law firm and various investment agencies before filling his current post.


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