Richard Riddell, vice president and University secretary, urged this year’s Young Trustee candidates to avoid running on a platform, but the candidates have taken a variety of approaches to their campaigns.
After the Young Trustee finalists were selected, Riddell met with them to give them guidelines on the role of Young Trustee and on how the candidates’ campaigns might relate to their role if elected. One of the guidelines given by Riddell was that candidates should avoid running on a platform of specific campaign promises, and should instead discuss how their experiences would make them the best fit for the role of Young Trustee.
Each of the three candidates—seniors Jamal Edwards, Wills Rooney and Max Schreiber—has taken a different approach to following Riddell’s guideline, however. Edwards has released relatively few details publicly about what he wants to do on the Board of Trustees if elected, while Rooney has described general ideas that fit with his vision of the University’s future. Schreiber has been the most specific, outlining defined positions on issues the University faces.
“There really is no room for a platform,” said junior Annie Adair, chair of the Young Trustee Nominating Committee. “That was really important for [Riddell] and that’s what I tried to convey to the candidates.”
A very different kind of process
Adair explained that Riddell asked all three finalists to attend a meeting with him and Adair in which he made it clear that the candidates should not advocate on specific issues or develop a particular platform. Riddell said that while he did not forbid candidates from advocating their stances on issues during the meeting, he tried to explain that candidates would likely not be able to keep promises made during the campaign.
“If somebody campaigns on a platform to achieve certain things when they’re a Young Trustee, that would be going about it the wrong way,” Riddell said. “That’s not what trustees are expected to do.”
Rooney and Edwards attended the meeting, but Schreiber was not able to attend due to a scheduling conflict. Riddell sent his guidelines to all the candidates via email after the meeting, and Adair sent all candidates minutes of the meeting with Riddell.
These guidelines have not been issued to candidates in previous Young Trustee elections. Adair said, however, that she and Riddell were hoping to change the tone of the Young Trustee campaign with alterations to the process.
“This was a trial for this new, kind of wonky process,” Adair explained. “We did it very differently than we have in the past.”
Varied responses to the guidelines
Edwards has mentioned themes of diversity and inclusion during his campaign, but has mostly focused on his past experiences and qualifications. His campaign website lists four areas that he would focus on if elected, including “institutional advancement,” “gender-based violence and sexual assault,” “access and equity” and “diversity and inclusivity.” The original site did not elaborate on these points, although it was updated Monday to include more specific information on each area.
Edwards discussed his plans if elected during a Duke Student Government Senate meeting last Wednesday, but for the most part spoke only in broad terms about the “Duke brand”—although he did express concerns about Duke Kunshan University.
“Instead of people constantly saying, ‘What is Harvard doing?’ or ‘What is Stanford doing?’ or ‘They just had this program and we should do it here,’ I’d like to actually do the reverse of that,” Edwards said during the meeting. “Students should be saying, ‘Wow, did you just see the new initiative that Duke is doing,’ and using us as an institutional example.”
Edwards explained that he has left his positions on specific issues vague because of the way that the Young Trustee role was outlined by Riddell.
“[Riddell] sat down and he said, ‘This is not a DSG campaign. We don’t like the ways in which elections have been run in the past where students are making promises and running based on an agenda,’” Edwards said.
He added that he also did not want to see the campaign become politicized or ideologically focused.
“People try to make it about these political ideologies or what they’re assuming our political affiliations are, and it’s not about that,” Edwards said. “It’s about your ability to understand the nuances of the undergraduate experience and then translate that to the board.”
In contrast, Rooney and Schreiber have laid out proposals outlining specific areas that they would focus on if elected to the Board. Both Rooney and Schreiber have large sections on their websites—each hundreds of words long—explaining what their priorities will be if chosen as Young Trustee. They also provided specifics on their platforms when talking to DSG last Wednesday.
Rooney has spoken about his desire to see changes to Duke’s curriculum that allow students to ask thoughtful questions about purpose and core values.
“We should also have major, minor, and certificate options in ‘liberal studies,’ ‘intellectual history,’ or ‘Great Books’ that one can choose to explore the varied facets of an integrated theme of knowledge,” he writes on his website.
Rooney said that he is not running on a platform and is not looking to advocate any specific issue.
“I want to be as clear as possible that I am not pushing any political platform or agenda,” he said.
Instead, Rooney explained that his intention is to provide ideas that fit with his vision of the direction that the University should take. He said that he is not “wedded” to any particular idea that he had proposed.
“These are just ideas,” he said. “This is not a specific issue on campus right now.”
Schreiber has taken the most vocal and public approach to his Young Trustee campaign by voicing specific stances on the housing model, free expression at the University and Duke Kunshan University, among other things. His website lists detailed positions on these issues and outlines what he would advocate for on the Board if elected.
At the DSG Senate meeting last Wednesday, Schreiber also took strong positions on specific issues.
“If a replacement for the housing model comes up, to implement a residential college model, I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Schreiber said at the meeting. “Students run social life better than faculty and [residence coordinators] and [resident assistants].”
Like Rooney, Schreiber insisted that he is not running a campaign based on an agenda or platform, even though he has specific positions on the housing model and intolerance clauses.
“I’m not advocating a policy. I’m giving my perspective on what I believe is best for the University,” Schreiber explained. “I don’t have a platform. It’s a list of priorities.”
Schreiber said that he saw his advocacy on issues that are relevant to undergraduates as a valid focus of his campaign. He explained that although a focus on issues was not necessarily what the administration wanted in the campaign, he felt that the election should be focused on issues relevant to undergraduates.
“As much as Duke wants to make this a resume election, this is an issue election,” Schreiber argued. “The Board of Trustees, fundamentally, sets the direction for the University, and it’s the responsibility of myself, Jamal and Wills, I believe, to make sure we’re crystal clear about which direction we believe the University should be headed.”
Schreiber added that he would be at a disadvantage if he campaigned on his qualifications alone.
“If this is going to be about who has the most impressive resume, I’m going to lose,” he said. “But if this is going to be about who understands the priorities of the undergraduate population and it becomes an issue based election, that’s how I stand a shot at differentiating myself.”
Rooney and Schreiber have also publicly attacked the Black Student Alliance for what they saw as an unethical Young Trustee endorsement process. Schreiber in particular has used caustic language to criticize the BSA endorsement process, calling it “Kabuki theater” and accusing the BSA of “Boss Tweed style tactics.”
Edwards criticized Schreiber and Rooney for their public criticism of BSA, which he said they did without notifying or consulting him. He expressed disappointment that a large portion of the campaign had, in his view, become focused on the public statement against BSA issued by Schreiber and Rooney.
“They’ve taken up the space around what the Young Trustee should be about, and they made it about very petty logistics about getting an endorsement or not,” Edwards said. “It’s not about that, and so for me, it wasn’t worth commenting on that because that’s not what this election is about.”
He added that he felt the other candidates in the race had failed to keep a broad perspective about the role of Young Trustees.
“It’s not just about winning,” Edwards said. “It’s about what the actual role is.”