Twelve dollars

short and sweet

At Duke, 12 dollars is six dollars and sixty cents less than what it costs to swipe into Marketplace for dinner.

12 dollars is approximately five loads of laundry, washed and dried.

12 dollars is a hat at the bookstore. Six hours parked in the BC lot. One ABP salad with a cappuccino.

12 dollars is two dollars more than a Devine’s cover charge and at least 10 dollars less than what it costs to Uber to the Raleigh-Durham airport.

12 dollars is the minimum hourly salary of most Duke employees: the people who do the work that nobody notices but everybody needs. The people who drive the buses we ride and prepare the food we eat. Today, a sign hangs on the Allen building in front of scattered tents, outlining a list of demands. Last among them is the demand for a living minimum wage for Duke employees and sub-contracted workers. It asks for $15 per hour.

It is no secret that Duke, as an institution, is exceedingly wealthy. 

The cost of a year of undergraduate tuition, room and board will climb 3.8 percent next year to reach $65,703, exactly $65,691 more than twelve dollars.

From Duke’s $2.3 billion operating budget for 2015-16, $494 million is being funneled towards projects like the new Student Health and Wellness Center, a new engineering and physics facility, renovations to the R. David Thomas Center, the West Campus Union, Perkins Library and Wallace Wade Stadium. While I am sure these facilities will be beautiful when finished, I will experience them for a short time. I can’t help but feel like administrators missed the age-old memo that you shouldn’t make another mess until you clean up the one you already made. Many students have expressed that it feels as though all of West Campus is under construction, undergoing a lengthy transformation towards a polished finish they will be unable to enjoy.

Duke students are charged $5 for every hour after they fail to return a computer charger to the Link at the specified time. If students forget their DukeCard upon entering Wilson Gym, they must pay $5. A friend of mine was recently towed out of a parking lot for which she had a valid pass, and even when she presented this pass, she was still forced to pay $160 for the trouble of being towed.

These absurdly rigid policies make me feel like a monetary resource, intended to be extracted and squeezed until I can be of sufficient use to my University.

A friend of mine was recently notified that his fraternity’s section on Central Campus would be promptly torn down this summer. HDRL sent a short email the day before the news became public, notifying him where future residents would be relocated. This seems like a rather abrupt way to alert a group of people that they will be permanently uprooted; it suggests that the institution views them as little more than temporary residents occupying Duke’s space. As though they have formed no attachment to the place they lived. As though they have put down no roots in their process of evolution in that space.

My Central Campus apartment is ridden with mold, rusty ceilings and a shower that never properly drains.

I am not the first to note that Duke’s administration—notably the Board of Trustees—seems shockingly disconnected from the interests of students when it comes to handling Duke’s finances. They make decisions without adequate representation of students’ perspectives and then frame these actions as resolute and non-negotiable.

I would never pretend I am qualified to make decisions about how the administration should allocate funding, but I find it deeply unsettling that Duke does not feel compelled to adapt a policy of financial transparency. It is impossible to find specific details about Duke’s budget because the University never releases such information.

I want to know who decides where to channel Duke’s money and why certain projects are chosen. If I’m going to be told by an administrator that installing security cameras outside residential buildings—a safety need I have written about previously—is an expensive long-term undertaking, I would love to know why the Bryan Center more urgently needed a new glass door. If Central Campus apartments cannot have dishwashers and freshmen must pay upwards of $16 for meals they’re required to eat, please at least tell me how and why this is the case.

In 2013, a sign that read “Transparency Now” hung upon Allen building, at the very spot where a banner now sways in front of protesters. Although peer institutions like Yale and Dartmouth have adopted investment disclosure procedures, Duke feels no need to assume any sort of endowment transparency.

Without transparency, suspicion undoubtedly arises about how and where Duke’s money is being spent. With an open policy, there might be less confusion and anger. We could all engage in more productive debates if we knew where to focus our attention.

One tweet released during this weekend’s protest reads, “I am an alumni, and I will not be giving to Duke.” For several years, students have been donating less upon graduation. While 69 percent of seniors donated in 2009, that number receded to just 40 percent last year and is projected to be even lower for the class of 2016.

Of course, most students want to give back to the institution that afforded them countless opportunities for growth, challenge and laughter. I will always be grateful for the experiences I have had here and want to invest in my University’s continued success. However, donations are a privilege, not an assumed right. We, as members of the community, should not feel as though we are merely transient financial vessels—especially when we cannot be told where our money goes. Duke’s talented community is the reason the school remains so renowned. Students, faculty and employees alike should be valued as an end in themselves rather than simply as a means to an end.

I would like to believe the administration has reasons for the decisions it makes. I want the school to prove it to me. So convince me, Duke. Until full transparency ensues, I will keep pushing to find out exactly why employees cannot be paid more than $12.

Carly Stern is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.

Carly Stern

Carly Stern is a Trinity senior. Her column, "never been satisfied," runs on alternate Fridays.


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