Since 1972, the Duke University Board of Trustees has benefited from having recent or current students serve as Young Trustees. Next week, undergraduate students will select a new Young Trustee in a campus-wide election. As students consider their choices, I’d like to share a few thoughts on the criteria trustees use when selecting new members of the board.

First, here’s what Young Trustees aren’t: they aren’t representatives of the students and they don’t advocate for particular changes or for particular constituencies. This is a popular misconception. The board is not a representative body, rather it’s a deliberative body that holds the university in its trust (thus the name, “trustees”).

Good trustees are broad-thinkers. Trustees are asked to think of Duke as a whole—always thinking of what is best to support the overall mission of the university. They have an interest in the role of the university in society, respect for how universities are administered and governed, and curiosity about issues that research universities face today.

Trustees speak and think independently, are able to discuss tough issues in a candid and confidential—but friendly—manner, and value collegiality, knowing the importance of being a member of a group and respecting other members. They exercise good judgment and restraint. As representatives of the university, they embody the values that define Duke such as integrity, dedication, courage and respect for people of different backgrounds and cultures.

In my tenure as secretary, I have found the perspectives of Young Trustees valuable and insightful: they are close enough to the experience of being a student to help older trustees understand current campus issues while also eager to ensure that Duke continues to be a vital institution for future generations of students.

Whoever is elected this year, I look forward to welcoming the Young Trustee to the board in the fall, and to that Young Trustee’s invaluable contribution to Duke. 

Richard Riddell is vice president and university secretary, serving as secretary to the Board of Trustees and functioning as chief of staff to the president.