On Monday, James H. Ball Sr. and Wendy A. Ball, parents of Duke alumni, published a letter in the Chronicle establishing the cessation of their long-standing monetary support for the University, in light of political and atmospheric changes they have perceived to be harmful. This letter mirrors a growing trend among alumni donors of colleges and universities across the nation as campuses adopt more liberal climates. We respect the right of all donors to offer their monetary support to the University on their own terms and acknowledge their right to terminate their donations when they see fit. Nevertheless, we utilize this opportunity to respond to the Ball family in defense of a progressing university.
To begin, they take issue with the “factions” that rushed to judgment during the Duke Lacrosse scandal, namely the “gang of 88.” While we should urge due process and discourage the quick verdicts of the court of public opinions, those concerns are auxiliary to the more substantive issues such scandals highlight: sexual assault, gender privilege and racial discrimination. In hindsight, Duke acknowledges the mistakes made during the scandal, but should not allow them to dictate sexual assault or hate and bias policy on campus. An unsubstantiated fear of repeating an improbable scandal would impede necessary progress on these issues on a campus where 40 percent of undergraduate women and ten percent of undergraduate men report being sexually assaulted.
The letter argues further that Duke, in considering allowing the Muslim call-to-prayer to be issued from the Chapel, was willing “to advance the activities of one favored religious group at the expense of another." No evidence indicates the validity of that statement, especially at a university with historical ties to Methodists. While Duke has been nonsectarian for years, the recalling of this landmark decision to allow the call-to-prayer was a missed opportunity to combat the current Islamophobia that students face even within the walls of our campus.
Duke has long celebrated its diverse student body, and with that, comes a responsibility to provide all students a basic level of comfort while attending the University. While the Ball family argues against the need blind admission of undocumented students, we reject the criticisms, recognizing that there are inherent barriers that prevent these students from attaining educational resources without financial support. For donors who are concerned, donations are the only way to prevent dilution of financial aid funds for all students.
As emphasized in the letter, the Ball family rejects the political activism against our current presidential administration. But this activism is central to democracy. All student groups—liberal or not—reserve the right to protest President Trump just as any conservative groups were free to protest President Obama. Along with our peer institutions, as a university, we should utilize our power and knowledge to voice concerns about discriminatory legislation, especially legislation that threatens the security of our students. The injunction by a judge in Hawaii stands as a testament that these bans were religious bans which ideologically oppose Duke’s mission statement.
We reaffirm that donors maintain the right to donate at their discretion, but the University cannot exist in a state beholden to our donors. While some alumni may leverage money in face of shifting university stances, Duke should prioritize the wellbeing of students before bowing to any demands. Universities grow and change, and while donations provide power, Duke should not allow the desires of distant college affiliates to trump the safety of those residing on our campus.
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