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Board of disconnected trustees

This past weekend, the Board of Trustees voted to once again increase undergraduate tuition, this time by 3.9 percent. While this annual increase is marginally less than the typical 4.0 percent average over the last decade, Duke’s official cost of attendance for the 2018-2019 year now stands at above $70,000 for the first time. This decision, like all decisions made by the Board, was reached behind closed, mahogany doors inside the luxurious comfort of the Washington Duke Inn. Indeed, the fact that a disconnected group of wealthy, majority-white elites (the collective net worth of the Board numbering in the billions) possess the ability to simply rubber-stamp such drastic tuition increases upon thousands of students, should be troubling to many within the Duke community. 

There was a time when the Board of Trustees commanded a degree of transparency and openness towards members of the greater Duke community. During President Terry Sanford’s tenure at Duke, the Board’s meetings were made transparent thanks to the active efforts of The Chronicle staff and the student body president. Since then, access to the Board’s meetings has slowly been restricted until finally becoming completely opaque again in 2010. Though access existed only superficially in the last years it was available to students, then-President Brodhead and the Board decided that entirely private meetings would improve efficiency and facilitate more frank discussions, apparently to the benefit of the greater University.

With little access or information on the proceedings of Board meetings, few members of the Duke community truly understand why specifically the cost of attendance increases annually—perhaps except for our Young Trustee representatives, who are sworn to confidentiality. In the announcement detailing the tuition increase, President Price stated that the Board’s decision came after a rigorous assessment of program costs and financial aid. Yet, students are still left wondering the specifics of such assessments, and why the value of their Duke education has somehow inexplicably increased by over $10,000 within a five-year period. At the end of their collective venting at yet another annual tuition increase, most Duke students and their families are left throwing metaphorical rocks towards an opaque, seemingly cabalistic Board of Disconnected Elites driving away from campus in their chauffeured Porsches. 

Not to be forgotten, the tuition increase resulting from this Board meeting will have real effects on our campus peers and will deny access to certain potential admittees. University investment in financial aid is expected to grow at a greater rate than the tuition increase, but not every student at Duke is admitted under a need-blind admissions policy. International applicants to Duke University are evaluated on their intellectual ability in addition to their ability to pay the sticker-price $280,000. Unsurprisingly, a disproportionate percentage of international students often hail from elite, privileged backgrounds. In the tokenization of international students, Duke primarily favors wealthy students and thus offers a distorted international perspective skewed by wealth to domestic students.

While Duke commits itself to supposedly improving institutional access along socioeconomic lines, the administration must also consider how such important decisions made by the Board behind closed doors will affect potential and current students at the University. There are currently only a handful of universities in the United States that offer need blind admissions to all applicants (including international students) in addition to meeting 100 percent of demonstrated need. If Duke is to truly become a globally diverse institution dedicated to academic excellence, then the Board should seek to become more connected to the greater student body and their everyday concerns, including the skyrocketing cost of undergraduate education in this country. 


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