Two weeks ago, a group of student protesters demanded greater transparency from the Board of Trustees. In an effort to gather the Trustees’ opinion on that demand, The Chronicle investigated the matter and found that even contacting the members could be a challenge.
The student group—who calls themselves the People’s State of the University—interrupted President Vincent Price’s speech to demand changes at the University. Their second demand calls for greater transparency in the University’s Board of Trustees meetings.
“In opening up Board of Trustee meetings to public review, Duke gives its community a chance to weigh in on significant policy decisions,” the group wrote in their manifesto. “These necessary reforms can only be made possible with a more transparent Board of Trustees and community-based approaches to monetary budgeting.”
Responses to the demand
We reached out to the Trustees to ask whether they plan to bring up the demand for transparency at the Board’s next meeting. We also asked whether the Trustees would support reinstating a public session for the Board or whether they would favor any other transparency measures.
The inquiries to the Board members were largely met with a unified response—silence. When Trustees did respond, they deferred all comments to Board Chair Jack Bovender.
In an email sent by Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, Bovender wrote that the Board attempts to maintain confidentiality in its governance and that this is common practice among other peer institutions.
“As fiduciaries of the University, Trustees seek to create an environment at their meetings where everyone is encouraged to speak openly and candidly, confident that what one says will not be reported to others who were not in attendance or participated in the discussion,” Bovender wrote. “For this reason, the minutes of Board meetings are confidential for 50 years.”
Subsequent inquiries to Bovender were directed to Richard Riddell, senior vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees.
When asked about the Trustees deferring all comment to the Board Chair, Riddell wrote in an email that this “has been a Board practice for a long time, and was in place when [he] started working with the Board in 2007.”
The Chronicle asked whether the policy of deferring to the Board Chair was written. Riddell responded that it is not, but rather is “a long-established practice, consistent with that at boards of peer institutions.”
John Burness, who formerly served as Duke’s senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, said he has served on a number of both private and public boards and explained that it is a “very common” practice for board members to defer to the chair as their public spokesperson at private universities.
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“There is nothing particularly odd about that at all,” he said.
Burness, currently an adjunct professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, said that he thinks this policy exists to allow the Board to address the public with a unified voice and to avoid publicizing conflicting messages prior to making a decision.
“There can be debates that are going on privately among the Board members who may have differences, either very substantial or by nuance and until the whole Board has acted, there is no Board action,” Burness said. “So generally the Board members themselves prefer to have the chairman be the spokesperson.”
When asked about whether it is typical to also defer to the chair on matters related to their personal thoughts about good governance, rather than about policy decisions, Burness replied “not exclusively but pretty much.”
Engaging with the Board
To contact Trustees, Riddell wrote in an email that community members should email firstname.lastname@example.org. He clarified that information and feedback sent to this account would only be shared with other Trustees at Bovender’s discretion.
In his email, Bovender wrote that Riddell collaborates with the presidents of Duke Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Student Council to arrange for interaction between students and Trustees.
“He would be pleased to hear ideas from any students regarding ways to strengthen communication between students and the Board,” Bovender wrote.
However, it is unclear how many opportunities for interaction he helped coordinate this past year. Riddell noted that there was a dinner for women student leaders and Trustees in February that resulted from his meeting with DSG. That event featured several women of the Board of Trustees and invited women campus leaders.
But Riddell said he could not recall any other programs for student-Trustee interaction in the past year. Former DSG president Riyanka Ganguly, a senior, did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. Former GPSC president Rashmi Joglekar said her meeting with Riddell centered on how to promote opportunities to serve on the Board's standing committees rather than specific events.
Contacting the Board
In general, we found searching for contact information for Trustees was a time-consuming endeavor.
Initially, we spent several minutes on each member, Googling their name with search terms such as “email” or “contact.” For Trustees whose biographies listed current or former employers, we searched their name with their employer in an attempt to find phone numbers or email addresses.
In addition to internet searches, we also searched for each member’s contact information in Duke’s internal directory. We were able to find NetIDs for most of the Trustees—however, more than half of the emails we sent to those NetIDs were undeliverable.
Between both methods of searching—through Google and the internal directory—we were only able to send 15 emails that did not bounce back, which amounts to approximately 40 percent of the Trustees.
Riddell confirmed that not all of the Trustees possess Duke email addresses. He did not respond to a question about why Trustees do not generally have active Duke email accounts.
“Anyone can send a message to email@example.com, which is the email address of the chair of the board. Trustees are not issued duke.edu email addresses,” he wrote.
During the next several days, we obtained more contact information from deeper searching and various other sources, including calls to listed employers asking how to get in touch. We also attempted to contact them by phone when phone numbers were available.
In his explanation for the Board’s accessibility to students, Bovender called Duke “a leader among peer universities” in having students and faculty serve on the Board’s standing committees.
The Chronicle reached out to multiple students serving on those committees to seek contact information for several Trustees. Those students declined to share contact information or said they did not possess contact information for Trustees themselves, despite Riddell writing that students on the standing committees have access to member emails.
Bovender also noted there will be more opportunities for student involvement with plans to add four more students to the present 21 who serve on the Board’s standing committees.
In terms of acting on student demands for greater transparency, Burness said that though he believes the Board values transparency to some extent, it is difficult to implement.
“I think that they probably struggle to find the right balance and in some ways you never find the perfect balance,” Burness said. “But I don’t think it’s because they felt that they wanted not to be transparent.”
We have included all responses and non-responses we received from Trustees below.
Chair Jack O. Bovender Jr.'s response is included in article.
Vice Chair, William A. Hawkins III, did not respond to a request for comment.
Vice Chair, Laurene Sperling, did not respond to a request for comment.
Lisa M. Borders responded in an email. “I have just realized my original response to you did not go through earlier this week,” she wrote. “Please be advised that I am referring your inquiry to the University."
Jack W. Boyd did not respond to a request for comment.
Tim Cook did not respond to a request for comment.
Allyson Kay Duncan did not respond to a request for comment.
Ralph Eads III did not respond to a request for comment.
Jamal A. Edwards responded in an email. “Thanks for your message and reaching out,” Edwards wrote. “I know you're looking for individual responses from all the [Young Trustees] but the board still speaks with one voice on university issues. My best recommendation is to reach out to the University Secretary's office for updates on this and expectations for the meeting in May.”
Katherine Kralievits, chief of staff to Paul Farmer, responded to our request for comment in an email. “Thank you for reaching out about this important issue. Dr. Farmer is traveling this week, but I will bring this to his attention as soon as I can,” she wrote. “Please don’t hesitate to be in touch if there’s anything else I can do to be of assistance.”
Xiqing Gao could not be reached.
Edward A. Gilhuly responded in an email, writing “No Comment at this time unfortunately! Thank you.”
Thomas M. Gorrie did not respond to a request for comment.
Gerald L. Hassell did not respond to a request for comment.
Janet Hill did not respond to a request for comment.
Betsy D. Holden did not respond to a request for comment.
Kathryn A. Hollister's office assistant responded to our request with a voicemail deferring comment to Bovender.
Peter J. Kahn did not respond to a request for comment.
Elizabeth Kiss did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Anna E. Knight responded in an email. “If the Chronicle wishes to hear from the board, you would need to contact Jack Bovender, the board chair, as we function on consensus and thus speak with one voice on university matters,” she wrote. “But Jack is quite friendly and I definitely recommend you reach out to him! My apologies for any inconvenience, and best of luck with your article.”
Michael Marsicano did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Martha L. Monserrate did not respond to a request for comment.
Patricia R. Morton did not respond to a request for comment.
Clarence G. Newsome did not respond to a request for comment.
Stephen G. Pagliuca did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Christopher J. Paul responded to a request for comment. The conversation is available below.
The Chronicle: What are your thoughts on the demand is this something you plan to bring up?
Christopher J. Paul: “The Board policy is that the chairman of the Board Jack Bovender is the official spokesperson and so it’s really not appropriate for me to comment beyond that unless directed by the Board chairman.”
TC: Can you speak more generally about whether you think transparency is good governance value for the Board to uphold?
CP: “I can’t—so I encourage you to reach out to the Board chair to get direction on it and he can sort of direct that response whether from him or others so that’s what I can advise and I appreciate you calling.”
TC: Can you tell us whether the policy to defer to the Board chair on press inquiries is a written policy or more informally agreed upon?
CP: “It is an official policy that the Board chair is the spokesperson for the Board of Trustees, yes.”
Ann Pelham did not respond to a request for comment.
Robert R. Penn did not respond to a request for comment.
J.B. Pritzker did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Carmichael S. Roberts Jr. did not respond to a request for comment.
Steven M. Scott did not respond to a request for comment.
Adam Silver responded in an email. “I appreciate your interest and outreach, but I’ve been told that the Board practice is to defer to the Chairman which I will follow,” Silver wrote. When asked whether this policy to defer to the board chair was verbal or written, Silver replied “Sorry — I don’t know."
Ashley Crowder Stanley did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
L. Frederick Sutherland did not respond to a request for comment.
Jeffrey W. Ubben did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Hope Morgan Ward responded Tuesday in an email.
"I am confident that the matter of Trustee meeting transparency will be considered in light of recent requests," she wrote. "The Trustees are committed to appropriate transparency and to engaging with the entire Duke community - students, faculty, employees and administration - in ways that are helpful, appropriate and fruitful."
Observer status Young Trustees:
Uzoma B. Ayogu "We continue to follow that collective voice approach," Ayogu wrote in an email. "The chair can be reached via the secretary's of the Boards office."
Erika Moore declined to discuss. In a phone conversation, Moore responded to a request for comment, saying “I do not, bye,” before hanging up abruptly.
Newly-elected Young Trustees:
Amy Kramer responded in an email. “Thanks for your email,” Kramer wrote. “I’m not on the Board yet, nor have I gone through orientation, so I do not know anything about current discussions on this issue. If I were you, I’d contact Jack Bovender who is the current Chairman of the Board. I hear he’s very friendly and willing to talk. Sorry I can’t help more.”
Amy Hafez did not respond to a request for comment.
Editor's Note: This article was updated to include Joglekar's response. It was updated again at 12:10 p.m. on Tuesday with Ward's response and again at 1:26 p.m. Wednesday to include Ayogu's response.
Adam Beyer is a senior public policy major and is The Chronicle's Digital Strategy Team director.