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Board of Trustees unveils new transparency initiatives

<p>Duke's Board of Trustees meetings are typically held at the Washington Duke Inn.&nbsp;</p>

Duke's Board of Trustees meetings are typically held at the Washington Duke Inn. 

Duke's Board of Trustees is rolling out a series of new measures to be more transparent. 

Going forward, the Board is implementing a three-pronged approach to transparency. The Board will post summaries of meetings—for committees, task forces and the full Board—and Richard Riddell, senior vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees, will brief certain student groups on upcoming board meetings. 

Riddell will host an open forum within two weeks of the meeting weekends, where members of committees and task forces will answer questions. He said the move will be the first of its kind in Duke’s history.

“The Trustees are very interested in identifying ways in which the Duke community can understand what happens in Board meetings and how, to the extent possible, how important decisions about Duke get made," said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.

Additionally, the Board’s new governance committee will review the policy on corporate records this academic year to check if it needs to be updated.

“I think what we’re trying to do is address the issue that students, faculty or members of the Duke community don’t know what goes on in Board meetings, and they’re left to imagine what goes on in Board meetings,” Riddell said. “There’s nothing about the confidentiality of meetings—which is there for a good reason, to preserve the candid discussions. There’s nothing about that in conflict with giving a little more information about what goes on in Board meetings and what leads to decisions.”

The communication initiatives, which Riddell provided to The Chronicle Monday, were decided at the Board’s meeting this past weekend. The modifications will kick in for the December meeting, Schoenfeld said.

Duke’s Board of Trustees makes decisions that affect students and others in the community—including setting the tuition cost for each year. A summary of action is published on the Trustees' website after each full Board meeting and executive committee meeting, and The Chronicle’s editor-in-chief interviews the Board’s chair after each full board meeting, but the Board’s meetings are currently closed to the public. 

It has not always been this way. Until about 10 years ago, there were open sessions at each Board meeting. Schoenfeld told The Chronicle earlier this year that those sessions were when formal reports from administrators were made to the trustees, and that the closed meetings are in line with other private universities.

“We’d prepare a presentation for the deliberative session of the board and then we would have another for the open session of the board,” said Richard Brodhead, who was president of Duke when the change was made to close the full meetings, earlier this year. “If you think there was greater transparency at that point, there really wasn’t.”

The changes come as student activists push for greater Board transparency. Last year, students calling themselves the People’s State of the University asked for open board meetings as part of their platform. A recent discussion with students interested in the issue laid the groundwork for the specific policy shifts that are now being rolled out, Riddell said.

“Last spring, the People’s State raised this as an issue. Some of the Trustees heard about that last spring,” Riddell said. “We looked at ‘Well, what kinds of communications are we doing currently with the community?’ I think there was a sense could do a little more than the Trustees had been doing as of last spring.”

The meetings were closed after the Board’s last governance review 10 years ago. The Board just underwent another one this past year, led by Board Vice Chair Laurene Sperling, Trinity' 78, and restructured itself into task forces and consolidated committees as a result. 

The decision to introduce the three new transparency initiatives comes out of the Board's first full meeting under the new governance structure.

"We'll experiment with this, but I think there was an interest by the students I talked to to have more information and interest on the part of the Trustees to provide more information," Riddell said. "So that's what led to the changes."

Bre Bradham

Bre is a senior political science major from South Carolina, and she is the current video editor, special projects editor and recruitment chair for The Chronicle. She is also an associate photography editor and an investigations editor. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief and local and national news department head. 

Twitter: @brebradham



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