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Light rail, tuition increase discussed at Board of Trustees' open forum

At the Board of Trustees open forum Wednesday night, members of the Duke community raised questions about the light rail, Central Campus and tuition increases.

The Board of Trustees hosted its second open forum of the year March 6 as part of a recent communication initiative. This forum allows Duke community members to share opinions and ask questions about the Board's ongoing work. The forum was led by Richard Riddell, senior vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees.

During its first-ever forum in January, the Board of Trustees addressed the University's financial situation, the influence of donors, and diversity on the Board of Trustees. The events come out of the Board's new transparency initiative launched this year.

The light rail project

The dominating topic of the night was about the University's decision regarding the light rail. Duke sent a letter to GoTriangle Feb. 27 to inform them that the University would not be signing the cooperation agreement for the light rail project.

"While I know that the course of this particular project has caused some to question our commitment to Durham, which pains me greatly, my pledge to serve our community has never been stronger and will only grow," wrote President Vincent Price in an email that addressed the University's decision.

Duke's decision to not plan to cede land for the light rail project was met with criticism from Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, Charlie Reece—member of Durham City Council—and Congressman G. K. Butterfield, among others.

The audience at the forum, which included Duke students, professors and other members of the Duke community, also voiced concern at this decision. 

Riddell said that the light rail project is something that the administration of Duke University has been involved with for 20 years, and that this is not something that the Board of Trustees took action on at their last meeting. However, Riddell said the Board was very clear that they support how President Vincent Price is handling the light rail project. Riddell suggested that questions having to do with the light rail be directed towards Price and his administrative team.

Tuition increase for 2019-2020 academic year

A 3.9 percent increase for undergraduate tuition was approved by the Board of Trustees for next year in a unanimous vote last month. 

“This reflects our concerns about balancing the costs of providing our educational experience,” President Vincent Price said after the February meeting at which the decision was made.

Riddell said this increase affects students with different household incomes. If a student's household income is below approximately $50,000 a year, it is likely that financial aid will rise to meet one's increasing need. Riddell said that a challenge exists for students who fall in between being helped by financial aid and the cost making up a large percentage of their family's income. 

Paul Baker, professor of earth and ocean sciences in the Nicholas School of the Environment, expressed frustration about the responses from the panelists. 

“They could not have been less transparent,” Baker said.