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What is a Young Trustee? The Chronicle answers frequently asked questions

The list of candidates in this year’s undergraduate Young Trustee election has been released. Before voting begins, The Chronicle answered some common questions about the process behind electing the newest Board of Trustees member.

What is a Young Trustee?

Since 1972, the graduate and undergraduate Young Trustees have had the opportunity to serve on Duke’s Board of Trustees, a post that today sees them sitting alongside figures like Apple CEO Tim Cook and Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker. Young Trustees each spend one year as a nonvoting observer before becoming a full voting member of the board for one or two years, alternating yearly.

What are their responsibilities?

As board members, the Young Trustees are charged with caring for the long-term health of the University.

The Board is Duke’s governing body. It is charged with making sure Duke’s “strategic direction, educational policy, finances and operations” align with the University’s mission, and it oversees the Duke University Health System and Duke University Management Company through affiliated boards.

Young Trustees are “fiduciaries of the whole university, not advocates for any particular agenda or issue,” wrote Richard Riddell, senior vice president and secretary to the board, in the email to undergraduates in which he shared the application for undergraduate Young Trustee. 

The website of the Graduate & Professional Student Council, which is charged with selecting the graduate Young Trustee, lists some of that position’s responsibilities, which include serving on one of the Board’s standing committees and strategic task forces.

How are Young Trustees chosen?

The Young Trustee Nominating Committee, chosen by the university secretary and the Duke Student Government president from a pool of undergraduate applicants, oversees the selection process for the undergraduate Young Trustee. Each academic year, the process begins when the committee approves an application, which the Office of the Secretary distributes to all undergraduates. 

Any undergraduate can apply to be the undergraduate Young Trustee, according to the Young Trustee By-Law, other than the current Duke Student Government President. Last year’s winner was Trey Walk, Trinity ‘19.

After applications are in, the YTNC selects eight or more semifinalists, whom the committee interviews before selecting two to four finalists. In a break from tradition, the committee did not release the names of this year’s semifinalists, citing privacy reasons. 

Once the finalists are selected, the process is simple: undergraduates vote for whomever they think should be the next Young Trustee. The finalists will campaign aggressively, often making websites, campaign videos and personalized profile pictures that will flood Facebook timelines. However, the finalists won’t be campaigning on a platform. Instead, they will try to convince their fellow undergraduates that they are the most qualified to sit on the Board.

According to a letter from Riddell to the student body, this year’s election will be held online from noon Feb. 11 until noon Feb. 12.

The process of selecting the graduate Young Trustee, on the other hand, is not as democratic. A Screening Committee evaluates applications for the position on behalf of the Graduate and Professional Student Council, and GPSC’s General Assembly chooses among several finalists. 

William Brody, Fuqua ‘18, was elected to the position last year.

What makes a good Young Trustee? 

Students have to decide for themselves which candidate is best for the job of undergraduate Young Trustee, but the Young Trustee By-Law provides some guidance.

According to the by-law, a Young Trustee should meet several criteria, from being able to “think broadly about the University” to demonstrating a “commitment to making Duke a better place and helping further its mission.”

Despite the need for objectivity in their work, Young Trustees should have a vision: The by-law states that they should “be able to articulate a worldview about issues with a breadth of understanding.”

Riddell provided his own words of wisdom in the email to undergraduates.

“Young Trustees, like other trustees, demonstrate an ability to think broadly about the University, understand the role of the University in society, are curious about institutional issues facing Duke, and respect how universities are administered and governed,” Riddell wrote.

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