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An open letter to Dean Bill Boulding on decency

letter to the editor

To Dean Boulding:

As an alumnus of Duke's Fuqua School of Business and a fellow believer in the importance of decency in business, I am writing this letter to challenge your idea of a decency quotient and, more specifically, of recognizing DQ.

Those who have heard you speak likely know about DQ. What they may not know is Fuqua gives out a Dean's Recognition Award for Outstanding DQ to select graduates each year.

In light of recent news about former Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price, we can use his case as an example to reconsider how we think and talk about decency. Mr. Price, who rose to national prominence for setting a $70,000 minimum salary for all his employees, was dubbed “the one moral CEO in America” by Robert Reich and “America’s best boss” by Inc. Magazine. Had he attended Fuqua, this initiative may well have made him a top contender for the award.

But it was never quite what it seemed. Let alone the allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault, the fame and recognition ostensibly contributed to further poor behavior. Mr. Price grew obsessed with his social media persona and used his fame to manipulate others.

At Fuqua, decency is defined as “achieving greatness through doing right by others.” In an environment where every goal is supposed to be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound—an “outstanding DQ” is subjective and vague.

If this letter seems like a diatribe from a disgruntled alumnus who is jealous of his award-winning peers, let me assure you that during my time at Fuqua, I considered myself neither decent nor worthy of your recognition. All awardees, unlike myself, clearly presented their efforts to be decent. I simply hope to present a fresh viewpoint.

After all, if there is a lesson to be learned from the Dan Price scandal (perhaps to be written into a business school case study), it is that decency is by definition non-specific and unmeasured—in fact, often unmeasurable.

Considering there is no award for incredible IQ or exceptional EQ—both traits but not accomplishments—why are we reducing something as ever-relevant and timeless as decency to a plastic plaque reflecting just two years' worth of efforts?

Jerry Chen, MBA '21


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