Forum: November-December 2008

August 1, 2008

Jianghai Ho

On the Money

Buried in the [January-February 2008] issue was the news that DUMAC had a return of 25.6 percent last year, raising Duke's endowment to $5.9 billion. That's quite impressive. However, it begs the question, what is Duke planning to do with this money?

I find it truly disappointing that while we celebrate Duke's huge returns, we fail to mention how tuition at Duke has risen to $46,000 a year, and goes up about 6 to 7 percent every year (according to Duke's own admissions website). Hundreds of students graduate from Duke every year deep in debt, faced with loan repayments for the better part of their lives.

Duke is supposed to be a place that builds the future leaders of our nations and businesses. Instead, it's turned into a place that builds buildings and big numbers in its bank account. I think many of the donors to Duke's treasured endowment fund would be truly disappointed to see that their hard-earned money is being used for nothing more than to make some money managers feel good about themselves. This isn't a competition with Harvard and Yale; this is about students' education!

Instead of boasting about the size of the endowment, Duke leaders should be talking about how they plan to spend that money for the betterment of the students for which it was intended. Here's a revolutionary idea: By using a mere 4 percent of the endowment each year, we could cut every single student's tuition bill to just $9,100. Duke should ask itself, "Do we really need yet another art museum, or should we make a Duke education the best value in higher education in the world?"

Michael Abernethy '00

Austin, Texas

Editor's note: Duke was among several universities providing a comprehensive response to a Senate committee inquiry on endowments and spending policies. Duke's response is available at http://today.duke.edu/showcase/reports/dukeu_response_senatefinance2-28-08.pdf.

Duke's undergraduate tuition in the 2008-09 academic year is $36,065; total costs are estimated at $47,985.

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Alumni Orientation

Thanks to Jacob Dagger for the encouraging update on LGBT affairs at Duke ["Gay. Fine By Duke?" March-April 2008]. I was a devout Christian during my undergraduate years. Because I was in a largely secular environment, and because I was meeting (a very few) openly gay/bisexual men and women for the first time, I imagined Duke to be an incredibly liberal, pluralistic place. Looking back, however, I see the campus differently. The ill treatment I suffered because of my religious beliefs never went beyond verbal contempt. LGBT students, on the other hand, were harassed and threatened with physical harm.

Much of this persecution did not have even the pretense of a religious or moral basis; it was simply bigoted and vicious, and more should have been done to prevent and counter it. I hope all Duke faculty members and administrators learn to see LGBT issues as a serious part of real learning and real citizenship. I write this in honor of Eve Sedgwick, whose ability to honor the opinions and identities of all her students (myself included) continues to be an ideal I pursue in my own teaching.

Christopher J. Pizzino '94

Athens, Georgia

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Many of the varied and interesting topics covered in each issue leave me wishing for more. The articles on the soccer team (five pages), the performing arts (four), the significant science news (two), the fun of band bonding (two), and the beautiful, instructive feature on birding (five) left me sure I'd be happy to read more.

Less happily, as I read the eight pages devoted to the [LGBT] movement at Duke, I kept thinking, "Okay, that's enough," only to turn over to find two more pages full of it. Why was that group treated as if they were a more significant segment of the Duke demographic than the ones which Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, or black student organizations serve? There was so much more information than was necessary, much of which seemed redundant, since the key point was made about halfway through: In the college guide for LGBT students, Duke ranks in the top 20 "Best of the Best." Enuff awready!

Would that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members of the campus community were no more obtrusive than the participants in all the other extracurricular groups. Can't we just live and let live?

Connie Lucas Winkler '59

Missouri City, Texas

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I was extremely pleased to read your article "Gay. Fine by Duke?" When I was an entering Duke freshman in the fall of 1958, the Dean of Men told me that "there are two things we can't have around here: thieves and homosexuals." The equation of the two puzzled me.

Richard Calendar '62

Berkeley, California

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It was really good to see Jacob Dagger's thoughtful article about gay students at Duke, and it made me recall my own time at Duke, 1968 to 1972, which was quite bleak for gays. There was nothing at all for gay students on campus or in Durham. Coming out was not possible until I went to Munich for my junior year abroad. However, in the spring of 1972, there was a gay students' organization at Duke, and I attended one of their meetings. It was a bit like people nervously coming out of a bomb shelter and blinking in the light and thinking, "Wow, so they're gay too." We were not so aware of Stonewall at that time, but we certainly knew about the gay liberation movement by then.

Things have changed, but Duke remains an island unto itself; the university is wise to provide a center for gay and lesbian life on campus where gay students can meet each other. I hope they show films about gay life and invite speakers who talk about the possibilities open now to young LGBT people. One of the greatest changes in gay life is that many couples and single people are [becoming parents]. In 1972, we thought gays couldn't have families.

The experience these gay students have at Duke now will affect their future relations with the university as alumni. Although I'm proud of Duke, I've never felt very nostalgic about my time there or wanted to attend an alumni reunion. The article made me realize that it probably has to do with my experiences there as a gay student. Too bad there's not a connection for gay alumni, a listserv or something. It might make a lot of people take an interest again in their alma mater.

Frank Daugherty '72

Mobile, Alabama

Editor's note: For information about the Duke LGBT Alumni Network, visit http://www.dukelgbtnetwork.com/.

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Last month I found myself at Duke for the first time since I graduated, seventeen years ago. I was surprised, and a little comforted, to see how little had changed physically on campus. Jacob Dagger's article "Gay. Fine By Duke?" suggests that the social climate has not changed much either. While I didn't experience much overt homophobia at Duke, the gay scene was small and marginalized. Those of us who were out were a minority of the true gay population on campus, and I have heard many stories of classmates who came out after college.

I assumed things were different for the current generation, but it doesn't sound that way. I don't know how much of this can be blamed on Duke, and it does sound like efforts are being made to improve the climate for gays and lesbians on campus. That said, it seems to me that LGBT life is more active and flourishing at many other colleges.

Pro-gay policies and a supportive administration (which one would expect from a university like Duke) are one thing; a positive, thriving atmosphere for LGBT students and a gay-friendly student body is another. I'm not sure I would recommend Duke to a young gay man or lesbian, and that is a shame.

David Gibbs '91

San Francisco, California

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The recent article concerning gay issues at Duke is the most recent in an ever-growing list of abuses that the average Joes have had to endure. I was an undergraduate soon after we were ranked one of the most homophobic universities by The Princeton Review, and in typical Duke fashion, the administration stepped up its bending over backward for a small group of students that by and large do not represent whom they purport to. For those [who] choose to ignore history, allowing this type of thing is very easy. The fear among some is that "LGBT" will become a demographic on a college application and will one day fully join the ranks of the oppressed and disenfranchised.

The truth of the matter is that most gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people do not require the megaphone that Duke so willingly provides. Much of the perceived hostility toward these people is really a reflection of the fact that we have let a small group of them diverge from mainstream society and demand recognition for their bedroom behavior. If we want a truly just society that honors individuals and their choices, then we should take the lead for once, rather than aping what the Ivies are doing.

Duke, take the lead and send a clear message to the world. We do not want to live in a world that allows institutions of higher learning to treat people differently based on their sexual orientation. Because if we do not stop this, the expansion of programs like affirmative action to LGBT students is on the horizon.

Marshall Walker '04

New Orleans, Louisiana

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As a third-generation Duke alumnus, I read with interest your article on homosexuality at Duke University. The article is truly a Dagger aimed at the heart of our great university.

In the 1920s, when Buck Duke gave his millions, he asked for a chapel tower to be at the center of the campus. My class ring shows the Duke motto, "Religion and Education," in Latin, the classic language of academia. Please note the order of these goals. The Christian cross in the center of my ring needs no explanation.

This current issue of our alumni magazine devotes the cover and six pages to the birds of the Duke Gardens and six pages to our National Championship soccer team and their coach. Neatly placed between these two uplifting aspects of our great university is an eight-page article on a "despised minority" within our community.

If your plan is to destroy the alumni support of our great university, I think you are off to a good start, and you should consider an in-depth, pictorial article on underage binge drinking on campus for the next issue.

C. Leon Gibbs B.S.E.E. '49

Clemson, South Carolina

Editor's note: Duke's motto is "Eruditio et Religio."

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I read with excitement the article about LGBT life. Certainly the atmosphere at Duke has come a long way from everyone wearing khakis on blue jeans day, a day when people were supposed to wear jeans to show their support of their gay peers. But I do have to remark on the "Gay? Fine by me" shirts that originated at Duke. While the intention is good, I question the message.

Although I recognize the message is a show of support, to me those shirts are just another way of people flaunting their heterosexual privilege. Those shirts might as well say, "As a heterosexual, I have the power to grant you permission to be gay." My gut reaction is, "Who do you think you are that you think you have the right to tell me it's okay to be who I am?" Can you imagine if white people wore shirts that read, "Black? Fine by me"?

I realize that any show of support from our straight allies should be appreciated. And I recognize that wearing a shirt that says "Gay" in big letters is support in itself, especially since I grew up during a time when a shirt might as well have said, "Please beat me up" if it had the word "gay" on it. I also recognize these shirts are much better than shirts that might be worn at other universities.

At the University of Virginia, students sing, "We come from old Virginia/ Where all is bright and NOT gay." But perhaps there are slogans that can show support of gay rights without being paternalistic, like the more recent "Love=Love" slogan. Or, perhaps, gay students should wear shirts that say, "Straight? Fine by me."

Janna Jackson '92

Melrose, Massachusetts

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In a Literary State

Randall Kenan's review [March-April 2008] contains a huge void! How can he drop the names of Wolfe, Sandburg, Price, and lesser-knowns without mentioning Charles Frazier? Surely author Georgann Eubanks recognized in her book, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains, this writer's profound and sensitive insight into the mountains, people, and culture (Cold Mountain, Thirteen Moons).

Hike to the top of the real "Cold Mountain" (6,030 feet, Pisgah National Forest, Haywood County, North Carolina.) A short distance from the summit, there is a ledge with a considerable drop, like the one where Inman stood when the black bear charged.

Now there's a "Place in Fiction."

Robert Mayo Failing M.D. '56

Santa Barbara, California

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Speaking Openly

For those who question why Karl Rove was invited as a speaker [Forum, May-June 2008]—and who think only PC speakers should be allowed a forum to speak to the elite—I would answer the obvious: because of Rove's position, place in history, and political accomplishments; and, the fact that over 50 percent of the nation voted for his candidate. Overstated political hyperbole in objecting to any speaker only reveals a general lack of judgment and effectiveness in communication.

Jonathan C. Waldron '66

Marietta, Georgia

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In Praise of Paul

Thank you for the excellent article "Speaking Libertarian Lingua Franca" [May-June 2008] on Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. Congressman Paul has a rare combination of honesty, competence, and courage. During the presidential debates, only Ron Paul dared to tell the American people the truth, that we were attacked on 9/11 because of our foreign policy, specifically our troops being in the Middle East and our support of Israel's occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. He also recognizes that Iran is not a direct threat to the U.S., and we should engage in dialogue and trade with Iran, not threaten military action against them.

Paul advocates bringing our troops home from Iraq, while ending our dangerous alliance with Israel. He also favors ending all U.S. foreign aid, including the billions that we now give to Israel every year. As president, Ron Paul would have always put America's interest and security first, while cleaning up the mess that our country is currently in.

Ray Gordon

Baltimore, Maryland