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Why I Stopped Giving to Duke

A once-loyal alumnus explains why he changed his mind.

By Albert Oettinger Jr.

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December 13, 2011

My undergraduate and graduate years at Duke University between 1958 and 1966 were a delight. Throughout the years following my graduation, I gave financial support to Duke on a regular basis, to annual funds, capital campaigns, and the endowment. In 1966, I had founded a garden industry-related business that was thriving, and thus I had the means to give back to Duke what I so appreciated Duke had given to me in the way of preparation for life.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, I became actively involved in the Duke Annual Fund, eventually serving as the class agent. In the early 1980s I joined the executive committee of the fund, which oversees fund-raising among all constituencies—undergraduate, law, medicine, etc. During 1984-86, I served as chairman of the executive committee.

But in 1991, I read a book entitled Illiberal Education, written by Dinesh D'Souza. It includes case studies on "the politics of race and sex on campus" at some of the nation's "finest" institutions-Berkeley, Stanford, Howard, Michigan, Harvard, and Duke.

I learned that a new term had been coined, politically correct. Suddenly, well-thought-of schools were initiating policies that were intended to right society’s wrongs, but actually had the opposite effect. For example, in its bid for "diversity," Duke had begun to hire its faculty and admit its students using percentages that took into account racial balance. In the process, merit was sometimes overlooked.

Shocked by this book, I contacted and then interviewed several tenured Duke professors to find out the extent to which the findings in D'Souza's case study were true. The professors verified the accuracy of what I had read.

During that period, I recall a comment by Stanley Fish, then chairman of Duke’s English department, "There is no such thing as free speech.” That was most disturbing to me, as a university environment has traditionally lent itself to the free expression of ideas as opposed to a one-sided indoctrination with no counterpoint allowed. But speech codes had became de rigueur.

I then joined an organization, now called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni or ACTA, which is devoted to promoting excellence and reform in higher education.

Through ACTA and like-minded organizations such as the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, many other issues in need of reform at Duke were illuminated for me, including the following:

  • Core curriculum: A required core curriculum, including such subjects as economics, reading and composition, foreign language, politics and government, is no longer the norm. On the contrary, most such courses are not needed to earn a degree. (This article will show you the specifics of how Duke stacks up.)
  • Free speech: In the interest of political correctness, students and faculty may face adverse consequences if they speak contrary to the current university speech code. There is a “correct” racial, sexual, class, and political orthodoxy to which one must adhere.
  • Political indoctrination: In the classroom of the past, students were usually presented with all sides of an issue. Now, it is common for professors to teach only the "preferred" way (their opinion) of thinking about an issue. Research has confirmed that the great majority of professors have a political preference that is liberal and left of center, and that is what is taught. (The North Carolina College Finder has more details about Duke, including the political balance of its faculty.)
  • Western civilization: Academia rarely requires a course in Western civilization, because it is composed of what academics disdainfully label “DWEM” (dead white European males). Western civilization is deemed to be a tradition of racist, sexist, and elitist thought. Yet America's foundations and government are based on those of Western civilization. Surely, if one grew up in China, one would certainly study the history and philosophies of Confucius, but our own history is disparaged and neglected. (It is not just Duke that has dropped Western civilization courses; most “good” schools have, reports the NAS.)
  • Tuition and costs: Duke's operating costs, and thus its tuition, have risen at a far greater pace than the Consumer Price Index. Duke has not deigned to look at the successful, contemporary models of providing higher education that some for-profit institutions now employ

I turned away from Duke because I could not continue to support a university whose policies were so flawed and in need of reform.

All my financial support to the school ceased, and Duke was removed from my will.

Since then, I have become an advocate of higher education reform, and all the funds that had been going to Duke (and then some) have been re-directed to organizations whose objectives are to achieve academic excellence in higher education. These include the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and the National Association of Scholars.

 


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