Sunday, October 01, 2006

A big boost for Duke-Durham from Robert King Steele

In a new feature on the Bully Pulpit, I'd like to reprint the best Op-Ed essays from our hometown, Durham Herald-Sun. Since the links expire quickly, within about 10-14 days, I'll put the link here, but will reproduce the text below for the sake of posterity:

A big boost for Duke-Durham
The Herald-Sun
Oct 1, 2006

As a former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs & Company, Robert King Steel has surely made important decisions about investing other people's money.

So we were gratified that when it comes to spending his own money, Steel, now chairman of the Duke University Board of Trustees, is banking on a town-gown partnership between Duke and Durham.

Steel, who teaches at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, was recently nominated by President Bush to serve as an undersecretary in the U.S. Treasury Department. The Durham native grew up near East Campus and graduated from Duke in 1973.

This week, Steel announced that he would give $500,000 to help fund the activities of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership. It was a marvelous bequest that will reverberate through Durham for many years.

The Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership dates back to 1996, but 2006 has surely been a singular year for fundraising. Steel's gift brings the amount the Duke-Durham Partnership has raised this year to nearly $1.5 million. This summer, the Duke Endowment awarded the partnership $527,500, and a campaign before that raised $412,000.

When Steel was asked about his personal priorities for his gift, he sounded like an investor with a lot of confidence in the current management.

"I should just get out of their way and let them do what they are doing," he said.

The partnership focuses the impressive skills and talents of the university on problem areas in the community.

For example, Duke helps to close the achievement gap by sending students to volunteer at schools and churches near campus. One example is "Rites of Passage," a mentoring program for teens at Northside Baptist Church in Walltown.

The partnership also helps stabilize neighborhoods by working to increase the supply of affordable housing. For example, the partnership is engaged in a cooperative venture that will help to build 13 new homes for low-income families in Pauli Murray place.

It is also sponsoring a design workshop that will kick off a revitalization effort for the West Chapel Hill Street neighborhood.

And as an example of synergy that most communities can't duplicate, Duke experts from programs in business and economic development are working to teach and bolster local nonprofit community partners. More than 35 Duke departments and programs are engaged in working with the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership.

We predict that Robert King Steel's generous gift will turn out to be a wise investment, both for the university and for those who live in neighborhoods all around it.


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