A Duke University economics professor’s syllabus prohibiting writers for the Duke Chronicle from taking his class has been met with public concern and outcry.
Inside Hedge Funds, the class taught by Linsey Lebowitz Hughes, lists a variety of high-profile guest speakers in the syllabus.
Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, released a statement distancing the university from the syllabus.
“The statement in the syllabus was the instructor’s clumsy way of saying that guest speakers should be considered off the record so they could be candid in their conversations with students,” he said in the statement. “No one was, or ever will be, barred from enrolling in any class because they are affiliated with The Duke Chronicle or any other student organization.”
Rachael Jones, media law fellow at the UNC School of Law, said the discretion could allow for more worthwhile discussions with the speakers.
“There is a level of freedom that comes with confidentiality,” she said. “But I don’t think that such an extreme step is necessarily warranted in order to promote that concept.”
Chris Roush, a journalism professor at UNC, has had Jon King — the chief investment officer for UNC — come to his business reporting class in the past. The talks have been off-the-record.
“There have always been Daily Tar Heel students in the class, and I have always encouraged them that if they think something is newsworthy to follow up with him,” Roush said. “It has been off-the-record because that has given King the comfort of knowing he can explain something to a DTH student later on-the-record in more detail later on if he needs to.”
Scott McCartney, Wall Street Journal writer and chairperson of the Duke Student Publishing Company, said the conflict surrounding the syllabus is centrally a discrimination concern.
“I don’t think there’s anything reasonable about it,” he said. “I think it’s completely wrong to discriminate against any student based on student activities. There’s no reason why you should treat any student differently in this situation.”
McCartney said the stipulation in the syllabus was not necessary to address the professor’s concerns.
“So if you want to make a class off-the-record, that’s fine. Any student that works for a student newspaper knows the rules far better than other students, and The Chronicle kids deal with off-the-record information from the Duke administration,” he said. “There’s no reason they can’t be trusted — they’re trusted every day.”
Jones said the legality of the syllabus is not as black-and-white as it would be at UNC because Duke is a private institution.
“Because Duke is a private institution, it has a different set of rules,” she said. “It would be a totally different ball game if this was the University of North Carolina, but with Duke, they do have a little more leeway because they are a private institution to make calls like that.”
Due to a lack of stricter regulations on private schools, Jones said the syllabus could have established a worrisome precedent.
“If this is something that is accepted by Duke and is permitted, it’s a reason to be concerned and strikes fear,” she said. “Hopefully they won’t get away with it because, if they do, then that will be a practice we may see more professors or private schools try to do.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.