Betsy Sugar ‘21

Staff Writer

On March 14th, President Carol Quillen and Dean Byron McCrae emailed the student body to reveal the Duke Endowment had pledged a $24 million grant to Davidson to further expand the James B. Duke Scholars Program. Later that day, the college posted an official announcement on the website to inform the public about the fourth largest donation ever made to the college. 

The James B. Duke Scholarship Program currently awards $15,000 a year to four students. The Endowment’s pledge to the school will now allow the program to provide full tuition to five students a class, beginning with the class of 2025. The first recipients of the expanded James B. Duke Scholarship Program will enter as freshmen in 2021.

The website lauds the recent gift for placing the scholarship “among Davidson’s premier academic scholarships and further equips the college to recruit students of the highest intellectual caliber from across the country and around the globe,” according to Davidson’s official announcement. 

The gift also helped push Davidson’s fundraising campaign, Game Changers, above and beyond the original goal of $425 million. The recent gift positioned the current amount raised at $501.3 million, with 50% of the money going directly towards scholarships, 40% to Community of Excellence, 5% to preparing Davidson students to lead, and the final 5% is unrestricted. The Community of Excellence includes financially supporting professor and student research, arts, and athletics.  

While the grant has been pledged, “The specific dynamics of the program have not yet been established,” said Gardner Roller Ligo, Director of the Merit Program.  As a result, the qualifications for the expanded scholarship program may be different than the current program. 

Current Duke Scholar, HD Mellin ‘20, hopes to see the grant money awarded based on need of the incoming students. “I hope the money from the Duke pledge can be used for need-based aid for middle-class and low-income students exclusively, as well as non-legacy applicants [… ] As several student initiatives at Davidson have shown, many of our admissions policies (including the legacy consideration and the 50/50 gender ratio) actually work to discriminate against qualified applicants.”

Mellin’s hopes for the future expanded scholarship align closely with the stated goals of the scholarship office. Ligo explained the objectives of the scholarship office are twofold: “first, it is meant to nurture and nourish those elements that are at the heart of this community—academics, the arts, athletics, leadership, and service.  Second, it is meant to help accomplish Davidson’s […] goals of access and affordability.”

The James B. Duke Endowment is one of Davidson’s biggest donors since the Endowment’s founding in 1924. The Endowment gave the lead gift for the E. Craig Wall, Jr. Academic Center with a donation of $45 million, the largest the college has ever received. They also contribute annually to The Fund for Davidson and support You@Davidson Student Resiliency Research Project, Davidson Impact Fellows, College Advising Corps, the Environmental Studies department, and the Farm at Davidson. 

Patricia Massey Hoke, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, manages institutional philanthropy at Davidson and works closely with the Endowment. “I work closely with President Quillen and various departments throughout campus to determine what the highest priority needs are of the college over a given period of time—we then collaborate with The Duke Endowment to understand their interest in supporting such pursuits,” Hoke expanded on her specific work with the Endowment. “Davidson would be a different place without their partnership […] The Duke Endowment has given more than $285 million to Davidson.”

Davidson is one of four higher education institutions named in the James B. Duke Endowment indenture. The other three are Johnson C. Smith University, Furman University, and Duke University. As a result, Davidson, as well as the other institutions, receives a portion of the Endowment’s annual earnings. 

While the Duke Endowment has undoubtedly supported and furthered Davidson in sustainability, research, and most notably financial accessibility, Mellin believes it is important to remember from where the funds originate. “James B. Duke’s father was a slave owner and fought as a Confederate soldier in the Civil War […] The accumulation of the family’s wealth and their business enterprises (first tobacco, then the Duke Power Company) are thus inseparable from this legacy.”

Every student who uses the resources in Wall, applies for a research grant, works on the Farm at Davidson, and more benefits from the Duke Endowment. As Hoke expressed, “no other donor or funder has transformed Davidson in as many ways or as deeply as The Duke Endowment.”