Education

Duke drops claim on late donor’s estate

Former Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon and a part-owner of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder attends Game 6 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals, in Oklahoma City, on June 6, 2012. Oklahoma City police say McClendon, a natural gas industry titan who was indicted on March 1, 2016, was killed in a fiery single-car crash in Oklahoma City.
Former Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon and a part-owner of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder attends Game 6 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals, in Oklahoma City, on June 6, 2012. Oklahoma City police say McClendon, a natural gas industry titan who was indicted on March 1, 2016, was killed in a fiery single-car crash in Oklahoma City. AP

Duke University has dropped a claim against the estate of a wealthy benefactor who had pledged millions to the university before being killed in a car accident.

Duke had filed a claim on the estate of Oklahoma oil tycoon Aubrey McClendon, a 1981 alumnus, saying he had not fulfilled $9.9 million in pledges before his death earlier this year. The court filing became public last week when it was reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Duke’s claim was for multiple charitable pledges, reports said, in areas such as scholarships and the football program. The pledge total was $18.75 million, of which almost half had not been paid.

The university was criticized, with some suggesting the move was callous and could turn off future donors. Duke reached a record for fundraising last year, bringing in $571 million in gifts and pledges.

The university had an endowment worth $7.3 billion in 2015, according to a report this year by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations for Duke, issued a statement this week saying that the university had withdrawn its claim for assets from McClendon’s estate.

“While submitting such claims is generally a routine procedure, in this case our action was misperceived as adversarial to the McClendon family, which was never the intention,” Schoenfeld’s statement said. “Aubrey was one of our most passionate and loyal graduates, always willing to support Duke when asked. We are deeply sorry for any pain this has caused the McClendon family.”

He declined further comment.

Duke was one of an apparently long line of creditors seeking payment from McClendon’s estate, The Wall Street Journal reported. The co-founder of Chesapeake Energy, McClendon had made a fortune in oil and gas and owned a share of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. But media reports chronicled his lavish lifestyle and his leveraged assets. The value of his estate was likely affected by debts and tumbling oil prices in recent years.

McClendon, 56, died in March when his SUV slammed into a concrete wall at high speed a day after he was indicted for bid rigging by a federal grand jury. Early on, the crash was a suspected suicide, but authorities in Oklahoma ruled it an accident.

McClendon, his wife and children attended Duke and were longtime supporters of the university. Their gifts had gone to a student plaza, an organ for the Divinity School and a refurbished organ for Duke Chapel. A residence hall area was named McClendon Tower.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

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