Duke University Files Claim on Donor's Estate

Duke University has filed a claim on the estate of oil tycoon and Duke alumnus Aubrey McClendon, arguing that the Chesapeake Energy co-founder died before he could make good on nearly $10 million in pledges, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to a probate court filing, Aubrey's outstanding commitments to Duke totaled some $9.94 million at the time of his death in March in a car crash in Oklahoma City. That figure represents roughly half of the $18.75 million that McClendon had pledged to Duke in recent years in support of athletics, scholarships, and campus-improvement projects.

According to the Journal, McClendon, who was ousted from Chesapeake over corporate-governance issues three years ago, left behind a tangle of assets and liabilities. Collapsing oil prices in late 2014 drained liquidity from his oil-and-gas empire, and McClendon struggled in his final year to raise cash to keep it afloat. Oklahoma records reveal that he had pledged a variety of assets as collateral for loans, including his roughly 20 percent stake in the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, equity investments in tech startups, antique boats, and rare wines. Lawyers for the former billionaire's creditors have claimed he left behind more debt than assets.

McClendon ('81) met his wife, Kathleen ('80), at Duke, and each of the couple's three children also attended the school. The McClendons' total giving to Duke exceeds $20 million, including funds for the university's McClendon Commons and a gift of at least $1.2 million for the restoration of a massive pipe organ in the university's chapel that is now known as the Kathleen Upton Byrns McClendon organ.

Whether Duke will be able to collect the outstanding pledges is unclear. But even if the school's legal position is strong, pursuing it aggressively might be counterproductive, Doug White, a former director of the nonprofit management program at Columbia University, told the Journal. "How positive is it to see a university sue a donor?" said White. "The attorneys at Duke aren't going to take that into account. But the fundraising office or president's office ought to take that into account."

Kevin Helliker, Ryan Dezember. "Duke University Makes Claim on Estate of Aubrey McClendon." Wall Street Journal 08/24/2016.