The University's current charter, bylaws, and mission statement can be found on the "Governing documents" page at the Duke University Board of Trustees website. The page links also include sections of James B. Duke's Indenture of Trust that concern the University. These documents are also found in Appendix A of the Duke University Faculty Handbook, which is distributed by the Office of the Provost.
Our first governing document, and the oldest official record in the Duke University Archives, is the Constitution of the Union Institute Society, dated February, 1839. Texts of the original state-issued charter of 1841 and amendments are available on paper here in the Archives. The texts are available electronically on the web site of the North Carolina Secretary of State, http://www.secretary.state.nc.us/Corporations/CSearch.aspx . Search by corporation name "Duke University" and on the results page use the "Document filings" link.
The statement on the plaque in the main quad of West Campus, "The Aims of Duke University," is the first article in the bylaws of the institution, and dates from 1903. The University's mission statement is different. That is revised periodically to meet changing times, whereas the bylaws are rarely changed. See the paragraphs above for links to the current mission statement. Previous mission statements will be found in the Duke University Archives' Subject Files Reference Collection.
Despite the plaque's position in line with James B. Duke's statue, the "Aims" statement was not written by Mr. Duke. Duke University was created in 1924 around Trinity College, a school that the Duke family had been supporting since the late 1880s. John C. Kilgo, our president from 1894 to 1910, is the likely author. In 1902, Trinity's Board of Trustees asked him to prepare a major revision of the College's bylaws. Of course, the statement then started out "The aims of Trinity College..." The wording was changed in 1924 when the University was organized. Here is the text :
The aims of Duke University are to assert a faith in the eternal union of knowledge and religion set forth in the teachings and character of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; to advance learning in all lines of truth; to defend scholarship against all false notions and ideals; to develop a Christian love of freedom and truth; to promote a sincere spirit of tolerance; to discourage all partisan and sectarian strife; and to render the largest permanent service to the individual, the state, the nation, and the church. Unto these ends shall the affairs of this University always be administered.
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