Old Friend Names School for Duncan

Posted April 24, 2009 at 6:24pm

In a recent ceremony in Knoxville, Tenn., Lincoln Memorial University official Pete DeBusk helped to dedicate the institution’s new law school in honor of Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.).

DeBusk, a Tennessee businessman who serves as chairman of the university’s board of trustees, said Friday it was his decision to name the Lincoln Memorial University-John J. Duncan Jr. School of Law.

“Jimmy Duncan has been a friend of mine for 20-some years,— DeBusk said. “He’s got the best reputation for any politician in the state of Tennessee.—

According to university officials, no formal procedure was used to select the new institution’s moniker.

“To my knowledge, there was no formal process in finding a name for that,— LMU spokeswoman Kate Reagan said. “It was very informal. I don’t know that anyone else was considered.—

DeBusk recalled that the decision was made soon after the university announced plans in early 2008 to open its own law school.

“Who could we name this school after that would be very appropriate for what the school stands for?— DeBusk recalled of the discussion with other board members. “We are very, very driven by serving these people in the mountains. We’re a pretty aggressive mountain school.—

The university’s main campus is located in Harrogate, Tenn., along the eastern border near both Kentucky and Virginia. However, the law school is located in Knoxville, also home to Duncan’s 2nd district seat.

DeBusk “told me way back that he had an idea way back that he wanted to do that, and I told him it wasn’t necessary,— Duncan recalled Friday. “I do think it’s about the nicest thing anybody’s ever done for me.—

Although Duncan serves on the fledgling law school’s 17-member advisory board made up of local judges and attorneys, the Tennessean downplayed his role, noting, “I was on a committee to help, but I didn’t do very much.—

Among his contributions, Duncan said he authored a letter to the American Bar Association to help the law school prepare for its accreditation.

The House lawmaker, an alumnus of the University of Tennessee and George Washington University’s law school, said he did no fundraising for the project, stating that he was not asked to do so.

“It was named after Congressman Duncan in recognition for his service to the people of this region. He was and has been supportive of the university,— LMU Vice President for University Advancement Cindy Whitt said. “He’s supported our projects, and if he can say a good word on our behalf he does.—

Duncan praised LMU in a February speech on the House floor to mark the 200th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln.

“Lincoln Memorial University, Madam Speaker … continues to be in every way a fitting tribute to a great president,— Duncan said at that time.

According to Whitt, the university did not undertake a specific fundraising campaign to establish the law school, relying on institutional funds instead.

Although LMU has received several “private contributions— to assist the program, Whitt declined to identify donors. Such donations are not public information.

The university has publicized only one donation to the law school from an alumnus, designated for student scholarships.

Duncan praised the Harrogate school, home to about 1,400 undergraduates. “It’s a beautiful campus,— he said, noting that he became acquainted with the institution during a visit with his youngest son, Zane, a recent LMU graduate.

“He said, Dad I like that [school],’ and he never looked at another one,— Duncan recalled of their initial visit to the school.

Duncan also has ties to the university through his wife, Lynn, who serves as director of major gifts.

According to the university’s Web site, Lynn Duncan “oversees the tracking of prospects for major gift solicitations and stewardship, making 200 personal calls each fiscal year.—

Lynn Duncan joined the LMU advancement office in July after serving on the university’s board of trustees.

“I talked Lynn into that,— DeBusk said of the fundraising post, adding that he had encouraged Duncan to accept the job because of her previous work with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

An LMU press release announcing Duncan’s hiring in 2008 states that she previously served as vice president of development for the Boys & Girls Clubs, and then became the group’s director of government relations in 2000. Duncan also served as a member of the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole.

“She’s always been very giving of her time,— said DeBusk, who serves on the advisory board of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Knoxville and noted he has worked with DeBusk. A society column in the Knoxville News Sentinel chronicled a 1998 fundraiser at DeBusk’s home, benefiting the local Girls & Boys Club, which Lynn Duncan organized.

DeBusk, an LMU alumnus, is the owner and chairman of Powell, Tenn.-based DeRoyal Industries, which manufactures medical equipment and surgical supplies.

According to Federal Election Commission records, DeBusk is an active donor to both Republican and Democratic candidates, doling out nearly $200,000 since 1987.

“I support who I like,— DeBusk said. Along with his wife, Cindy, DeBusk has donated $7,400 to Duncan’s campaigns since 1999.

According to public records, LMU received a $478,000 earmark sponsored by Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) for its recently established DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is named for Pete Debusk, in fiscal 2008.

A search of Congressional records does not reveal any other earmarks designated for the institution and none from Duncan.

The law school is housed in Knoxville’s former city hall, where Duncan recalled spending significant time during his formative years.

“I grew up in that building from the time I was 8 or 9 until I was 17,— Duncan said, noting that his father, the late Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), worked in the same building for several years, including his 1959-1965 term as Knoxville’s mayor.

John Duncan Jr. himself served as a Tennessee trial judge before his election to the House in 1988 to fill the vacancy created by his father’s death.