At its first meeting of the semester, Duke’s Academic Council cast only one vote—to approve the appointment of three new members to the Faculty Hearing Committee. 

The Council also heard reports from Jennifer Francis, vice provost for academic affairs, regarding the University’s demographics and growth, as well as ideas for both going forward. 

From 2004 to 2016, Duke’s total student population—which encompasses undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. students—grew by about 2,200 students on-campus, with an additional 500 students joining through online programs. This population bump of 2,765 students rounds out to a total growth of about 22 percent, Francis said.

She added, however, that this population expansion is not spread evenly over time, demographics or schools. 

Around half of total campus growth over the years she studied has been in the Pratt School of Engineering and in the School of Medicine. There were large rates of increase in 2005, and then a more general uptake in the population during years of national economic downturn, Francis explained. 

“In that 2005 period, there were five schools at Duke that had double-digit growth rates,” she said.

Francis added that if Council members were to consider the demographic data as a representation of Duke’s population, they'd see the student body as looking more mature, since most of the population increase has been among master’s students. Additionally, foreign students accounted for about half of the growth, and Asian-Americans made up another 36 percent.

Although the split of students by gender has generally hovered around the 50 percent mark across undergraduate and graduate programs, one area of concern for the Council was a drop in the number of women seeking doctoral degrees. 

The percentage of female students seeking Ph.D.’s dropped to 43 percent in 2016 from 47 percent about five years ago, a trend that Francis says is probably “statistically significant.” 

Elizabeth Ananat, associate professor of public policy in the Sanford School, noted that this shift in Duke’s demographics contrasts the national trend of growing percentages of female candidates for doctoral degrees. 

Many council members expressed interest and concern regarding the change, prompting Francis to note that she has plans to look into it further.

The Council also introduced a new program for Ph.D. students and master's students in material sciences. Formally titled the “University Program in Materials Science and Engineering”, the new initiative would be a collaboration between the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering, explained Adrienne Stiff-Roberts, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. 

“In terms of Duke University and the faculty, there are three main reasons to do this program—visibility, community and opportunity,” she said.  

The academic core of the new degree program would be a graduate seminar—which would facilitate the cohort-aspect of the program—and four core classes to be offered each semester.  Stiff-Roberts said that she and her team hope to grow the program such that they have around five doctoral students and 10 master’s students matriculating annually.

The council was presented with an overview of the curriculum, purpose and financial plan for the program on Wednesday, and will have the chance to vote to approve it at its Oct. meeting. They will then seek the approval of the University’s Board of Trustees at its December meeting. 

Stiff-Roberts said that if the plan is approved by both bodies, the faculty behind the program hope to have their first cohort of students matriculate next Fall.

Members of the Academic Council also heard a presentation from Lori Bennear, chair of the University Priorities Committee and associate professor of environmental economics and policy, about the committee’s plans for the upcoming year. 

One of their key focuses will be a “deep-dive” into the budgets of Duke’s institutes, initiatives and centers—including entities such as the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke University Energy Initiative, the Center for Genomics and Computational Biology and the Duke Global Health Institute. 

Duke spends a total of about $24 million on funding for these entities each year, noted Bennear. The inquiry—which Bennear said is being held at the request of Provost Sally Kornbluth—will be a detailed review of each group’s finances to make sure that the funds are “spent optimally.”

Bennear explained that one major challenge her committee faces going forward is adjusted expectations for returns on the University’s endowment. She said that Duke Management Company has told the committee to have reduced expectations about the endowment’s returns. 

“DUMAC has told us that we should not expect the 12 or 15 percent real returns that we were seeing before the crash and some of the years during the recovery. Our expectations about real returns should be lower—in the five percent range,” she said. “That has real implications for the University’s financial future that we wrestle with there.”

She added that the committee will be looking at a post-campaign plan for funding the offices that executed the Duke Forward campaign. Additionally, she and her group will also be discussing some of the University’s capital ambitions—such as improvements for student housing—that fall under Duke’s new strategic plan.

“There are some dorms here on West Campus that are original equipment, with no air conditioning,” Bennear said. “We may not care that much as faculty, but it turns out the alumni care a lot and the students care a lot, so there’s going to be a fair amount of discussion about dorms and how we are going to handle that.”

In other business: 

Grainne Fitzsimons, vice chair of the newly-formed Commission on Memory and History Preservation and professor of Business Administration, asked the council members to provide their opinions and expertise to the committee. The committee is working to establish a set of guiding principles and a recommendation for a possible replacement for the statue of Robert E. Lee in front of the chapel by Nov. 17.

Abbas Benmamoun, vice provost for faculty advancement, discussed his observations of Duke from his first four months on campus and his plans for the office going forward. He said he was encouraged by the amount of “buy-in” he has seen from community members.

“I have seen a commitment here from every level of the University,” Benmamoun said.

The council also voted unanimously to approve the appointment of three new members to the Faculty Hearing Committee. Sam Buell, Bernard M. Fishman professor of law, was elected to the position of chair, as Craig Henriquez, professor of biomedical engineering, and Margaret Lemos, Robert G. Seaks LL.B. '34 professor of law, were awarded general appointments.